Ohio-born John Legend team up with Philadelphia-based hip-hop band The Roots on their collaborative studio album "Wake Up!" The album pays tribute to blues and soul music from the 1960s and 1970s. Legend and The Roots tried to promote awareness of social, political and economic concerns among a contemporary audience.
"Wake Up!" delivers the diverse brand of soul and funk expected from both Legend and The Roots. The album features covers of soulful songs that illustrate the struggles that minorities and American soldiers faced during the Civil Rights Movement as well as the Vietnam War.
The first single on the album, "Wake Up Everybody," a cover of a Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes song, features two familiar voices in R&B and hip hop communities, singer Melanie Fiona and rapper Common, who contribute to the overall message of the album; be aware and make the change. Legend and Fiona carry the message of the album through lyrics like "the world won’t get no better if we just let it be/the world won’t get no better/we gotta change it yeah/just you and me." Common’s powerful verse adds to the originality of the album by relating the time that the song was written to present day global issues.
The second single, "Hard Times," a Baby Huey and The Babysitters cover, tells a tale of "having hard times in this crazy town." Accompanied by The Roots’ lead rapper Black Thought, Legend immerses himself into the genre of soul and delivers a powerful message depicting the hard times of African Americans throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
Perhaps the most recognizable song on the album is "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free," originally written and performed by Nina Simone. Although Legend added his own spirit to the song, the lyrics sang of a time of oppression and limited rights, supplementary to the message of "Wake Up!"
Another sure-to-be hit on the album is the closing song "Shine," an original by Legend, which closes the album and sends a message of hope.
Legend sings "let them read on/let them shine on/let them grow on," to conclude the album. The main themes of the album are combined with oppression, war, equality and peace, combined with stellar guitar solos and the sound of a powerful piano.
With his soulful swagger and their bluegrass hip-hop vibes, John Legend and The Roots have created a global message worth listening to in "Wake Up!" and the album delivers the sort of charisma and funk listeners can only find in two such talented acts.