John Legend talked to CNBC's John Harwood about a range of issues and topics, including his complicated relationship with pro-Trump rap superstar Kanye West, who is slated to have lunch with the president Thursday. Here is a portion of the interview:
John Harwood: Has anybody told you to shut up and sing?
John Legend: Of course they've told me to shut up and sing. When it comes to actors and entertainers, more of us lean toward the left. So the right has kind of taken on this idea that celebrities should shut up. Of course, they just elected a celebrity, who hosted Celebrity Apprentice of all shows. They're happy to have, you know, whatever B-list actors - they'll take anybody that will come to them. They're so happy that Kanye is on team MAGA now and they're embracing it. So, they don't want you to shut up. They want you to shut up if you don't agree with them
Harwood: Well, it's interesting because your friend, Kanye West, stands for the proposition that you just mentioned about not everybody going in the same direction. I'm very interested in what looked to me like a two-level conversation you were having with him that broke into the public. It looked to me like, you as a friend, were sending him a message to try to persuade him that an argument that he was making was not right. Why did he do that?
Legend: Well, I'm not going to try to explain why he does anything. I don't have the degrees to explain all the things that he does, but I feel like I was a bit shocked that he shared the text exchange between us.
Harwood: You did not expect that to happen?
Legend: I did not expect it. It was a private text conversation between us. But I also was proud of everything I said. And I stood behind everything I said and I didn't mind that people knew that we were having that conversation. And like I said, I'm proud of everything I said and I stand behind it.
Harwood: Do you think he's grappling with the arguments that you made?
Legend: I think sometimes he is, but I think a lot of times I don't think he's done a lot of the work and the research to really understand what's going on. I feel like a lot of times he presents opinions that are a little bit undercooked.
Harwood: And is that just a publicity thing? Like he likes the attention and wants people to focus on him?
Legend: I think he's genuinely he's being himself.
Harwood: Trump routinely says he has produced record low levels of African American unemployment and female unemployment. Are you impressed, in any way, by the Trump economy?
Legend: Well, I think very similar to his business success, he often claims credit for things that were handed to him. We've seen, with The New York Times article, in kind of excruciating detail how much of his fortune was actual from his father giving him hundreds of millions of dollars, and he sold himself as "self-made" and "getting a small loan."
And similarly, from the Obama economy, as everyone who's paying attention remembers, it was in the basement in 2009. The economy had crashed, Lehman Brothers, all these things happened, and unemployment was over 10 percent I believe, and by the time he was out of office, it was around 5 percent. And, of course, Trump is taking credit for all that progress as it's continuing to progress under his administration, because he hasn't done enough to mess it up yet.
I think anybody that's paid attention to what's happened understands the story behind it. But it's a good headline for him and I'm never going to be upset that more people are working, the economy's growing, and I think that's a great thing. We just have to understand a little more about the cause and effect.