John Legend is a lover man, a household man, a soul man, an EGOT, a movie and tv producer, and — in a task that actually has not escaped the consideration of the president of the United States, or most anybody else — a political animal. That he does all of it with conscience and consciousness is what makes Legend a potent pressure, whether or not he’s discussing public coverage, dissing Donald Trump or crooning the songs of hope, heritage and devotion just lately discovered on his seventh studio album, “Bigger Love.”

Notwithstanding his seen and talked-about position as a social justice gadfly and coverage wonk, Legend, 41, stays a deeply passionate musician who in 2020 has made colourful R&B that’s optimistic and brilliant, even in the face of a world pandemic and radical social upheaval. Talk to the singer-songwriter about the Juneteenth-released “Bigger Love,” and he explains that the pleasure, grief and romance that inform its 16 songs make sense in these most divisive of instances.

Ramona Rosales for Variety

“Part of the album is about resilience — that love can assist us energy by arduous instances,” he says. “Of course, I didn’t know I used to be releasing ‘Bigger Love’ throughout a pandemic or that, two weeks earlier than its launch, there’d be a nine-minute snuff video of an officer killing George Floyd. I didn’t know what panorama I’d be releasing this album into. I do imagine that there’s extra to the Black expertise in America than mourning, anger and outrage. There’s extra to our humanity. I used to be in search of the sound of love in what’s a fairly scary time.”

Legend is a provocative political thinker, activist and advocate for social and racial justice who places his money and time the place his mouth is. He labored on the “Yes We Can” video with in 2008 that was constructed from then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s concession speech in New Hampshire — a video that some say helped flip round his Democratic major marketing campaign towards Hillary Clinton. He readily takes on systemic points — particularly in the case of topics reminiscent of COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the president who has adopted Obama. Donald Trump as soon as tweeted that Legend was “boring” and his spouse, Chrissy Teigen, “filthy mouthed.” The two think about his enmity a badge of honor.

“President Trump is clearly a bigot,” says Legend coolly. “He’s been a bigot his whole life. I imagine he’s a eugenicist. … He’s not succesful of main the nation when we’ve got moments of racial unrest and responses to racism. We’re at all times going to be a weaker nation with him in cost, and it’s an pressing precedence that he’s not in cost.”

Legend’s sense of self and self-worth, his understanding of commerce and his willingness to department out are some of the issues which have made him a mogul. Since 2005, he has held the be aware on his touring firm (which incorporates personal live shows) in addition to proudly owning his publishing, administered by BMG. There is the LVE Collection of wines (in collaboration with Napa Valley’s Raymond Vineyards) and a wealth of product endorsements, from Hint Water and Stella Artois beer to Pampers and Google Assistant. The final deal led to Legend turning into the voice of the AI app till just lately.

Both the Pampers and Google Assistant advert runs have been created in unison with Teigen, a mannequin, cookbook writer and social media pressure along with her personal distinctive voice. “When it involves Chrissy, I’m there as a pal, adviser and assist system — to speak her up — however she’s working her personal show,” he says.

His collaborative nature has additionally served him nicely. He and his manufacturing enterprise, Get Lifted Film Co., govt produced NBC’s 2018 Emmy-winning “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Marc Platt, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, with Legend in the title position. Get Lifted was behind the 2017 Broadway manufacturing of August Wilson’s “Jitney,” which received a Tony for greatest play revival. And the second cease on his EGOT tour, an Oscar for authentic music for “Glory” in Ava DuVernay’s 2014 movie “Selma,” was shared with co-writer and co-performer Common.

“John is one of the biggest collaborators I’ve labored with,” says Common, who has additionally attached with Legend on some of his personal albums. “When we created ‘Glory,’ it was a cellphone name about being the coronary heart and soul of the film. He requested me for 3 titles, and we went with that one. From that title, he wrote the refrain. That refrain exemplifies and embodies every part I imagined and extra.”

