John Legend’s Bigger Love Wraps Black Joy, Nostaglia and More in a Pleasing Bow

Illustration for article titled John Legend’s iBigger Love/i Wraps Black Joy, Nostaglia and More in a Pleasing Bow
Photo: JC Olivera (Getty Images)

John Legend’s latest musical offering Bigger Love couldn’t have come at a better time. The EGOT-winner’s 16-song album, which officially drops today, invokes the timelessness of his debut, 2004’s Get Lifted, with an updated flair fitting the vein of 2020’s versatile musical landscape.

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The 41-year-old says Bigger Love is a “celebration of love, joy, hope and resilience,” which is especially necessary today amidst a global health crisis and racial unrest on national soil. All of the songs on the project were recorded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want people to feel lifted by this album,” he told The Root as he unveiled songs from his new album to reporters during an exclusive Zoom chat. “I sing about all sorts of things. I sing about pain, I sing about grief as well, but I feel like this album can be an uplifting album for people, and I hope that’s what they take from it.” In an Instagram post about the project, Legend wrote about his need to showcase “the fullness of what it is to be black and human.”

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“I’m under no illusion that music can save the world or solve the world’s problems, but I’ve always turned to music to help me through tough times and I know many of you have done the same,” he wrote.

The project draws clear inspiration from genres like doo-wop and funk, and it also pays homage to the sounds of the Caribbean on a number of tracks. He enlists artists like Rapsody and “modern guitar god” Gary Clark Jr. on the nostalgic “Remember Us” and the thrilling “Wild,” respectively, while reggae musician Koffee shines on “Don’t Walk Away,” which comes equipped with an intoxicating island riddim.

“I don’t go into the album thinking I have a thesis on how I’m going to make the album different from previous albums,” Legend explains of his “discovery process” of creating new material, which includes thinking about his artistic muses and current inspirations. He also says he’s inspired by his creative partners and “seeing how [their] ideas inspire each other and what [they] create together.” For his latest project, Legend worked with songwriters and producers from virtually all over the spectrum, including Raphael Saadiq, hip-hop production team Digi, and pop singer/songwriters Julia Michels and Charlie Puth.

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Take a look below at some of the standout tracks from Bigger Love, which is available on all streaming services now.




“Ooh Laa”

The album’s Oak Felder-produced opener showcases Legend’s creamy vocals over what he describes as a “doo-wop meets trap” beat, which invokes his barbershop quartet beginnings. The sexy vibes don’t cease from beginning to end, and a chopped and screwed vocal effect near the song’s end provides a pleasing hip-hop element to the subtle nostalgic trip we’re on.

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Actions

Already released as a single, “Actions” sounds like it could have been on Legend’s debut Get Lifted, as it mixes his gifts as a crooner with timeless Oak Felder production. It borrows elements of David McCallum’s “The Edge,” which was used generously by Dr. Dre for the infectious 1999 track “The Next Episode,” which Legend also references during the song’s chorus.

One Life”

Co-written by Anderson .Paak (who Legend says he’s a “huge fan” of) and up-and-comer Cautious Clay, this ‘70s-tinged track would fit in perfectly with The Root’s latest Weekly Jams playlist “A Roller Skating Jam Named Blackness.” The feel-good tune invokes the nostalgia emanating throughout the project and utilizes gentle yet audibly-pleasing strings to bring it to new heights.

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“U Move, I Move” featuring Jhené Aiko

Co-written with L.A. singer/songwriter Trey Campbell, the collaboration between Legend and the Cali-bred singer reads like a breath of fresh air. The duo recently joined forces on Aiko’s project Chilombo on the stand-out “Lightning & Thunder.” “U Move, I Move” showcases that their vocal union earlier this year was not dumb luck, as they complement each other’s gifts beautifully.

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“Bigger Love”

The album’s island-tinged title track features production from Jamaican producer Da Genius, and was written alongside Cautious Clay and songwriter/producer Ryan Tedder. Legend believes that it’s important to place global black artists center stage (like he did with Da Genius), especially since there is so much Afro-Caribbean influence in music today.

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“I think so much of what we’re hearing in popular music that’s been so successful lately is a lot of the rhythms of Africa,” Legend tells The Root. “Whether it’s Caribbean music, Latin music, or mainstream pop music, you’re just hearing it all over the place. I think it’s an important part of our musical foundation.”

Pronounced "Jay-nuh."

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