Oscar- and Grammy-winning singer and songwriter John Legend flew into the spotlight in the early 2000s on the wings of then rising rapper Kanye West, who invited Legend to sing on West’s own tracks and signed him to GOOD Music.
Knowing firsthand the enormous value of having a mentor and champion, Legend has worked in his own career to pay it forward. He was instrumental in breaking artists like British singer Estelle in the U.S., and earlier this year launched a talent search with men’s fragrance line AXE White Label to develop and promote little-known musicians. Legend chose five artists?John Russell (Savannah, Georgia), Allison Mula (Springfield, Virginia), John Rankin (Portland, Oregon), Jelana Jeffries (Pomona, New York), and Alejandro Palma (Austin, Texas)?and worked with them ahead of a launching-pad showcase at this year’s SXSW festival.
The talent search?starting with music and moving into fashion later this spring?is part of AXE White Label’s yearlong campaign to tie a real-world search for emerging talent to its brand-aligned “moments when confidence is key to taking the leap and turning aspiration to action.” For Legend, it’s a chance to do what he’s done informally for years in a formal partnership. “I think everybody needs this kind of thing no matter what they’re doing, whether it’s journalism, music, especially in art,” says Legend. It’s good to have people that you look up to give you advice, because there’s really no defined path of how to get to where you’re going to go.”
Legend recently shared with Fast Company his most enduring pieces of advice, helpful not only to artists, but to anyone who wants to put their ambition to work.
GO WHERE THE ACTION IS
Even though the Internet has made creative success possible anywhere, Legend says that part of his advice to his mentees “was me telling them to move.”
“I think a lot of times you have to be in the right cities where other writers are, other producers, where the industry gatekeepers are,” he says. “It’s hard to make it happen remotely from another city. You can be from somewhere, but you eventually have to go to somewhere. I’m from Ohio but I eventually had to go to Philadelphia and then I had to go to New York to really make it happen.”
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