As part of Billboard’s new partnership with Artists Den, music fans can take behind-the-scenes peeks into some of the most exciting live shows the series has put on. This week, Billboard is taking a look back at John Legend’s 2017 show at Riverside Church in Harlem, New York.
Above, you can watch the singer’s performance of “Penthouse Floor,” which appeared on his 2016 album Darkness and Light. During the show, he also performed the songs “Overload,” “Made to Love,” “Love Me Now,” and “All of Me.”
Ahead of the show, Legend sat down for a conversation with author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to discuss how he knows when it’s time to start writing his next album, to which he replied that because he is a “bit of a workaholic,” he never waits too long to start writing new music.
“If I get off tour, I go on vacation for a couple weeks and then I’m like, okay, it’s time to make a new album,” said Legend. “I don’t need a lightning bolt of inspiration…I figure that the writing process will give me those lightning bolts eventually, but I just have to go and try to receive it. I have to go and try to make it happen. And to me, the best advice I give to writers is…to write.”
Legend also discussed whether or not he feels pressure to address certain things given that he has a platform to do so. He replied that while he feels like he does, he doesn’t think that every artist needs to feel that way.
“They don’t do the work to be informed about what’s happening,” he explained. “If they did, then maybe they should. But I feel like if you know what’s happening, if you’re paying attention, if you can articulate your concerns and you have the place and the position where you can, then you should.”
In another video, Artists Den took a closer look at the venue itself, speaking with Riverside Church’s Senior Minister, Pastor Amy Butler, and Minister of Justice, Advocacy & Change, Reverend Bertram Johnson, about how the church was first started to be a center of Christian justice and advocacy and how the church works to serve people living in the prison correctional system.
Legend also weighed in on the importance of helping those who are poor or disenfranchised or left behind, and why it is essential to communicate with young people who live in single parent households due to one of their parents being in prison.
“I realized that it was easier for me to raise money for the schools because everyone sympathizes with young people when they still have fertile minds,” he said.
“As soon as they’re 14 and they get in trouble, we’re trying them as adults…and essentially throwing their lives away…We need to help them. We need to get them better schools.”
“Obviously, they have a lot of challenges,” he continued. “When the human response to all those challenges is that some of them may go the wrong direction, that’s a human response. And then we wonder why these neighborhoods could never come back. We’re creating conditions, and then perpetuating conditions that make it harder for them to do so…I’d seen it with my mother, seen it with friends of mine that grew up in my neighborhood, and I felt a personal sense of connection to it. And also just a broader societal sense, we need to have some urgency around this issue.”