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11. John Legend

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 11 is John Legend.


John Legend has successfully mixed the hip hop swag of today’s generation with the smooth crooning vocals of classic R&B from years gone by. In fact, the “Legend” part of his stage name was given to him for that reason. Poet J. Ivy said that he had an old school sound like one of the legends and began calling him John Legend. The name stuck, and Legend’s career has made him a legend in contemporary R&B, hip hop, and pop music.

Legend worked his way to get to where he is today. He built his reputation through collaborations, playing piano and/or singing background vocals with/for the likes of Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, and Kanye West, among others.

By the time he released his debut album, Get Lifted, in 2004, Legend had found his voice and his niche in the music scene. Few people in modern music have as much cachet with as diverse an audience as Legend. His primary sound is soulful R&B with romantic lyrics that make him relatable to the masses. Yet, he often laces his piano tracks with hip hop back beats. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Legend’s music is approachable hip hip, offering an in to hip hop culture for those who may otherwise be turned off by the genre.

Legend has the ability to produce a throwback track a la Marvin Gaye or mix in a verse from Ludacris, and neither sounds forced nor out of character. John Legend is simply the best at what he does.

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