John Legend is an American singer, songwriter, and producer who’s known for his soulful ballads and impressive vocal range. He’s had tremendous musical success and has won eleven Grammy Awards, but what was his first song?
John Legend began singing hooks for Kanye West after being introduced to the rapper in 2001 and, after signing to West’s label, released his debut album ‘Get Lifted’ on December 28, 2004. ‘Used to Love U’ was the first song to be released from the album, on August 31, 2004.
Read on to learn more about John Legend’s ascent to musical stardom and his extensive collaborations.
From Stephens to Legend
Born John Roger Stephens, John only adopted a stage name after a friend began calling him ‘legend’ due to his “old-school sound”. It stuck and John eventually announced his new artist name explaining, “by being ‘John Legend’, I put some pressure on myself, but I’m gonna try to make my music live up to it.”
The aspiring musician honed his demo whilst working as a management consultant in Boston, and released four albums independently before working with Kanye West.
It was a mutual connection who introduced him to West and Legend was hired to sing hooks for his album ‘The College Dropout’. Legend recollected in an interview with the Independent, “I played piano and sang a lot of stuff on that album”.
Kanye signed Legend to his label, and the two worked together to release Legend’s debut album ‘Get Lifted’ which flew into the charts. Legend gushed to Glamour Magazine about his creative relationship with West, confidently asserting that “I’m better because I work with him”.
The first single to be released from the album was ‘Used to Love U’, followed by ‘Ordinary People’. The album won three Grammy Awards, including the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for ‘Ordinary People’, and established Legend as a major musician and in-demand collaborator, on an international level.
Watch John Legend’s debut single ‘Used to Love U’ in the YouTube video below.
Staying in the Spotlight
Since his big break, Legend has released hit after hit, showing no shortage of creative genius.
His success after ‘Get Lifted’ continued with follow-up studio album ‘Once Again’, one of seven studio albums released by the artist. His career gained momentum with a number of high-profile collaborations, including The Black Eyed Peas and Jay Z, and Legend has consistently released music since.
It would be easy to measure Legend by his number of awards but for him, that’s not what it’s about: “Every time I make a new album, every time I do a new project, I’m challenging myself to make it better than the last one. And if that comes with awards, that’s great, but that’s not the goal”.
The King of collaborations, Legend has worked with some of the world’s greatest artists and credits his collaborations with allowing him to develop his music.
He told GRAMMY.com that, “I think that is what helped me mature as a songwriter, collaborating with really talented, soulful people throughout the process”.
He collaborated with Ariana Grande on the song “Beauty and the Beast’ for the 2017 live-action remake film of the same name and has had a long-term collaborative relationship with Alicia Keys, since singing backing vocals for her 2003 song ‘You Don’t Know My Name’.
His 2020 album ‘Bigger Love’, saw him collaborate with Julia Michaels and Chance the Rapper, along with Charlie Puth and Rafael Sadiq.
Despite his many collaborative experiences, Legend told Glamour Magazine that he still considers his work with Kanye to be the most formative for his career. He said, “I think that’s probably the most important collaboration I’ve done over my life of work”.