John Legend is in a darker space for his fourth solo studio album. Following the 2008 release of his last solo LP "Evolver" and the socio-political "Wake Up!" collaboration with The Roots, Legend has teamed up yet again with producer Dave Tozer for his untitled album (Summer 2012), which will also feature production from Kanye West, Bink and Paul Epworth, as well as co-writing with Dan Wilson.
At his New York City studio, Tozer gave Billboard.com's The Juice a preview of five works-in-progress for the Springfield, Ohio singer-songwriter's LP. The project fuses the hip-hop leanings of his 2004 debut "Get Lifted" with sheen, yet shadowy, production. "On Fire," the first song the pair recorded for the project, set the tone for the untitled project's direction," while "She Did It All" is barer, with an extended guitar-vocal duet that leads into a Stevie Wonder-hued climax. The dreamy "Hello My Heart" stands as pledge to eternal love; "Star" plays as a tongue-in-cheek takedown of undeserved celebutante fame; and "Gotta Getter Back" centers on rich vocal harmonies.
What's the concept for this album?
This one's different from "Evolver." Thematically, it's a little darker and less resolved in terms of asking a lot of questions and not having answers. The overall sound is much darker on a lot of it, too... We had discussions at the onset of these initial sessions that all we talked about was the direction being a little more dark.
Is this going to be his experimental album?
I'd say it's a little experimental, sure. But I think the arrangements and productions are a little more adventurous. But John's voice and the songwriting still sort of make it at home for John; it's still in a good zone for him as an artist. But musically, it's still a little more adventurous than the other stuff. But it's not so left field that it's going to alienate his listeners.
What are you doing differently this time that wasn't done with previous albums?
My approach to it has definitely been a lot of break beat hip-hop drums to the tracks, much similar to how we approached the first album. For me, starting out with John back in the day, we were really into Lauryn Hill and "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." That album was a guiding light for us musically. Now, it's still soulful music with more of a hip-hop underpinning to it. I just think that the arrangements have a lot more depth to them and the sonics are a lot more interesting.
Are there any collaborators on this album?
There's a song we just did that we may want to get a rapper on that we were talking about, maybe having Black Thought rap on. It makes sense when you hear the track in particular. There have been some initial talks about a couple of collaborations, but nothing set yet that we've sort of really put into motion yet. But there are some seeds for some interesting stuff, potentially.
What else are you working on?
[John and I] did a song last November with an artist that I'm super excited about that no one really knows here yet. Her name is Kimbra. It's got an almost Jackson 5 type vibe to it, but it's also got this subversive quirky touch to it. And then also, I've got a production collaboration I did with Justin Timberlake for Free Sol. So Justin and I produced several songs on their new album, and that's coming out this year as well on Interscope. That's just a mix of some hip-hop and rock and it's more aggressive. Right now, I'm really focused on writing and producing and continuing to take bigger roles in artists' projects. And, help developing new artists, too, which is what I hoped to do with John early on and a few other artists who I've gotten involved with early along the way.