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Ask John Legend what makes him adept at so many issues and he laughs. “I prefer to suppose I do every part with ardour,” he says, “however actually music comes first.”

The inventive enterprise nearest his coronary heart after music is Get Lifted, launched in 2012 and named for his breakthrough 2004 debut album. He makes use of three phrases to measure the firm’s success: “Impact, affect and integrity.”

And revenue? “We care about being profitable,” he permits, “however I’m fantastic with that. The motive we’ve got success in ancillary companies past music is as a result of we rent actually good folks and companion with actually good folks. We maintain ourselves and people we work with to excessive requirements. We come collectively to create one thing great and delightful, be it a music, a movie or tv manufacturing, or one thing geared towards social and racial justice.”

The “we” that Legend refers to are longtime mates and associates Mike Jackson and Ty Stiklorius. Stiklorius additionally acts as his lead supervisor. Legend’s belief in friendship goes deep: Before him, Stiklorius by no means managed an artist.

Legend and Stiklorius attended the University of Pennsylvania in the ’90s. She sang with him in Counterparts, a college vocal group of which he was musical director. She realized early on that they each had activist souls. “Back after I began working with him, he had simply put out ‘Get Lifted,’” says Stiklorius of Legend’s double-platinum debut that received Grammys for R&B album and male R&B efficiency. “He was so sensible and so considerate. John, at that time, was the man giving me books to examine politics and poverty. That was his factor: at all times elevating the consciousness of anybody round him.”

Jackson, who went to Penn State, had dated Stiklorius in highschool in Philadelphia. She launched him to Legend. Fresh out of faculty in 1999, Legend tapped Jackson to be his supervisor. Jackson says he knew Legend’s ambitions went far past that of the common singer-songwriter.

“John had visions of what he may do to make the world a greater place,” Jackson says. “We all believed that he was developed, so what was the greatest technique to show that? By using the scope of that platform and the issues we wished to place out into the world.”

That meant creating content material exterior of music, in a universe the place Legend may promote a narrative he wished to share, or establish folks with tales to inform and producing alternatives for them. “He’s the motive I obtained concerned in tv and movie,” Legend says of Jackson, “after explaining to me how the enterprise labored and that my identify did truly imply one thing in Hollywood.”

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Success for Legend as a multihyphenate got here shortly; Get Lifted received an general deal from Universal simply 9 months after the trio launched the firm. Still, Legend says the course of was not a straightforward one. “The very first thing that studios wished to know was if I used to be severe about all this,” he remembers. Adds Jackson: “I believe folks thought that this was simply one other musician and one other self-importance mission.”

Get Lifted has championed initiatives which might be near Legend’s coronary heart. The 2015-16 Pop TV actuality sequence “Sing It On” concerned aggressive collegiate a cappella groups, like the one he led at Penn.

The firm was creating multicultural, socially simply and racially pushed content material with a twist — reminiscent of WGN America’s drama “Underground” (1.four million viewers for its 2016 premiere), about slaves escaping the South through the Underground Railroad — even earlier than the present-day BLM motion. This places Get Lifted forward of the consciousness-raising curve, a degree of pleasure for its principals.

“Lots of this curiosity began after #OscarsSoWhite, the energy of Black Twitter, and seeing that [there] was a viable market to see Black expertise on the display screen, extra so than in the previous,” remembers Legend, who additionally factors to the game-changing blockbuster “Black Panther.” “A movie reminiscent of that confirmed should you do it proper and have monetary success, you’ll be able to say Black tales with vary, exterior the typical field that Black artwork was most frequently put in for too lengthy.”

In October, Netflix debuted Get Lifted’s “Rhythm + Flow,” the streaming service’s first musical competitors sequence. The show options Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and Tip “T.I.” Harris judging unsigned rappers.

In addition to “Jitney” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” Get Lifted additionally had a manufacturing credit score on “La La Land,” which received six Oscars and grossed greater than $150 million in the U.S. and almost $450 million worldwide. In April 2019, after a bidding warfare, the firm signed a three-year general cope with ABC Studios to develop scripted TV exhibits, transferring on from an earlier pact with Sony Pictures TV.

