“This is the best place in the world to be,” says John Legend about New York City, which he has called home for the past 13 years. Although he also shares a palatial and airy manse in Los Angeles with his fiancée, model and social media wild child Chrissy Teigen (whom he met on the video set for his song, “Stereo”), Legend says they spend most of their time in their New York apartment, and he would not have it any other way.
Since graduating from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania in 1999, the Springfield, Ohio-native— who learned piano at age four, penned his first song at 11, entered high school at 12, and enrolled in college at 16—has been a New Yorker, save for the year he spent working in a Boston consulting firm. Back in the city, Legend continued working a corporate gig by day, while creating buzz for himself on the infamously hermetic music scene. But, in 2002, his friend—Kanye West’s cousin—introduced the two. A history-making partnership was born, and West eventually signed then- John Stephens to a deal with his label G.O.O.D. Music and Columbia Records.
Legend and I may share a common love for Gotham, but we actually met a decade ago in Atlanta, at Diddy’s now-defunct resto, Justin’s. The barely-famous singer sat at a piano—devoid of the unmistakable lambency that money, access, and a top stylist ignites—and serenaded the bemused audience with songs that would eventually comprise his debut album, Get Lifted. Afterward, he and I chatted about his life and career, and he asked my opinion about his songs and performance. I recall Stephens singing with the passion that would become his signature, but without the confidence of a man appropriating a stage name ripe with audacity—at the armpulling of West. It was an omniscient move: The singer’s first album was an international phenomenon and he won three Grammys, including Best New Artist. Legend has since released three more successful albums and won six additional Grammys.
The international superstar’s hit parade includes “Green Light,” a bluelights-in-the-basement-meets-art-houseparty- starter with André 3000, the ’70s easy rock of “Save Room,” and the instant canon-worthy “Ordinary People.” His catalogue is adored by millennials and baby boomers alike. With stratospheric success like that already checked off, where else can he go?
On the eve of the release of his latest work, Love in the Future, Legend talks to UPTOWN about being “competitive,” the ugly rumors surrounding him and Teigen and their upcoming nuptials, his close relationship with West, how being a child of divorce still affects him today, and why he believes that the American education crisis is the civil rights issue of our time.