EBONY caught up with John Legend on the set of his new commercial for General Motors’ Chevrolet Impala. Surprise: Legend is the new face of the brand! If that’s not enough, he has even more on his plate with upcoming nuptials to model Chrissy Teigen and a new album, Love in the Future, set for release September 3.
Legend’s first single from the album, “Who Do We Think We Are,” is already on airwaves and features rapper Rick Ross over a smoothed-out sample of Jean Knight’s 1971 hit “Mr. Big Stuff.” The soul singer opened up to EBONY about his new music, the troubles of his former collaborator Lauryn Hill and shared his thoughts on the future of Soul music.
EBONY: How did the relationship with GM come about? What attracted you to the brand?
John Legend: Impala is reinvigorating their brand with a new design, taking what’s been a classic brand and freshening it up. They felt like I would be a great spokesperson for that. Aside from that, I have a special affinity for the American auto industry because, growing up in Ohio, it’s so important to the economies of our communities.
My father is a retired autoworker. I have uncles were autoworkers. So I believe it’s important for the American auto industry to be successful, and I’m excited to see the renaissance that we’ve had in the car business over the last five years or so. It’s been really exciting to watch because I think for a long time people thought it was on a permanent decline. Instead, now we see companies like GM stronger than ever. So when they reached out to me about doing this, it was definitely something I wanted to do.
EBONY: You have a new album, Love in the Future, coming out. Tell me a bit about music. What’s the sound, the vibe?
JL: It’s a modern soul album. I’ve always been heavily influenced by all the great artists that came before, people like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. When we were making this album, instead of just thinking about what kind of album they would have made 40 years ago, we set out to think about living in that legacy—what can we do to refresh soul music to keep it moving forward. That’s what we’re trying to do with this album.
EBONY: Expand on that. It seems like there is a lack of R&B/soul music on the radio today. Why do you think that is and where is the music going?
John Legend, ‘Made to Love’
John Legend, "Made to Love"
JL: It’s hard to say why things happen. I think we’ve kinda been in the midst of a dance and pop craze recently, but these things ebb and flow. Part of it is defined by the artist, but we’ve also seen people making a lot of noise lately in terms of soul, with Miguel and Frank Ocean. That helps reinvigorate soul music and R&B. It puts it back on the map as something that’s leading and not just an “also” genre. I think it’s our job as musicians that love soul music and make soul music to continue to make it fresh and important. We as artists have to make that a priority.
EBONY: Speaking of classic soul… You worked on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, playing on “Everything Is Everything.” Have you had a chance to communicate with Lauryn?
JL: That was my first appearance on a major album. I haven’t seen her since Rock the Bells on Roosevelt Island a few years ago. I wish Lauryn nothing but the best and hope that she is able to do everything she needs to do creatively after this brief stint.
We all miss her as fans, who just love her and know that she did something so special with that album. We all have been hoping to get her back. Obviously, that’s selfish for us. She has to go through her own journey. I wish her the best in that, but as selfish fans we’d love to hear more new music from her and have her get back to her full glory.
EBONY: The main themes of your new single, “Who Do We Think We Are” with Rick Ross, are success and opulence. What are some of the things you’ve enjoyed most from your success and what are the major downsides?
JL: The song is definitely about celebrating your success, but also about not being afraid to take risks. One of the main lyrics is “I’m not afraid to fly,” and part of the risk of doing anything big, of flying, is that you could fall. Embracing that risk and not being afraid to go out there and do something new, something bold, is really what the song is about.
I’m fortunate that I get to make music for a living. I get to create something new and give it to the world.