John Legend has won just about every award imaginable, and he still feels that it isn’t enough. Even after having success in multiple industries, releasing seven superbly crafted albums, and achieving numerous accolades in film and television, he still maintains the drive to create music as if his life depended on it. It is why he is one of a select few to have achieved EGOT status, which is a person who has won the four major awards: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.
Today, the multi-platinum artist premiered the second single from his upcoming album, “Honey,” featuring Muni Long. He spoke to ESSENCE about the song, his Vegas residency, and what keeps him inspired after over 25 years of recording music. For him, it’s not about the last song, it’s about the next song.
“I stay inspired to make music because I believe that I still have to prove myself every time I go to the studio,” Legend said. “I believe I have to prove myself every time I write a song, every time I put out a record, every time I put out an album – I can’t rest on what I’ve already done. I have to go out and prove myself every time.”
“I’m always motivated by that challenge, and I’m always excited to be creative again; because every time I go in there to create something new it’s like a renewal for my own energy and for my own music and my own legacy,” he added.
In terms of legacy, the Springfield native has had his fair share of memorable moments. From collaborating with many of the seminal artists of his era to performing at the opening ceremony of Super Bowl XLIX, he continues to create, one day at a time. In May, Legend shared the first single from his forthcoming project titled “Dope,” featuring Dreamville’s JID. The song’s upbeat tempo and seductive lyrics made the album’s second single the perfect follow-up to last month’s banger.
When choosing singles, Legend’s process is quite simple, he says. “A lot of it is just us listening to it, or playing it for friends of ours, or people we trust and respect. But at the end of the day, it’s all speculative to a degree because you never know what the audience is going to love.”
“And with these two songs that we released – “Honey” and “Dope” – the vibe around them has been amazing,” the father of two continued. “We’ve also been playing a couple other single choices that we have coming up. I’ve been performing them at my residency and the audience loved them, and when you get enough love from all these people, you get a sense that the public may love this too. But that’s the gamble that we take when we pick a single; you never know until you put it out.”
“Honey” looks to be another great decision by Legend and his team. Produced by Ryan Tedder, Steven Franks, Lindgren and Tommy Brown, the song contains elements of R&B, hip-hop, with jazz emerging during crucial moments throughout the track. It includes a guest appearance from one of the best songwriters in the music business. Before breaking out as a solo artist, Long spent the past ten years contributing to hits for artists such as Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Ariana Grande, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Selena Gomez, and many others.
Although the masses may be new to Long’s talent, the University of Pennsylvania graduate is no stranger to it. In fact, their professional relationship dates back almost a decade.
“I’ve known her for such a long time – we’ve written together for years,” Legend said of Long. “I remember collaborating with her in New York and Florida years ago. I think she had been signed as an artist at the time but hadn’t really broken through, and she was doing a lot of writing. I know she recently had her big break, but many of us in the industry have known her for a long time and respected her as a writer and an artist. I’m just glad that she’s finally getting the love that she deserves.”
Between these recording sessions, Legend has been lighting up the Vegas Strip with some monumental performances. He began his residency at Zappos Theater in Planet Hollywood in April, and will begin the second leg on August 5th. While he has been touring for years and still enjoys it, his Vegas residency allows the artist to do a bit more at his shows.
“The energy isn’t different, it just enables us to do certain things that we wouldn’t have been able to do as much while on tour,” he told ESSENCE. “When you’re not putting the tour in a truck or a bus every night, and you’re able to craft the show for that particular venue, it lets you do more on the production than you would have been able to do on the road.”
In this business, it isn’t difficult to lose your voice. The music industry is ever changing, and in order to be successful, one must adapt. In recent years, different forms of technology have risen to the forefront, blending genres together more than ever. In a career spanning over this two decades, Legend has worked with hundreds of artists both young and old. The key to his longevity, he says, is accepting new ways of creation, but always staying true to oneself.
“I can only be myself,” Legend stated. “I love collaborating with different artists, writers, and producers, so that’s one way to stay fresh and renewed, like I was saying before. But I’m still going to be me, no matter what. I’m going to put my own spin on everything that I do even if I’m collaborating with a veteran or someone that hasn’t been around as long as I have. I’m always going to bring myself into any collaborative experience.”
He continued: “I’ve also studied so many forms of Black music that have shaped who I am. I’m bringing that knowledge and that legacy with me every time that I’m writing and arranging; whether it’s Curtis Mayfield, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, or Donny Hathaway. I’m always referencing some of those musical greats as a way of making whatever I’m doing better.”
So, what’s next for this multi-hyphenate? More music, his upcoming Vegas residency, and of course – the new album. While Legend remained tight-lipped about any updates, his voice beamed with enthusiasm when speaking about his new project.
“I truly am thrilled – I have some amazing collaborations with the best artists in R&B, hip-hop and reggae,” he said. “It’s going to be just full of energy, creativity, joy, and soul, and I’m really excited for people to hear it.”