Along with a documentary deal at HBO, Get Lifted is working with IFC (a second season of the “Sherman’s Showcase” sketch comedy with writer-hosts Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle has been greenlit), NBC (Legend is, of course, a choose on “The Voice”) and Netflix.

The streamer will not be solely getting ready for “Rhythm + Flow” Season 2 as quickly as social distancing filming opens; it additionally reportedly paid out its largest funds for a Black-directed movie for “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,” a holiday-themed musical from “First Sunday” helmer David E. Talbert and starring Forest Whitaker, Anika Noni Rose and Keegan-Michael Key, on account of be launched towards the finish of the 12 months.

Get Lifted entered the mission at the script degree (Legend can even contribute a music, “Make It Work”), and Talbert says that the firm’s involvement in his story of a toymaker, his adventurous granddaughter and a magical invention which may change their lives has forged its personal spell. “John’s perception in me as an artist, my spouse Lyn as a producer and his love for the mission made ‘Jingle Jangle’ bulletproof,” he says. “And it’s rattling certain gonna have some nice music.”

Last Friday, Sony Pictures Television and Get Lifted confirmed it can develop “Paper Gods” for ABC, written and govt produced by Tash Gray and primarily based on writer Goldie Taylor’s novel of the similar identify. Nia Long will star in and govt produce “Paper Gods,” alongside Legend, Stiklorius and Jackson, who’s spearheading the mission on behalf of Get Lifted.

The mogul life has been good to John Legend. He earns between $50 million and $100 million per 12 months from his numerous initiatives — music publishing, royalties, endorsements, movie and TV productions, even his wine enterprise. His private web value is estimated to be between $50 million and $75 million. And although the Get Lifted principals received’t talk about particular greenback quantities, the firm is believed to be valued in the mid- to upper-eight figures.

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“We can spend money on a younger director and can do this as a result of we’ve got that leverage,” says Stiklorius. “We search for high-quality, unapologetically Black initiatives. We search for multicultural initiatives. We’re feminists. We search for tales that replicate marginalized populations that don’t at all times get their tales instructed with integrity. We stand for leveling the taking part in area of alternative. You can crack open folks’s hearts and get loads performed with music. Same with nice movie and tv content material.  We’re continuously making an attempt to wake folks up.”

Stiklorius began working with Legend on John Legend Ventures in 2005, and calls it “a structural backend” for his or her present collaborations. She can be his companion in FreeAmerica, a culture-change marketing campaign centered on ending mass incarceration.

Common remembers Legend’s phrases on the topic at the Academy Awards in 2015. “When he turned his Oscar speech into one thing about prison justice reform — and no one was speaking about that again then — he turned my head round shortly. I by no means realized so many individuals have been incarcerated compared with those that had been enslaved. Plus, he’s been to the prisons. He hires employees for his workforce who’ve been incarcerated. He’s on the entrance traces together with his phrases, effort, cash and vitality. Like Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Public Enemy and KRS-One, John is an artist who sings and speaks about the change, and helps make the change.”

Legend says cities ought to be analyzing how a lot they spend on policing, “and whether or not or not that’s wholesome for our neighborhood.
“We are f—ing up a lot stuff on the entrance finish that the solely technique to clear up our mess is to make use of the police to include it, and use the jails to punish and management it. What can be extra ethical can be to spend cash on the entrance finish to make it possible for folks have the enter of their lives that would make them more healthy and safer. … That’s the proper dialog that neighborhood organizers and activists are asking us to have. The mistaken dialog is to retrain the similar guys to maintain breaking the guidelines and the legal guidelines. We’ve tried for many years. It hasn’t labored.”

An excellent mogul makes guarantees. An awesome mogul retains them.

“I plan to make use of my social expertise and my musical abilities to be a constructive position mannequin for my fellow African Americans. I envision a profitable musical profession that may permit me to acquire excessive visibility in the neighborhood. This, in flip, will put me ready of nice affect, which I’ll make the most of to be able to be an advocate for the development of Blacks in America.”

