John Legend started writing the song with Greg Kurstin, co-writer of hits for the likes of Kelly Clarkson ("What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)
" and Adele ("Hello
"). Legend recalled to Genius
"We were in his house, in his studio. He played me a groove that I liked, and I started writing vocal lines to it. The first lyrical hook that came to me was, 'We'll go to the penthouse floor.' The original idea for the song was a little more romantic and sexy and about the idea of wining and dining and balling with the person that you're interested in. Inviting them back to your place and saying, 'Let's enjoy the view from there. It's gonna be sexy. It's gonna be nice.' It represents us ascending to a blissful place.
That was the original idea, but I decided to make The penthouse a little bit more deep than that and what you're leaving behind. It became a little more interesting as I lived with the song more. I worked with Blake Mills on it and some of my other team that was working with me on the album. We started to think more about the idea of ascension, but thinking more about ascension from something. From what's going on in the country, in our cities, in our neighborhoods. The idea of even though you have an aspiration to achieve a certain dream and to achieve a certain status, do you still remember where you've come from and pay attention to what's happening in places like where I came from and like a lot of other people come from?"