It takes gumption to change your last name from Stephens to Legend, but child prodigy John Legend has never lacked ambition. The soul superstar grew up in Ohio playing piano and singing in his church choir, and eventually found his way to New York where he caught the ear of rap super-producer Kanye West. At 26, Legend released his debut album, Get Lifted, and immediately established himself as a major new voice in R&B, turning out hit singles and winning a pair of Grammy Awards, which wouldn’t be his last. Two more albums have followed: Once Again, which found Legend fine-tuning his sound and 2008’s Evolver, which true to its title showed an artist trying new things. He gets further from the vibe of his discography with “Our Generation,” the first taste off of Wake Up!, his forthcoming album collaboration with The Roots.
Legend & The Roots re-craft a lost classic by the great, yet somehow underappreciated, soul singer Ernie Hines. Mississippi-born, Hines grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he got his start singing in the church. Soul music eventually caught his interest and the singer/guitarist ended up playing with the likes of Lowell Fulsom and Clyde McPhatter. In 1970 he signed to the legendary Stax label, where he recorded “Our Generation.” Like much of that era’s music, Hines’ song doesn’t give in to the tumult and conflict of the times, refusing to be consumed by it and offering a call to young people to make the world a better place. It’s raw and soulful and honest.
Legend and The Roots’s modern interpretation of “Our Generation” retains the all of the authenticity of the original track: It gets funky from the outset, with big fat brass and an ice cold keyboard vamp, inspirational backing singers and a particularly gritty vocal by Legend who reiterates Hines’s 40-year-old message about making the future better by “getting rid of all the hate.”