The Root Interview: John Legend

The R&B crooner talks with The Root about his new album with the Roots, "Wake Up"; the importance of a good education; and his anticipation for a Lauryn Hill return.

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TR: The sole original song on the album, “Shine,” will be featured on Davis Guggenheim’s (An Inconvenient Truth) upcoming education documentary, Waiting for “Superman.” Tell us about your passion for education.

JL: I’ve always been concerned about justice. I’ve always been a follower and a student of what happened during the civil rights era. To me, if you believe in the American Dream, if you believe in civil rights, if you believe in equal opportunity, you have to start with: How do we make sure all of our kids are getting a good education? The only way for [the American Dream] to even be remotely possible is if all of our kids get a good education.

I feel like [education] is a crime-prevention tool. It’s an economic stimulus. It will really elevate the whole society. I know that real change can happen. We just have to have the political will to do it. Thankfully, Obama and [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan have really been focused on this issue and not afraid to take some risks and alienate some of the Democratic constituency. They’ve been able to put some real reforms in place. The Race to the Top initiative has been really revolutionary for education reform.

But a lot more needs to be done. Everyone agrees that the most important thing is we need excellent teachers in every classroom. We still have a long way to go toward that. We have to put the incentives out there for our best and brightest to want to become teachers and want to focus on raising a new generation of young scholars. It’s the best investment our society can make.

TR: As far as today’s music goes, are you anticipating Lauryn Hill’s return?

JL: Well, I’ve been anticipating her coming back since 1998. I was a huge fan of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I even was a fan of the Unplugged album. It wasn’t the most listener-friendly, but there were some real gems on that, too. I’ve always looked at her as one of the most interesting and talented artists that have come out in our generation. When I saw her onstage at Rock the Bells, I felt like she had her enthusiasm for making music back. I’m no psychoanalyst, but it seems like she’s having fun again. If she wants my help, I would love to help. I think we all are looking forward to her coming back.

TR: What are you listening to right now?

JL: The most recent things I’ve bought were Rick Ross, Arcade Fire, Janelle Monae and Drake.

TR: Who’s your favorite person to follow on Twitter?

JL: Kanye’s really fun to follow. He’s real. He’s funny. And since I know him, I know he’s being completely real. It’s his real personality. And he’s really entertaining.

Erin E. Evans is a writer in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

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