Stevie Wonder’s influence on pop, soul, and R&B music is absolutely immense, and there are thousands of artists who have been inspired by his genius. However, our Legacy playlists feature artists active within the past 15-20 years, and all of the musicians featured here blend hip-hop and soul to project similar values and wishes of Wonder’s magnum opus.
Justin Timberlake ‘Pusher Love Girl’
The sweeping string arrangements of Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Lover Girl” serve as a swoon-worthy introduction to The 20/20 Experience, the renowned pop star’s most mature effort to date. This orchestral focus is similar to Songs In the Key of Life’s “Village Ghetto Land” but takes on a more light-hearted focus. While Wonder uses the song as a critical opportunity to expose the hardships of urban poverty, Timberlake makes playful comparison of his lover as a cocktail of drugs. They may be vastly different, but the strings in each song create a unique emotional reaction for your ears.
Rhys ‘The Fall’
One of the most authentic parts of Stevie Wonder’s music is his focus in saying “I love you.” He recites the phrase in multiples contexts on Songs In the Key of Life and shows his deepest appreciation for the people who make him feel special and appreciated. Rhye does so similarly on their brilliant debut album Woman, which is vocalist Milosh’s musical tribute to his beautiful marriage. “The Fall” is his seductive call is make love to his wife and achieve deeper emotional depth through physical exploration.
Lauren Hill ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’
Songs In the Key of Life is a classic album because it blends social critiques, heartbreak, love, and nostalgia within a variety of moods— not one topic is assigned to a specific tempo or rhythm. “Ordinary Love” and “Another Star” are both songs on the album that discuss heartbreak in an upbeat tone to help digest Stevie’s reflections best. Lauryn Hill does so similarly on “Doo Wop (That Thing)”, where she croons about men and women using each for sex without commitment. While both Wonder and Hill have had their hearts broken from unfulfilled commitment, their songs produce enough optimism to reflect and move on.
Maxwell ‘Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)’
Maxwell and D’Angelo are the kings of neo-soul, and they couldn’t have achieved their iconic status in genre if it weren’t for Stevie Wonder. You can hear his influence in the sporadic keyboard parts used in the verses of “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wander)”, and his vocal range matches Stevie Wonder’s tenor in his prime. Maxwell’s falsetto is unbeatable though, and it’s introduced that to you as soon his voice enters the mix.
Frank Ocean ‘Sweet Life’
Wonder’s funky keyboard finesse also appears in the opening riffs of Frank Ocean’s “Sweet Life”, one of the many highlights of his legendary masterpiece channel ORANGE. Frank Ocean and Stevie Wonder are both fantastic storytellers and give every detail necessary to capture their narrative in your imagination, making their funky songs both mentally and physically groovy. The lyrics of “Sweet Life” describe the lives of the “super rich kids” surrounding his home in LA and mock their prioritization of material wealth. Life is more rewarding when money isn’t one’s sole purpose, and that’s something Frank and Stevie would both agree on.
Erykah Badu ‘Drama’
In the opening minutes of Songs In the Key of Life, Wonder projects his worry to his listeners, stating if we don’t appreciate love as it deserves, there may not be any left— a scary thought, indeed. Erykah Badu takes on a similar reflective tone on Baduizm’s “Drama”, where she calls her audience to “teach your children wisdom,” so there can be “reality today, so they can live tomorrow.” While it’s easy to complain and be buried under life’s woes, there are positive attributes to sorrow that can make tomorrow brighter.
Jamila Woods ‘Blk Girl Soldier’
Stevie Wonder sings about his identity and society’s racism on “Black Man”, where he references many rejected historical icons and racial groups using different colors (black, brown, red, yellow, and white). Each shade represents someone who has done well for the world but isn’t given their due justice and is negatively judged by their skin color. Jamila Woods references some of the same black female leaders in “Blk Girl Solider”, where she joins the league of Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, and Harriet Tubman to fight racial inequality. Both songs prove Wonder’s extremely powerful lyrics to be true— “we all must be given the liberty that we defend; for with justice not for all men, history will repeat again.”
J Dilla ‘The Twister (Huh, What)’
Many of the samples included on J Dilla’s Donuts include rare and legendary soul cuts, one them being Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life”. The track is sandwiched in-between numerous samples and twisted together in a way only Dilla could— it starts with a feel of a live show and ends with a soundtrack fitting for a hall of mirrors at the circus.
D’Angelo & the Vanguard ‘Betray My Heart’
Modern R&B predominantly features smooth and glitchy electronic production to assimilate trends of pop and rap music. Thankfully, D’Angelo proudly represents the more rock-oriented, full band form of R&B today, and his comeback after fourteen years,Black Messiah, sounds equally as fresh as he did at his peak. “Betray My Heart” is loaded with groovy riffs and genuine confessions that D’Angelo will always work to find true love.
Genuine ‘So Anxious’
Ginuwine’s beautiful tenor captures the passion behind Stevie Wonder’s voice when he sings, especially with the sexy croon in the beginning of “So Anxious”. He samples Wonder’s “Visions” on “I’ll Do Anything/I’m Sorry”, which his featured on his debut album, but “So Anxious” captures one of his most passionate and sexy performances.
Drake ‘Doing It Wrong’
Stevie Wonder hasn’t isn’t featured on too many modern music works, but he makes a lasting impression on modern hip-hop with his performance on Drake’s Take Care. Stevie shows off his harmonica chops on “Doing It Wrong” to produce one of the album’s most intimate moments. He does so on Songs In the Key of Life with “Isn’t She Lovely”, where he whistles through a legendary, multiple minute solo to close the track.
Janelle Monae ‘Cold War’
In the futuristic world of Janelle Monae, societal indifference is sparked by the human and robotic communities. HerMetropolis project uses that tension as a metaphor for the racism that still roams through our world today, also a large topic for Stevie Wonder on Songs In the Key of Life. On “Cold War”, Monae sings of the loneliness and sadness created by the oppression of her world and suggests solutions to reverse the system. Wonder gives a similar warning in “Love’s In Need of Love Today”.
Coolio ‘Gangsta’s Paradise (feat. L.V.)’
Whenever Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” is played, it’s hard not to think of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”. The song is perhaps on the most one known tracks to feature a Stevie Wonder sample. Lyrically, Coolio takes a similar stance as Wonder does on “Village Ghetto Land”, where he talks about his upbringing in the corrupt streets and his ignorance to some essential life lessons as a result.