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By Loren Green
On his late 2004 debut single, "Used to Love U," John Legend told his soon-to-be-ex that, given her expensive tastes, "maybe...Puffy or Jay-Z would all be better for you." That's either modesty--I'm no superstar, just a broke-ass regular guy--or vanity--I'm in the same general dating pool as Puffy and Jay-Z. While puzzling that out, consider that Legend is a stage name (John Messiah, apparently, was deemed presumptuous). Legend, born John Stephens, is the first artist on Kanye West's Getting Out Our Dreams imprint, a new Sony subsidiary. He's a dapper, piano-playing singer-songwriter who's being positioned as an older, male Alicia Keys, a no-bullshit sophisticate that you can take home to Mama. You might not want to leave him alone with her, however. The latter half of Legend's Get Lifted, his often exceptional, sometimes irritating hit album, is as churchy and pro-family as a Republican convention. The cheating-song-heavy first half, however, has some bad-boy nip. If Kanye is the guy who goes to church on Sunday to atone for his Saturday-night sins, Legend is the guy who goes to church on Sunday to set up a Monday-afternoon tryst with the choir director's wife.
A sexy, mostly light-handed singer, Legend uses his gentle rasp to elevate a so-so composition like "Used to Love U" from a 4 to a 5, and the hip Latin piano figure he throws on the chorus has its eye on 6. The second single, "Ordinary People," is a fresh-love ballad indebted to Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Billy Joel, and a couple of expensive cocktails. Legend performs the song as if it were too refined and pensive for additional adornment. Actually, it's all bogus elegance and two-dollar wisdom. The guy has some ace singles in waiting, though. Lord willing and the crick don't rise, the third one will be "Number One," a cheater's mea culpa on which West leaves the mixing board to do some beguiling rapping that sounds like singing. Legend responds by singing like he's rapping, while a Curtis Mayfield sample plays the friendly ghost in the machine. It's a retro-soul delight, if not quite the stuff legends are made of.
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