Not enough people take Usher Raymond IV seriously these days. A long standing icon of 90s r&b, Usher bridged the gap with pop, subsequently ended up as a judge on The Voice, and is now probably better known as the dude with the open mouthed pose in the show’s promotional posters on the subway that New Yorkers decided would be hilarious to draw a dick on. It might be easy to write off a guy who has a number in his name, or who released a song with will.i.am called “OMG,” but there’s so much more to Usher than you might be aware of, or that you forgot all about. Never fear! I’m here to remind you exactly why Usher, at a mere 35 years old, is the r&b icon of our generation, and why you should continue to take him very, very seriously.
He’s been at it since he was a kid
After a lot of church singing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Usher’s family relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, to fully explore his star potential. At age 13 Usher was plucked out of a talent show to audition for LaFace’s L.A. Red, who signed him right away. At 16, his first album, the self-titled Usher was released, with producer P.Diddy on board. I’ll excuse you for missing this early part of Usher’s career — not everyone was paying as much attention to mid-90s r&b as I was. The takeaway is that Usher is an industry veteran, with a solid 20 years of performance and record production under his sexy belt.
His sophomore album, My Way
You will not be excused, however, for not being familiar with Usher’s sophomore album, My Way, which was released in 1997 when Usher was all of 19 years old. Mostly written by Usher, Jermaine Dupri, Seal, and Babyface (the latter three also serving as producers on the album) Usher was in better company as a teenager than most artists are in their entire lives. My Way is a six time platinum album in the US, but mostly it’s just a great r&b album.
“You Make Me Wanna…”
Usher’s first true hit song, “You Make Me Wanna…” is a force of its own, independent of the My Way discography. It’s a gold and platinum certified single (Usher’s first!), but it’s also so self-aware it became definitional for anyone who was a teenager trying to figure out love and relationships in the late-90s. Meanwhile, it’s a staple of all hip-hop/r&b playlists because unlike many of its contemporaries, it’s absolutely timeless.
Usher has also had a wonderful career in film, appearing in ’90s teen staples The Faculty and She’s All That. If you ask me, he makes both films the classics they are. Note that he also appears in Light It Up but that I’m not suggesting you watch it, given that I cried uncontrollably through the credits and for about half an hour after they finished rolling when I watched it as a teenager, so tragic is the story. Usher, however, is brilliant.
He dated Chilli
From 2001 to 2003 Usher’s main squeeze was Chilli from TLC, which is just bad ass. I mean, Chilli doesn’t date scrubs, we know that for sure. She even appeared in his “U Got It Bad” video, which puts Katy Perry and John Mayer’s “Who You Love” to absolute shame.
Dude can Dance
Yeah that’s right, dance with a capital D. Usher’s moves put the Sisqos and Justin Timberlakes of the world to absolute shame, not to mention the Chris Browns (who, let’s face it, puts himself to shame on a regular basis). When it comes to pop culture, the ability to dance is often cited as a good reason to take someone seriously (see: the aforementioned shame-monger Chris Brown).
While 8701 is one of my favorite Usher albums (I had it on repeat in my CD player when I was at high school), it’s probably Confessions that you’re more likely to be nostalgic for, mostly because Usher’s fourth album turned out the classic “Burn.” If the song itself isn’t enough to convince you of Usher’s enduring reign as our king of r&b, such facts as “Confessions made Usher the first artist to have four consecutive number one singles on Billboard’s Hot 100″ should do the trick. Those other tracks were “My Boo” with Alicia Keys, “Confessions II” and “Yeah,” although my personal favorite from the album (after “Burn”) is “Caught Up,” which unfortunately never reached that number one spot.
Doing a narrative duet with R Kelly might be a reason for most to NOT take Usher seriously but bear with me for a second. First, watch the above clip. Now tell me you didn’t once laugh out loud (if you didn’t, you’re a soulless bastard). Usher proves that he has a sense of humor about himself, especially at the end of the video which makes NO SENSE AT ALL.
The Beyonce/Jay-Z Era
Usher has the approval of the most powerful couple in r&b/pop/hip hop, as they both appeared on his 2008 album, Here I Stand. So he doesn’t even really need your approval. He’s got all the approval that matters.
He spends a lot of time in “da club”
The best thing about Usher is that he lives, breathes, sleeps, eats, everythings da club. No, not the club. Da club. Usher is always in the club. Common awareness generally revolves around “Love in This Club,” where Usher made love in a club, but by my estimation (and extensive studies) there are approximately 30 songs in Usher’s discography that explicitly reference being in da club. This number does not include all the songs he merely implies he is in da club.
Looking 4 Myself
If you’re still questioning how seriously you’re willing to take Usher, do us both a favor and sit down with his last album, Looking For Myself. From the Diplo produced “Climax” to “Lemme See” featuring Rick Ross to “Twisted” featuring AND produced by Pharrell, Looking 4 Myself is Usher’s finest musical offering to date, not least because it incorporates contemporary pop influences while maintaining Usher’s distinct ’90s r&b sound. Usher has managed, very successfully, to always adapt, while remaining true to that teenager that released My Way, way back when.