When people experience life-altering events, they either thrive or crumble under the pressure. Global entertainment icon Usher Raymond IV certainly belongs in the former category. His life as a newly single man has resulted in tremendous creative output and some of the best music of his remarkable career.
In early 2010, Usher released his landmark seventh album, Raymond V. Raymond. The high-powered collection explored his newfound status as a single man and father, sold more than 7 million tracks and ringtones combined, held the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s R&B chart for seven weeks and spawned a string of international hits, including “OMG” featuring will.i.am.
Only a few months removed from the release of Raymond V. Raymond, Usher returns with Versus, a masterful conceptual sequel to its predecessor. Featuring eight new songs as well as Raymond V. Raymond standout and current smash single “There Goes My Baby,” Versus finds Usher connecting with his female fans in new and exciting ways.
“I feel more connected to my female fan base as a single man,” Usher says. This newfound comfort is evident throughout the heavily sensual collection. On the inventive “Lay You Down,” for instance, he pledges to love his special lady in a variety of ways, from mentally to physically. “Hot Tottie” is equally sexual, although with a heavier, darker bent. Produced by Polow Da Don and featuring a dazzling guest rap from Jay-Z, this thunderous, intense tune details the risqué adventures of maintaining a secret, illicit rendezvous.
But Verses is about more than sensuality. “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” celebrates the joy of hitting a nightclub after a long workweek, bumping into a familiar face and using the opportunity to dance like it’s the last night of your life. Backed by a propulsive beat from Max Martin & Shellback and featuring a lively guest rap from Pitbull, the high energy selection continues Usher’s tradition of creating quality material ready for the dance club.
Elsewhere, Usher trumpets his ability to interact with as many women as he chooses on the celebratory “Love ‘Em All,” delivers an up-tempo homage to his underwear fetish on “Lingerie,” implores the object of his affection to believe in his love on “Stranger” and cuts to the chase on the sexually blunt “Get In My Car,” which features an ultra-clever guest rap from Bun B.
Given the wide range of songs he creates, Usher must draw from different sources when writing. “When I am writing a ballad, I am more introspective,” he reveals. “I have to be in an environment of lots of party energy when creating a club track.”
Fortunately for Usher’s fans, the Tennessee native has been delivering genre-defining music in a number of styles for the last 15-plus years. Discovered on “Star Search” and based in Atlanta, a teenaged Usher arrived on the national scene in 1994 with his eponymous debut album. His second album, 1997’s My Way, established him as a superstar with limitless potential. The collection sold more than 7 million copies and included the ubiquitous singles “Nice & Slow” and “You Make Me Wanna ”
After releasing Usher Live in 1999, Usher cemented himself as a musical force with the release of 8701. Featuring the No. 1 hit “U Got It Bad” and Grammy-winning singles “U Remind Me” and “U Don’t Have to Call,” the collection sold more than four million copies and set the stage for the biggest success of Usher’s musical career.
Usher’s Confessions album captivated the music world in 2004, selling more than 1 million copies its first week in stores. It eventually sold more than 20 million copies worldwide thanks to a steady succession of chart-topping singles, “Yeah!,” “Burn” and “Confessions Part II.” The success of Confessions’ singles helped Usher earn a remarkable distinction: he enjoyed 13 consecutive Top 20 singles (seven of which were No. 1).
Indeed, his award totals are staggering. He’s won 17 Billboard Music Awards, nine ASCAP awards, eight Soul Train Music Awards and eight Grammy Awards, among many others.
As impressive as his musical accomplishments are, they are only part of the Usher story. He’s an accomplished film, television and stage actor, having the leading role in the 2006 Broadway run of Chicago, among other notable roles. He is part owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, has a best-selling line of fragrances including his most recent men’s scent Usher VIP. He also owns US Records (home to emerging superstar Justin Bieber, who is featured on Versus’ “Somebody To Love REMIX”).
Realizing that with success comes responsibility, Usher has proven to be a powerful force through his foundation, mentoring youth around the world. Founded in 1999, his New Look Foundation (www.ushersnewlook.org ) empowers youth from impoverished communities to become leaders of today. Through interactive programs that teach young people to use their talents to create change, New Look youth establish a path to become global leaders. As of 2010, New Look has worked with over 8,700 youth through over 150,000 hours of training. In recognition of his success as a philanthropist Usher has been honored by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Trumpet Foundation, Do Something, NAACP and most recently as the 2010 Ford Freedom Award Scholar. In August, 2010, Usher held the first annual World Leadership Awards; an evening to benefit the New Look Foundation and honor celebrities, individuals and organizations committed to youth engagement and service. Honorees included President William Jefferson Clinton and Justin Bieber among others representing the significance of Usher’s mission across generations.
Usher’s 2010 MTV Award Nominations for Best Male Video, Best Choreography, Best Dance Video for “OMG” and his 2010 BET Award Nominee in the Best Male R&B Artist category are just the latest in a long line of accomplishments for a man who should definitely be considered his generation’s greatest entertainer.
And with Versus, Usher adds another rock-solid entry to a musical catalog that grows more impressive with each release.
Photo by Timothy Saccenti