John Legend continues to prove his icon status and gets candid about his new Audible series, “Living Legend” — which comes after his 10th studio album — in this exclusive chat with REVOLT.
The audiobook details the music icon’s humble beginnings as a nerdy, homeschooled kid in the church choir before he blossomed into the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling, genre-pushing pop star we love today. The series was recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s legendary jazz club in London and features exclusive original performances, including covers of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky,” as well as Legend’s mega-hits “Glory,” “Used to Love U,” and “All of Me,” among others. The project falls under Audible’s Words + Music Series, which aims to defy tradition with an innovative and unprecedented approach to musical storytelling and personal expression.
In this exclusive interview, the “All Of Me” singer discusses the defining moments in his career that solidified his legendary status, why he gave the spotlight to women in Hip Hop and R&B on his new album, what he misses most about working with Kanye West after their unfortunate fallout, and much more.
While creating your audiobook, “Living Legend,” what moment in your career confirmed that you are one?
It was necessary to tell my story and reflect on what led me to where I am in my life — all the challenges, the moments along the way, and how I met and overcame these different obstacles. When Audible reached out to me, I found this to be an excellent way of storytelling because it’s listenable, and you can use music, words, or all of the above to tell a story.
Who would you consider a living legend in today’s music era?
While there are quite a few, I recommend Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé because their recent albums were well-made. I respect artists that put a lot of care, thought, and intention into their work and do it at such a high level.
I feel like you’re a “Cozy” stan. Or, are you a “Cuff It” kind of man?
I like the one where you say, “We gon’ get f**ked up tonight,” so “Cuff It” (laughs).
Which artist should make an Audible Original about their career, and what would you want to learn?
Any artist I love should create an original because it’s a great way to tell your story and incorporate music. We know a little about people once they tell their stories — we see a packaged version when they release a project.
On your new album, Legend, there was an influx of female artists you gave the spotlight to, including Saweetie, Rapsody, Jazmine Sullivan, and Muni Long. Why was it crucial for you to give the ladies space on the album?
I’m a fan of all the women — they add so much energy, creativity, and spark to the album. I’m fortunate to call on these unique, talented women to make my project more beautiful. I had a different texture and feminine energy, which improved the project.
This album seems like a personal love letter to Chrissy Teigen, especially with tracks like “Love,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Nervous.” As you reflect on your marriage, what is the one thing that makes you fall in love with her daily?
We grow, parent, and go through challenges together, strengthening us and renewing our love — you hear about some of that on Legend.
Next August, it will be 10 years since you released Love In The Future. Easily one of your strongest projects, what did you love most about that album era?
Did you know that Virgil Abloh designed the album cover? He was a creative director for Kanye West then, and Kanye executive produced [that] album too. I loved where we were creatively at that time. I wrote “All Of Me” during [that] time, which became the biggest song of my career. While the album will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, Chrissy and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary a month later. The title was about embarking on this new love journey, and we made something beautiful to commemorate that time. What I love about being an artist and making an album during a specific period is it reflects where you are at that moment — so when you go back and listen, it reminds you of that distinct period in your life.
You spoke to XXL in 2013 and shared how Kanye’s leadership in developing Love In The Future made the project one of your best. Your relationship with West has changed since then. Is there anything from that friendship you miss the most?
Alot of us miss the old Kanye in more ways than one. I thought we created something beautiful, and if you listen to the Audible Original, you’ll hear how integral he’s been to my entire story. I wouldn’t be where I am without his collaboration and belief in me — us believing in each other early in our careers. It’s sad and disappointing to see where he is right now and what he’s been saying — again, my story isn’t my story without collaboration and interactions over the years, so I speak about it.
You’re on “The Voice,” and scouting talent is more effortful than many think. How do you do it? Any notes for up-and-coming R&B artists to reach living legend status?
The show begins with the power of the voice — we don’t focus on anything besides what we hear, along with the power and the energy that comes from the singer. When I listen to it, I hit the buzzer and turn around quickly because I can hear it in their tone and expressiveness if their the kind of artists I want to work with. Going from being a great voice to an artist isn’t always easy because it involves tapping into what makes you unique, what makes your story interesting, and how you translate that story into the music. It’s about knowing who you are and translating that into your creative process.