Bigger Love

Bigger Love

“These songs are about joy, hope, and resilience,” John Legend tells Apple Music. “The power of the human spirit.” His upbeat seventh album Bigger Love was largely recorded in 2019, before a pandemic and mass protests swept the globe, but its message is no less relevant or uplifting: Love wins. Shaped by the same wrecking crew from his blockbuster Christmas album, including Raphael Saadiq as executive producer, the songs here serve as a bridge between vintage and modern Black music; he hat-tips The Flamingos and Marvin Gaye, reimagines trap drums, and flirts with Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Equally exciting are the young hitmakers (Tayla Parx, Cautious Clay, and Anderson .Paak are a few) and clever collaborations (bluesman Gary Clark Jr., rising reggae sensation Koffee) peppered throughout, making these instant classics feel unmistakably now. Read on as Legend tells the story behind each song. Ooh Laa “Oak Felder, the lead producer on this track, had this idea to bring doo-wop and trap together, and since a lot of my career has been built on merging the old and new, I think he thought I was the perfect artist to try it with. We wanted to mix the 808 that you’d hear in trap music with the piano and doo-wop vocals of a bygone era, so we recorded our own sample version of ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ [a song most often credited to 1950s group The Flamingos] and pieced everything together in a way that felt subtle. After a while, I started to feel like I knew what the heart of this album sounded like. It was vintage sounds with a modern sensibility. It was big. It was joyful. It was classic but contemporary at the same time.” Actions “This sample originally comes from a song called ‘The Edge’ by David McCallum, but of course we know it from ‘The Next Episode’ by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. When you hear it, it's immediate familiarity, an immediate connection to that era of hip-hop. Lyrically, it tells the story of a bachelor who isn’t ready to commit but writes all these love songs, and writing it took me back to that era—like 2003 or 2004, around Get Lifted—where I was writing all these romantic ballads but also being pretty messy and, you know, not living up to them. I guess now, as a happily married man with kids, this is how I relive it. One interesting thing about this song is that even though the ‘la-da-da-da-da’ reminds you of Snoop, it’s also a nod to the way I write songs, because I scat everything before I sort out the lyrics.” I Do “This is my kids' favorite song, probably because the chorus is so easy for them to sing along to and it’s repetitive and fun. We have little dance parties at the house, and this is their favorite song to get down to. I wrote it with Charlie Puth, who is a pretty prolific producer and songwriter, and just full of energy and ideas. It came together really naturally despite the fact that we’re so different—he's bouncing off the walls, while I'm pretty mellow. But we had great chemistry in the studio.” One Life “I'm a huge fan of Anderson .Paak. I've been listening to his albums for years, and he has the best grooves, they’re just so good. I’d wanted to write with him for a while now, and finally we were able to get together. We went up to his studio near Burbank and started jamming. Cautious Clay got on it, and Matt Jones did the strings, and it came together in a day.” Wild (with Gary Clark Jr.) “There's a UK songwriting company called TMS that wrote Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone You Loved,’ and a while back they reached out with a song they thought would be good for me. I changed a couple of the lyrics, but not much, and Raphael suggested we hit up Gary for a guitar solo. Of course, he graced us with his incredible skill and took the song to another level. At some point, I decided I wanted live drums to bring the intensity up a bit, so we brought in a drummer named Garrison Brown from Youngstown, Ohio, which is near where I grew up. We quickly put it together that my mom used to go to his church, and a pianist from his church had been a mentor to me. It’s a small world.” Bigger Love “I spent a while on this with Ryan Tedder and Cautious Clay, but it was missing the Afro-Caribbean rhythm that I wanted. I reached out to Di Genius and asked him to doctor it up, and he killed it. Natalie Imani sings on this track, and her part reminds me of those old house music songs with big, elevated gospel vocals. I always thought this would be a good album title—just the way it sounds and the message it sends—but I also think the energy of the album is big. It’s big because it has a diverse range of styles of music, it feels expansive and global, but it’s also big in its color and soulfulness and joy. That’s what I wanted, all the way down to the big, bright visuals. This song is about hope and optimism and resilience, the love that can get you through tough times. And that’s what this album is really about.” U Move, I Move (feat. Jhené Aiko) “I originally recorded this as a solo, but it felt like the right song to have a male-female duet since it’s about that interplay between two people who are in love and in tune with each other. Jhené had reached out about having me on her album [Chilombo] and I really loved our voices together, so it was an easy decision. Recording it was trickier. This is one of the songs that came together in quarantine, so I had to sing my idea of what I wanted the duet to be into my phone and send it to her, and wait to see what she sent back. