One of my greatest memories from my young adolescence was witnessing John Legend perform live… with Kanye West… during the College Dropout era.. in Asbury Park, New Jersey… man that was a major moment for me… made even more
special due to the fact my favorite Hip Hop group Little Brother was the opening act… and that’s simply a monumental story for another day…
At the time however John Legend was an up and coming singer under the GOOD Music imprint and he dominated Kanye’s entire set, only to years later see his own super stardom take off with Gold & Platinum selling albums Get Lifted, Once Again, Evolver, and Love in the Future, along the way garnering 10 Grammy Awards within a total of 28 nominations - in addition to numerous other awards including the prestigious Academy Award. Yet here we are on studio album #6 (including The Roots collaboration Wake Up), and Legend’s status at the moment is somewhat precarious - as despite his hold on the internet thanks to his celebrity model wife Chrissy Teigen - the music that he’s known for couldn’t be further out of style… and that’s exactly why we need him to win in 2017 more than ever.
Darkness and Light is his brand new album, and it’s critiqued track by track below
I Know Better
“They say sing what you know, but I've sung what they want, some folks do what they're told, but baby this time I won't, when I look through that door...I know the truth from lie... some things I've done before I can't justify… I know better… I know better….” Sung like a church hymn this one is as pure as the gospel, as although it’s not his best use of this particular style (Refuge & It Don’t Have To Change deserve that honor), it’s a solid intro nonetheless and it definitely sets the tone for what’s to come.
Penthouse Floor ft Chance the Rapper
"lets ride the elevator, let's go to the penthouse floor..." The second single off the album… this one definitely starts out with that classic 'Get Lifted' sound to it… complete with a fun/carefree feature from Chance the Rapper - who I suppose does what Chance the Rapper is supposed to do - even if it doesn’t necessary make me want to press rewind on it…
Darkness and Light ft Brittany Howard
“Who was I before? I don't know, and who am I now? your body shows how, the past just has no meaning… don't stop, I need it, release me, it's too hard for me to hold…” For the title track of the album Legend duets with Brittany Howard, lead singer of the Alabama Shakes, and they both put their soul into a decent slow burning pop record… and it definitely works
Overload ft Miguel
“But oh, we was undercover 'til it overflowed, over exposed, but oh, chained our love together, never took it slow, and now we know, life on overload, love, love… don't we always make a show of love , love, love, love, yeah…” This is another slow burn but it’s definitely a great record… one of the best records on the tape and the complete definition of sophisticated r&b
Love Me Now
“I don't know who's gonna kiss you when I'm gone, so I'm gonna love you now, like it's all I have, I know it'll kill me when it's over, I don't wanna think about it, I want you to love me now” In sharp contrast to the others the lead single off the album is an uptempo record and it’s sure to do numbers (on pop radio most likely - followed by movie/advertising placements later on) as Legend is always a sure thing and this one was destined to be a hit based on not only it’s signature sound, but also on behalf of how relatable it is.
What You Do To Me
“you always do me right, screaming through the night, make me love and hate you at the same time, that's what you do to me” This one showcases a smooth electronic instrumental from BLOOD yet despite the descriptive lyrics the melody leaves you wanting more… not the strongest cut on the album but it’s cool
“Know I won't let the blue flame die, we can't lose hope just yet, 'cause it's once, just once in a lifetime, and we're scared to love but it's alright, I may not know a lot of things but, I know that we're surefire, yeah, know that we're surefire, yeah” Produced by Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson (best known for his production with Childish Gambino) this one is smooth as silk… smh that Snow White sample is deadly - that’s gotta be Snow White right?… either way thanks to the instrumental and the melody this is definitely a nice record that deserves more attention.
Right By You (For Luna)
"And even when it all becomes too much, when you're growing old and feeling out of touch, listen to this song and just take care, and know that I will be there" This record is dedicated to Legend’s newborn daughter, and along with the heartfelt lyrics the production by The Belle Brigade & Blake Mills is some of the best work on the album. Considering Legend’s already growing legacy this record may even be deemed more significant over time.
“and even though it's dangerous, it's temporarily painless, I'm falling for a stranger, stranger... no need to justify, looking for a little bit of love tonight, I need somebody, you need somebody too” officially the perfect drunk hook up anthem… no other way to describe it…
How Can I Blame You
“Oh, what if I refuse to learn? I see the flame grow, I gotta get burned” this record about cheating you can probably skip… it has an interesting concept that seems to align perfectly with the record before it… yet the melody is one that could have stayed in the drafts
Same Old Story
“Nobody's buying, there ain't any truth to it, the fact is you're lying, but I'm getting used to it, promising we'll stay together, down in your heart, you know better, I know what I lost before it's gone” Considering the official break up song on the album comes after two prior records about drunk hook ups and infidelity, one might question if this is a concept album after all… then again R&B albums usually don’t have a central theme, whereas songs about all varieties of love are dispersed all over the place. Nonetheless this production by Blake Mills is perfect for Legend’s voice - and if you were to strictly disregard the subject matter than this should have probably been the final notes on the album.
Marching Into The Dark
“All of the greatest, the greatest of all... we're chasing their fading star” Also produced by Blake Mills, the actual outro to the album is relatively forgettable… although beneath the melody it’s the message that truly hits home
Overall this album is definitely a breath of fresh air and it’s better than I could have imagined… although I must admit that I’m not really sure why I’m surprised. Full disclosure: once artists become major players on social media I start to fear the worst in regards to their artistry - but thankfully in regards to John Legend I apparently don’t need to worry about that. Ultimately Darkness and Light is 12 records straight from the soul and more than half of them are flameworthy - highlighted by Surefire, Overload, Right For You (Luna) - records that one day will belong in his Greatest Hits.