The MTV building casts a formidable presence even by the unsubtle standards of Times Square. Boxlike and glass-faced, 1515 Broadway serves as a monument to the transparency of celebrity—a myth fueled tirelessly by the network, which shoots its Total Request Live in a second-floor studio visible from the sidewalk below. TRL has drawn a reliable cluster of curbside fans nearly every weekday since its 1998 debut. And so this shopworn stretch of pavement has achieved a sort of iconic status—a teenage version of what Rockefeller Center long ago derived from NBC’s Today.

The glint of the MTV storefront is visible from 47th Street, where I stood one October morning waiting for John Legend C’99 to emerge from the W Hotel. The singer had arrived in the city late the night before, after playing an arena concert in Albany with rapper and producer Kanye West. Both artists were scheduled for a morning taping of MTV2’s Hip-Hop Countdown, where they would promote Get Lifted—Legend’s forthcoming solo album on West’s newly minted label. The album’s first advance single, “Used to Love U,” had gone into radio rotation a couple of weeks earlier.

It was a bright and beautiful day. On the sidewalk, I killed time with Legend’s tour manager, a bulky figure in baggy denim who attended to his cell phone with the routine obsessiveness one might apply to a rosary. After several tries, he finally got in touch with Legend—who, it turned out, had sensibly spent the night not at the W but in his East Village apartment. The tour manager and I climbed into a black SUV for a ride to the MTV stage entrance, which was two short blocks away.

Legend appeared in a lime-green Lacoste dress shirt, garment bag slung over one shoulder. His gait was casual, almost loose-limbed. “I’d rather stay at my home than in a hotel room,” he chuckled as we walked to a service elevator. “I washed my clothes last night. It’s been a few weeks.” He was wrapping up a nearly month-long run with the Truth Tour, featuring West and the R&B heartthrob Usher, whose album Confessions had at that point sold nearly seven million copies. West’s album The College Dropout was somewhere in the range of three million.

Get Lifted, originally scheduled for an October release, had just been pushed back to December 28, Legend’s 26th birthday. While on tour, the singer had been busy sowing the seeds for his debut. “I’m doing 15,000-seat venues with Kanye,” he explained, “and then I’m able to do my own shows with no extra travel costs, and schedule my own promotional spots on radio. And it’s tied to the biggest event in the city that night, which makes it easier to get attention. It’s all kind of preparing the world for me to come out on my own. It’s been a cool buildup. We’re getting ready to make it real big.”

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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 01/05/05

Making a Legend
By Nate Chinen
Photo by Sabina Louise Pierce

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