Those have been the phrases John Legend wrote at age 14, when he nonetheless glided by the identify John Roger Stephens, in a Martin Luther King Jr. birthday essay for his hometown newspaper, the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, on how he deliberate to make an influence on Black historical past throughout his lifetime.

But Legend was at all times precocious. He was born right into a working-class household by which his mom sang and directed the church choir. His father performed drums. He obtained his first piano classes at age four and initially was schooled at house by his mom. He began highschool at an early age and was a superb pupil. He turned down Harvard, amongst others, to attend Penn.

But why learn it right here whenever you may quickly have the ability to see it? One mission in the Get Lifted pipeline is an “Everybody Hates Chris”-like sequence primarily based on Legend’s adolescence. “The preferrred place for this might be ABC,” says Legend, “the place we’ve got a deal and the place we’re working with the workforce from ‘The Goldbergs’ to assist us discover a author to develop my story. They already did an interview with my household on Zoom to get some good dust.” Though the show is bound to be fictionalized, he says, “They need it to be genuine and seize what it was prefer to be a 12-year-old beginning highschool — somebody who was homeschooled and grew up in the church earlier than that, and was musical.”

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As for his political work, there are the discussions he’s having with the philanthropic and policymaking communities to fund a type of equitable restoration in a post-COVID-19 world: “an initiative that can be positioned in cities throughout the nation — not simply to get again to regular, however to institute an improved model of what regular means,” he says.

And then there’s the new music. While “Bigger Love” can’t be supported with a tour (not till 2021 at the earliest, anyway), Legend, Stiklorius and their groups are engaged on every part from newly filmed music movies and social media campaigns to further tv spots for the singer past ABC’s latest “John Legend and Family: Bigger Love Father’s Day,” which featured Stevie Wonder, Anthony Anderson, Shaquille O’Neal and Patton Oswalt.

When requested if his new album is aimed toward a streaming viewers, Legend is frank. “It’s much less so than different artists’, youthful artists’,” he says. “We weren’t capable of do a vinyl and a CD model of this album in time for the launch date, as a result of of COVID — we’re going to launch these later — so the reality that onerous copy gross sales [weren’t] included in that [first] week’s launch means we haven’t reached the folks we usually get to.”

With one album left on Legend’s Columbia contract, an attention-grabbing query arises for the music-maker: Will he keep at the main label that gave him his first massive shot again in 2004, or is it time to deepen the ties of friendship?

“What an artist wants right this moment will not be the similar because it was once we signed … and even 5 years in the past,” says Stiklorius, whose Friends at Work administration workforce additionally reps Charlie Puth, Lindsey Stirling and Raphael Saadiq, the producer of “Bigger Love.” “We know the enterprise fashions and the methods to do it. As a full-service administration workforce with a 40-person infrastructure, there’s nearly nothing that we are able to’t do {that a} label can do if John determined to go that route.”

Legend continues the thread, noting that he doesn’t focus as a lot on cash earned from recordings as a result of “the method you monetize your work is thru so many different issues, past streams and bodily gross sales. For me, recording is about constructing my legacy and my model, and utilizing it as a calling card to do different issues, like carry out reside. We can do it on our personal; the query is, will we wish to? Columbia has been cool. I’ve been there since the starting of my profession, and we’ve had loads of success collectively. Obviously, personnel adjustments matter — [chairman/CEO] Ron Perry is pretty new there, and we’re attending to know one another — however we’ve had a terrific run there. Ask me in a 12 months.”

Ultimately, the willpower might come all the way down to no matter lets him greatest perform that mission assertion he wrote at age 14. As these phrases of self-determination and neighborhood uplift are learn again to him, he considers how issues have performed out.

“I actually have been making an attempt to do this my whole profession,” Legend says.

Source John Legend, Variety’s Music Mogul of the Year: Big Business, Bigger Love


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