John Legend w/ The Roots – Wake Up

Posted by Saule Wright on September 21, 2010

I was curious as to what I would get when I heard about this album. I’ve been less taken aback by John Legend with each release while The Roots have ushered me effortlessly into stan-ism with each album. The combination of the two can mean some interesting things as we’ve witnessed. With this being a John Legend album, there was no confusion about what it would probably sound like. Legend has made his mark as one of the most recognizable voices of our generation and has recorded some of our most soulful music. The Roots are without a doubt, the dopest Hip Hop band to ever do it, so let’s see how they mesh for more than just a feature.

The album is one that was created in the vein of being open for sampling, recreations of previously sampled songs, and an emphasis on the social and spiritual side of music. Where most people are making music that caters to sex, love, and women, this album is a throwback to the spirit of Bob Marley and Donny Hathaway. Some of the artists whose music is relived on this album are, Nina Simone, Baby Huey, Eugene McDaniels, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Prince Lincoln Thompson & The Rassas, Marvin Gaye, and Donny Hathaway to name a few. Along with the impressive list of songs and artists used to inspire the album, the list list of features helps set up what could be a monumental album with appearances from Common and Melanie Fiona, CL Smooth, and Black Thought (is that really a feature though). Hard Times is the Baby Huey remake which pays homage to not just soul, but Hip Hop with Black Thought spitting a few bars on it as well. Compared to What is a song that has been done quite a few times and it seems like each version is different from one another. This version is definitely funky and addictive and almost puts me in the mind of James Brown with the way the horns come on and the tempo of the track. The title track, Wake Up (Everybody) is one of the more commercial hit songs on the album that is remade on an album full of admittedly obscure originals that they chose to do. It’s this song that really speaks to the focus of what this album is about, as described in the first sentence. Shine is the only original song on the album, yet it stays true to the theme. It was originally written by John Legend for a documentary titled, Waiting for Superman which focuses on public education and the lottery system that grants children the chance to go to better schools instead of the shamble of a school closest to them. The song is nothing short of fantastic.The moment that struck me the most on this album is the 11 minute (and 48 seconds long) I Can’t Write Left Handed which is a remake of Bill Withers that was made at the end of the Vietnam War. By far, this is the most soulful, expressive, painful, and spiritual song I’ve heard this year and probably in a few years. John Legend went on to talk about how they’ve been working on this album and touring since 2008 while this song specifically grew up during the process. The song is really pertinent today as we deal with the monetary and emotional debt that our war on terrorism has cause us. Watching family members and friends go on their 2nd and 3rd tour to the Middle East all in search of…what are we looking for again?

Bottom Line:
I can’t think of anything negative about this album. The only “detraction” (for lack of a better term) that I can say about this album is that because it is a social album, you may have to be in the mood to hear it. In other words, it’s “heavy” and it may not be the kind of album you listen to when you want to chill. It will inspire you to get up and do something, call someone, write someone…do anything but chill. That takes nothing away from the musicianship and musicality of this album. Lyrically and musically, this will probably be considered a classic and due to the economy and serial under-promotion in the music industry, will be slept on commercially. Don’t sleep, I urge you to go out and buy this album. If you love music, this album is a must have. For the parents who are looking to find that album that shows their kids what their music sounded like, and yet doesn’t sound old and outdated, this is the one. For those of us that revere and cherish music that cares, this is the album. Wake up…well said.


Listen to: John Legend w/ The Roots – “I Can’t Write Left Handed”
[audio:|titles=10 I Can't Write Left Handed]


  1. Verbose says:

    thanks S-Dub, I totally forgot about this one comin’ out
    looks like I need to make a run to the record store.

    now just gotta go find a record store….

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  3. Concerned Reader says:

    How you gone give Trey a 5, and then give this a 9?

    What are you listening to? Trey look better than John Legend, and his album is better!

    Ya’ll trippin!

  4. Aidan.Blues says:

    I have to agree… this album is truly a diamond in the rough. While I was listening to this album, I was thrown into the spoken word club atmosphere with a nice martini in my hand.

    The old school sampling was genius. The beats were original and I found myself relaxing on the way to work. Truly great album.

  5. B-Easy says:

    The first song on the album is a cover of Baby Huey’s “Hard Times”. Hearing that beat come on pulled me in immediately. This is a real soulful album.

    Plus Legend & The Roots was on the Oprah show the other day, so hopefully some of those housewives will dropped some dollars down for Wake Up! this week.

  6. Arkitekt says:

    Need to get this asap!

  7. SBK says:

    Damn, great concise review Saule! You really touched on all of the major points about this album. I’ll admit that I downloaded this album just to be able to listen to it but after watching the “Unstaged” concert performance on YouTube last night I immediately went to Best Buy today and purchased a copy of the album. Honestly I was hooked after the first listen through of the album. This is the kind of music that’s really needed from artists nowadays, something real that speaks to the listeners and reflects the times. I think this album has just surpassed ‘Distant Relatives’ and ‘How I Got Over’ as my favorite of 2010. As an artist listening to this album personally inspires me to keep pushing to make the kind of music that’s necessary. If they go on tour to support this album I’ll definitely be there cause it looked even more amazing live.

    • saule wright says:

      Thanks bruh. I didn’t want to do a track by track review for this one, I thought it would cheapen the album so I’m glad you like that. It really is an amazing album and is neck n neck with How I Got Over for album of the year for me. Good lookin out!

  8. A Reader! says:

    Just came thru here via that “Tougher Than Metal” post over NappyAfro and i’m totally diggin it! Great review with spot-on views!

    I’m here to stay.

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  12. Arkitekt says:

    Have to agree with just about everything you said. Top 5 album of the year for me.
    I Can’t Write Left Handed is a masterpiece.

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