Ahead of Sunday’s 2020 BET Awards, the network’s annual ceremony celebrating the best in Black culture, nominee John Legend sat down with The Root to discuss some hot-button topics. The EGOT winner is up for “Best Collaboration” and “Video of the Year” honors for “Higher,” his song with DJ Khaled and the late Nipsey Hussle.
During the conversation, Legend discussed the music industry’s responsibility to appropriately address and protect survivors of sexual assault. He praises the bravery of former A&R Executive Drew Dixon, whose accusations of sexual harassment and eventual assault by music mogul Russell Simmons are the focal point of the HBO Max documentary On The Record. As Dixon recounts, she later helped to audition both Legend and Kanye West for record deals at Arista Records in the early-2000s, but was unsuccessful, which she perceived as a slight for not returning label head L.A. Reid’s alleged sexual advances. (In later years, Reid would step down as chairman and CEO Epic amid allegations of sexual harassment from a female employee.)
“We have to make every environment safe for women,” says Legend, who has previously spoken out in support of R. Kelly’s alleged sexual assault victims. “I was unaware at the time of what [Dixon] was going through...that’s just not the way any person should have to deal with their career...it’s just not fair to her. [A person’s] career should be determined by their skill, their ability, and not being treated like a piece of meat...there’s been far too many stories like [Dixon’s] in our business.”
Much like his “Higher” collaborator Nipsey Hussle worked tirelessly to uplift his hometown of Los Angeles and the Black community as a whole, Legend has been hands-on with supporting social justice movements throughout his years in the spotlight. These philanthropic efforts have been amplified by average citizens and public figures alike in the midst of ongoing protests calling for racial equality and the end of police brutality. Legend discussed the importance of celebrities letting the issues they care strongly about take center stage.
“We have to be humble about what we know and what we don’t know, what we can do and what we can’t do, and we have to listen,” he explains. “I try my best to listen to organizers and activists who spend every day thinking about these issues, and I try not to talk about anything unless I’ve read about it from people I trust and respect.”
In a lighthearted turn, Legend discussed his latest project Bigger Love, which he told us earlier this month is a “celebration of love, joy, hope and resilience.” While music is not the end-all and be-all of social or racial unrest, it certainly makes rough times a bit easier to bear. Legend says his go-to song that encapsulates Black joy is Marvin Gaye’s classic “Got To Give It Up,” and jokes that he hits his (much-discussed) two-step every time he hears it.
Check out the full interview above.