Rock­ing the mes­sage

John Leg­end and the Roots are fine with tak­ing risks on their anti-war al­bum WakeUp!

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - by MeS­FiN FeKAdu

John Leg­end and the Roots are fine with tak­ing risks on their anti-war al­bum

WakeUp! >15

WHEN a top mu­sic ex­ec­u­tive found out that John Leg­end was work­ing with the Roots on an al­bum ded­i­cated to so­cial change and ac­tivism, he con­trib­uted no words of en­cour­age­ment.

“What the hell are you do­ing?” is what Leg­end re­calls that ex­ec­u­tive say­ing.

“He’s not di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for my ca­reer, but he’s quite a pop­u­lar record ex­ec­u­tive, whose name I won’t men­tion,” Leg­end said, laugh­ing. “(And) he was not ap­prov­ing of this.”

For­tu­nately for Leg­end, the ex­ec­u­tives at his own la­bel, Columbia Records, had his back. Now the joint col­lab­o­ra­tion, Wake Up! is one of the best re­viewed al­bums of the year.

The CD, re­leased last month, finds Leg­end and the hip hop band cov­er­ing 1960s and 1970s soul songs from iconic acts like Marvin Gaye, Donny Hath­away, Nina Si­mone and Bill Withers, among oth­ers (the CD also has one orig­i­nal song).

“It is a cov­ers record but it re­ally doesn’t feel like a cov­ers record at all,” said Ah­mir “?uest­love” Thomp­son, the Roots leader who co-pro­duced the al­bum. “I guess cer­tain mu­sic con­nois­seurs will know the cuts ... they weren’t like, Bill­board-charted hits. They were cho­sen for their mes­sage.”

The sound is some­what of a de­par­ture for Leg­end. Al­though he is a soul singer, Wake Up! fea­tures less croon­ing and more grit. He is sing­ing songs about war, pol­i­tics and race in a dif­fer­ent tone than he’s done in the past.

That was ac­com­plished thanks to ?uest­love, Leg­end said.

“Ah­mir was re­ally steer­ing the ship,” he said, ac­knowl­edg­ing that he did not know some of the songs be­fore record­ing them. “I re­ally leaned on him for his ex­per­tise.”

The Grammy win­ner agrees that he took a risk with Wake Up!, but he says he did not think twice about cre­at­ing the project.

“The thing is the in­dus­try as a whole is risk-averse be­cause peo­ple are los­ing jobs, the busi­ness of sell­ing records is con­tract­ing, and so peo­ple are very de­pen­dent on ‘You gotta get that ra­dio hit, you gotta sell these sin­gles, you gotta sell these ring tones,’” Leg­end ex­plained. “And we made the anti-that al­bum ba­si­cally, and I think it’s go­ing to work.”

“You know it’s a shame when in 2010 mak­ing an al­bum of mu­sic is now a risky thing to do,” chimed in ?uest­love.

Work on Wake Up! started two years ago, but then Leg­end went on a tour to pro­mote his last al­bum, 2008’s Evolver, while the Roots recorded their ninth CD, How I Got Over, and worked as the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fal­lon.

Leg­end said com­ing back to fin­ish the CD al­lowed them “to live with mu­sic, live with the ar­range­ments and re­ally de­velop them.”

While Leg­end and the Philadel­phia-based Roots had not worked to­gether in the past, Leg­end says he re­mem­bers pass­ing off his demo to ?uest­love when he at­tended the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia in the 1990s.

It was not an in­stant mu­si­cal con­nec­tion. “He missed out is all I’m say­ing!” Leg­end said with a smile as ?uest­love pulled up his shirt to hide his face.

“He thinks I tea-coast­ered his demo, like it’s some­where un­der my choco­late mug,” ?uest­love said. – AP n John Leg­end and the Roots’ Wake Up! is re­leased by Sony Mu­sic.

Sing­ing with grit: WakeUp!, a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween John Leg­end and Ah­mir ‘?uest­love’ Thomp­son, is one of the year’s best re­viewed al­bums.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.