John Legend is the first artist to release under Kanye West’s Getting Out Our Dreams imprint; all new labels should wish for such good luck. Legend combines the classic R&B sounds of Motown and the easy hip-hop sound of Jay-Z.
Get Lifted is a finely crafted narrative that explores the many stages people visit on the journey to love. “Alright” and “She Don’t Have to Know” both feature infidelity with finesse and originality while making cheating sound enticing. Legend opens his heart and guarantees that he wants to and can commit on “I Can Change,” featuring Snoop Dogg. The second half of the album showcases Legend’s musings on the love and happiness he has found. On “Refuge (When It’s Cold Outside)” he praises his woman for providing a sanctuary during hard times.
Legend learned to play the piano at age five, and music has been his passion ever since. Although Get Lifted is his first solo studio album as John Legend, he has worked steadily over the years and released a self-titled demo album under his real name, John Stephens. His journey to the forefront of neo-soul includes a stint as a pianist for Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything” in 1998, working on Alicia Keys’s “You Don’t Know My Name,” contributing to Jay-Z’s The Black Album and touring last year with Kanye West.
There’s a reason that so many of the hip-hop world’s premier stars have tapped Legend to work on some of their most successful projects. With his gritty, untamed voice, Legend commands listeners’ attention, making every lyric on Get Lifted resonate emotionally. He is able to stir up the same type of heart-wrenching emotions as Mary J. Blige did in her My Life days. Legend opens up his mouth and his soul leaps out; it’s impossible to ignore the passion expressed in every word he sings.
The songs on Get Lifted explore a reality that few artists dare to sing about these days. Focusing on feelings, Legend sings about truly romantic experiences, about love instead of sex. On “Ordinary People,” he says, “And though love sometimes hurts / I still put you first / And we’ll make this thing work / But I think we should take it slow.” Each song has a kind of enchanting, graceful honesty.
Despite the sensitivity of some of Get Lifted’s tracks, Legend also features the flip side of true love. On first hearing his odes to infidelity, the songs are a little disconcerting, and some may be turned off by his willingness to highlight cheating. But the ability to successfully discuss these uncomfortable topics takes talent, and Legend pulls it off skillfully. Get Lifted is a mix of new and old school R&B and hip hop, creating songs to rock, cry and love to.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars