Legend got his start playing piano for Lauryn Hill.
Question: How did you find your way into the music industry?
John Legend: Well I’ve been working in music and I’ve been playing since I was as kid. But in the industry itself, the first record I ever played on that was a major record was Lauryn Hill’s album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, back in 1998. I was still in college at University of Pennsylvania. I had a friend who was a friend of Lauryn’s and she introduced me to her. This was after the success of The Score by the Fugees. And so Lauryn was a big star, and everyone was anticipating her solo album. And I went to the studio with them one day and just hung out, and she heard me sing. I played a couple of songs for her, and she thought I sounded good and wanted me to play piano for the track she was working on. So I did it, played on it, and she liked what I did, and she kept it on the album. The song was called “Everything Is Everything”, which was a pretty big hit back in ’98, ’99, and I was just really proud to be part of such an important album.
And that was my first entry into the big time, the big leagues of the music business. But it was just a session. I just played the piano and that was that.
As I progressed as a writer and as a singer, I worked with different producers – some in Philly, some in New York – and I put a couple different variations of my band together, and I just kept trying to get a record deal. I would play at local clubs in New York and Philadelphia, sometimes Atlanta, sometimes D.C., just trying to get some buzz and building an audience. And it kept building and building.
A couple years into me living in New York, I met Kanye West who at the time was still an unknown producer from Chicago who had just moved out to the East Coast. He is the cousin of one of my good friends, DeVaughn Harris, who is also a producer and one of my classmates from college.
And we started working together, Kanye and I, and I think that was the biggest difference-maker in my career. When I started working with him, his star was just starting to ascend and I kind of hitched onto that. And his ascension really helped me get noticed by the right people, and we made some really cool music together, him and I, on his project, and also on my own project and other people’s projects like Slum Village, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z.
All these things were happening before I got a record deal, and they were helping me get the buzz and the energy around my project that I needed to get a record deal. And finally in 2004, I signed with Sony through Kanye’s imprint, and I released my first Album, Get Lifted, in December of 2004.
Recorded on: Jan 29, 2008