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First Thoughts: "Darkness and Light" John Legend

Love is the topic du jour on Legend's fifth studio album, but not the easygoing kind — the love that's earned through trial and error.

Lionel Urman // Splash News/Corbis

by Robyn Mowatt

John “Legend” Stephens' fifth studio album Darkness and Light is a moving project filled with love, passion, politics, and, to its namesake, darkness. His previously released singles, Love Me Now and Penthouse Floor featuring Chance the Rapper shared what listeners were to expect: a riveting return to the studio for the 10-time Grammy Award–winning artist.

Love fills this album and that is to be expected, but not the easygoing type of love, the love that you earn after trial and error time and time again. Love isn’t easily digestible, it can be hard, and the notions behind it are presented on this album. Undoubtedly Legend’s voice matched with his songwriting are both what his fans were missing for the past few years following the release of Love in the Future. Yet, to no surprise Darkness and Light was well worth the wait. Below you’ll find the standout tracks that resonated most with me.

John Legend to go back behind the screen for "Black Wall Street"

"I Know Better"

This track as an opener serves as Legend’s glorious, elaborate return. It has churchy vibes. Legend’s voice reads as though he has lived through high high’s and low low’s throughout his journey. The entire track is an enjoyable experience.

"Penthouse Floor" feat. Chance The Rapper

An escape from the woes of the world is necessary at times; this track is the respite everyone needs. It’s upbeat and reminds me of the John Legend I remember back on Once Again when he won his way into my heart with tracks like "Slow Dance." I love the air and feel of this track, and Chance the Rapper adds his own funky vibe to it.

"Darkness and Light" feat. Brittany Howard

Featuring the powerhouse Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, this duet is sexy and pushy in a good way; both voices play off each other. It’s a lovers' song, one where you can acknowledge the dark and light qualities in the one or ones you never tire of loving. The wordplay throughout is personal and necessary in a world that fails to acknowledge the tenderness of black love.

"Overload" feat. Miguel

This is actually one of my favorite tracks on the album. After piecing together the lyrics and chorus, it might be safe to say the track is how it feels to make love work in this celebrity-obsessed digital era. There is a political undertone in the very beginning of the track that is hard to ignore. Being a spectacle in a celebrity-obsessed world can’t be easy, and this song addresses that conflict. Miguel’s gentle voice paired with Legend’s is magic.


Reveling in feelings is difficult to not do while this track is playing. I love that it shares the scary journey that love can be. Hope and fear lead the track equally; it’s admirable how much passion Legend put into this song. The lyrics: “You’re scared to love, but it’s all right,” spoke to me.

"Right By You (For Luna)"

In this beautiful soliloquy dedicated to his newborn daughter, Legend shares his thoughts on her youth, her upbringing, and what she will be like one day. He questions how she will turn out amid the current ways of the world. It’s a dark track, but to me it also holds hope for love, openness, and a better future for young ones worldwide.

"Temporarily Painless"

This song is reminiscent of "Stereo" from the album Once Again. The smoothness of it is blissful, as airy echoes reverberate throughout. On this track, Legend falls for a stranger and is apparently looking for a little bit of love, which is both relatable and sensual.

"Marching Into the Dark"

An ode to darkness, this last addition to the album is profound. Legend ends Darkness and Light on a political note, and it is definitely written as a reflection piece.

Listen to Darkness and Light below and tell us your favorite track:

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