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but she sounded incredible on the first take. Necessity is the mother of invention.” Favorite Place “It was me, Julia Michaels, and Jamil Chammas, or ‘Digi,’ in a room, and we were just riffing. Julia and I had written ‘What You Do to Me’ and ‘Surefire’ from [2016’s] Darkness and Light, so I knew she had an amazing sense of hook and melody. Like, she’s gifted. All of the songs she writes are really sexy, they have a certain sensuality to them, and this one came together really quickly.” Slow Cooker “Trey [Campbell] originally wrote this as a metaphor for someone who takes a while to react to life, who needs to think about things longer than other people. I was fine with that, but I thought it’d be cooler if we made the song sexier and about taking it slow in a more sensual way. I love a good food metaphor because Chrissy and I love to cook, so it felt like a perfect little tweak.” Focused “This is one of the older songs on the album, written back in 2017, and has a different vibe than the rest of the record, more acoustic and folksy. It kind of reminds me of an Otis Redding song. I love it. It's kind of seductive, and kind of everyman as well.” Conversations in the Dark “Gregg Wattenberg wrote this, and I loved the concept—that those small, intimate moments are some of the best parts of your relationship—but I just changed a few of the lyrics to feel more personal to me and my relationship with Chrissy. It’s about the simple things you do together when nobody else is around, like watching movies you’ve already seen and sleeping in on Sundays, and Chrissy and I could really relate to that. When it first came out, she said it was her favorite song since ‘All of Me.’” Don't Walk Away (with Koffee) “I wrote this with Di Genius, a Jamaican producer whose father is Freddie McGregor, a legendary Jamaican musician. So we were firmly in that place. I was thinking it'd be cool to bring a Jamaican or African artist in to add to that Afro-Caribbean flavor, and I started doing my research, listening to young dancehall and reggae artists. I decided that Koffee would be great on this and wound up meeting her at the Grammys, and she was into it. I sent her the song not long after that, and she graced us with her presence.” Remember Us (with Rapsody) “I also met Rapsody on Grammy weekend. I went to the Roc Nation brunch looking to meet her because my brothers and I had been listening to her album and talking about how good it was, and I thought she’d be perfect for this song because I knew she could tell a great story. It needed soul. She wrote a couple verses and they were so special, full of references that really hit home for me. To be honest, I get emotional every time I hear it, because I think about Kobe and Nipsey and the tragic ways we lost them when they still had so much to bring to the world.” I'm Ready (feat. Camper) “Me, Camper, and Tayla Parx were in the studio, and Camper played us a demo that was honestly kind of weird, like a loop of his voice without much other music, just an 808. But something about it reminded me of Marvin Gaye—his more haunting songs, the ones he did for Here, My Dear and his bluer songs about loss—so we wrote the rest along those lines. It’s my Marvin tribute in some ways.” Always “This was written for Love in the Future back in 2011 or 2012 and didn't make the cut. It wasn't one of Kanye's favorites, and we had other songs we were more excited about. But I played it for Raphael and he was so into it, so we brought it back, added some strings to it, and replayed some of the drums. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same song that Ester [Dean], Camper, and I wrote back then, and I’m glad we brought it back to life.” Never Break “I wrote this song with Mr Hudson, Nasri, and Greg Wells back in early 2019, and who knew how meaningful it would be now, during the pandemic and protests and all these things? It's an ode to love and hope and resilience, and the power of the human spirit, and I felt like it was the perfect way to close the album.”

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