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John Legend proves his talent can stand alone

click to enlarge Damn, John Legend is a handsome man.
  • Damn, John Legend is a handsome man.

John Legend has gotten plenty of attention for the significant role he played on Kanye West's critically acclaimed hit album, The College Dropout.

The ties between the two only deepened as West produced and co-wrote four songs on Legend's debut, Get Lifted.

But even if Legend has ridden West's coattails to success so far -- Get Lifted recently spent a couple weeks in the Top 5 of the Billboard magazine album chart -- he isn't worried about being seen simply as a protg.

"I think it's very important for people to know me as my own artist," Legend says. "But I think as soon as they buy the album, I think they get it."

Legend has a good -- and obvious -- point. Get Lifted is a distinctly different work than The College Dropout. Where West's is clearly a hip-hop album that borrows a few melodic elements from classic soul music, Get Lifted is a stirring R&B album that draws heavily from classic soul and blends in a notable element of hip-hop along the way.

It's also one of the best R&B debuts of the past year. Obvious echoes of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield feel timeless within music so well crafted.

That many songs on Get Lifted emphasize melody was a priority for Legend.

"I'm like a student of songwriting, particularly the musical side of the songwriting -- as well as lyrics, but particularly on the music side -- just making sure the progressions are right, making sure the chorus really lifts the song melodically, making sure every part of the song has a memorable melody and making sure the hook actually is memorable and sing-along-able," he says.

A native of Springfield, Ohio, Legend (whose real name is John Stephens) moved to Philadelphia to attend school. By the time he started at the University of Pennsylvania, he was diving full force into music.

Legend began playing shows in the late 1990s and by 2000 was expanding his base with appearances in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. He also began releasing what would grow into a string of four live albums: John Stephens, Live at Jimmy's Uptown, Solo Sessions, Vol. 1: Live at The Knitting Factory and Live at SOB's.

But it wasn't until West's cousin, Devon "Devo" Harris, introduced him to West that things began to fall into place.

Fans obviously like what Legend is doing with his own music. His recent single, "Ordinary People," went Top 5 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, fueling the rise of Get Lifted on the album chart. And extensive touring -- to include an opening slot on a run of dates with Alicia Keys -- has given Legend considerable exposure. He's been touring with a seven-piece band, which allows him to fully recreate his music on stage.

"They're all very talented people," Legend says of his band. "We just like to have fun on stage and improvise a little bit, but deliver the songs with a lot of energy and passion."

-- Alan Sculley

capsule

John Legend

Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, Englewood

Friday, July 8, 8 p.m.

Tickets: $35.25; call 520-9090 or visit ticketmaster.com.

  • John Legend proves his talent can stand alone

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