Since the release of the single, "You Make Me Wanna,"
Usher has done nothing but increase his celebrity. He credits
his mother for more than genetics. "My mother introduced
me to singing through church, then after that I did talent shows."
More impressive was his mother's sacrifice in moving them from
Chattanooga to Atlanta. "That is a great place to get recognized."
Once in Atlanta, he continued to do talent shows. It is at one
of these shows that Bryant Reid, brother of LaFace Records co-president
Antonio "L.A." Reid, recognized Usher's potential. Bryant
arranged for Usher to meet L.A. Reid and, as Usher likes to tell
it, "the rest is history."
After his 1994 album,
which was mediocre by his latest standards, Usher looked to make
a change. He found it in executive producer Jermaine Dupri. A
host of other top name producers (Sean "Puffy" Combs,
Babyface, and Teddy Riley) added variety.
As an artist begins
to pack away a few hit songs and a couple of million dollars it's
not unusual for heads to swell. Usher owes his ability to maintain
a level head to his mother's guidance. "She was the leading
force in my career and she was always very supportive." She
is his mother, his manager, and his mentor.
Where did you learn
Studying. You have
to study. It's not all about getting up there and just freelance.
A lot of people can do it, but it also helps if you have an eye
for what is hot and what will be hot. I've been studying people
like Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly.
What's up with leaving
your shoes on the floor when you finish?
The 'Shoe Man.' I'm
the shoemaker. (Laughs) They call me the king of the stage, so
I've got to leave my shoes on the stage. They call me the 'Prince
of New Jack.'
Who are some of your
The Jackson 5, Miami
Sound Machine, Heatwave, Parliament, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder
to name a few.
What was it like to
work with the amazing group of producers you had for this album?
Well, some people have
a lot of ego with them. Fortunately, I've worked with a lot of
successful people and I've noticed the more successful you are,
the less ego you have. I'm not gonna say that about everybody,
but Babyface has definitely taken the time that was needed to
make my record what it was. Maybe it took like a month to get
it, but he did it. Jermaine and Teddy Riley took the time that
was needed to find out what I like. Then they brought in Babyface
for the mainstream and Teddy for his own crowd.
With your new career
as an actor and model are you too busy for a social life?
I talk all the time.
Is there a significant
other to speak of?
No particular girl.
I talk all the time. (Pauses to laugh) I'm like L.L. Cool J. I
What do you see in
I'm in it for longevity.
I want to do more acting, producing, choreographing, and even
A new album is being
outlined and it doesn't seem he'll stray too far from the formula
that has insofar won him celebrity. Usher hopes to enlist some
unusual collaborators like Elton John, Dr. Dre, and LeAnn Rimes.
With Light It Up being shot next month, the premiere of his movie,
The Faculty, and an opening spot on Janet Jackson's Velvet Rope
tour, Usher is a very busy man.
+ sam conjerti
by Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Joseph Patel
At some points when
you're listening to Usher's new LP, Confessions, it's hard to
believe that it's him because of what he's saying and how he's
"These are my
confessions," he croons on "Confessions Pt. 2."
"Just when I thought I said all I could say, my chick on
the side said she got one on the way."
What? Even though he's
been telling people in detail about the bombshell he's going to
drop when the album's released March 23 (see "Usher Lets
Skeletons Out Of The Closet On Confessions"), it's still
a little weird to hear the guy we've been watching mature over
the past decade singing about planting his seed. Weird, but irresistible.
Like Mary J. Blige
in 1994 (coincidently the same year Usher debuted) on her My Life
album, Usher gives the world his evolution not only as an artist,
but as a man: He messed up before and he's sorry. He's a better
person because he's learned from his mistakes, and now he's ready
to move on.
"I'm very single,"
he'll tell anyone in a New York minute, shutting down any innuendo
that he and Chilli will do as they've done before in their relationship,
break up to make up. It's a wrap — at least for now.
From an artistic
standpoint, Confessions is probably his best album to date. It's
certainly his most expansive and experimental. Lil Jon and Just
Blaze, who've made most of their money off of hip-hop, came to
the table flirting with soulful rock and roll (see Blaze's soundscape
in "Throwback") and futuristic rhythm and blues, a la
the #1 song in the country, "Yeah!"
"Mr. King of Crunk," Usher boasts of fellow ATL blueblood
Jon, who produced "Yeah!" "Obviously with all the
hip-hop hits that he has, it was only right for him to go ahead
and take it full circle. 'Let's take an R&B record and why
not go ahead and put Ludacris on it?' We made a good connection
Usher's also reaching
heights he's never touched before as a crooner, trying new flows
and hitting new notes on records like "Burn" and "Follow
Always aiming to stay
ahead of the curve, "Mr. Entertainment" elaborates on
why he decided to open up like never before, his competition with
Justin Timberlake and an alleged altercation with Mr. Whitney
[Editor's note: The
following Q&A session is culled from two different recent
MTV: A few months ago
when you were talking about the song "Confessions Pt. 2"
you said you were going to let a few skeletons out of your closet
on the album. And wow, you lived up to your word.
Usher: Well, you see,
I've got a lot to say. This album had to be a lot more personal
than the last. It had to be something different than the last.
For the most part, the topics, they're very much so personal.
In a way, [I wanted] to play off the name Confessions, to make
the entire album seem as if I'm confessing to someone or something.
All of us have our Pandora's boxes or skeletons in our closets.
I let a few of them out, you know. And with everything that's
been happening in my life, I've got a lot to say. I've got a lot
of stuff built in me that I just want to let go of.
MTV: As heartfelt as
you've been about expressing yourself through music, you've also
been vocal for almost a year now about the music itself. More
specifically the state of R&B and how it's faltering. Last
summer you talked about how a lot of the soul has been taken out
of R&B and too many singers are trying to latch onto hip-hop.
Usher: Just listening
to the radio, I was really concerned. R&B, man, you've got
to understand the true essence of what R&B is and where it
came from. That's what I fight for. That's why every album you
can hear influences of Marvin Gaye, Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie
Wonder, just to hopefully restore and continue to educate young
people about R&B and what it really is.
MTV: So what's
the essence of R&B?
Usher: The essence of R&B is real experience. It's based on
soul. It's based on feeling groove and rhythm and a combination
of all them coming together to make a piece of magic. It sort
of puts artists in a vulnerable place where they're emotionally
drenched, pouring something out, you know. If you think back to
Whitney Houston's earlier days, Aretha Franklin's earlier days,
Bobby Womack's earlier days, it's like they were crying to you
on records. Sam Cooke, you felt him. James Brown, you felt him.
That's what it is, that's funk R&B.
MTV: Who do you think
are some of your peers on the R&B level?
Usher: Obviously R.
Kelly. Beyoncé is definitely doing her thing, Joe definitely
understands. You've got new cats — newcomers who understand
R&B but do it in a fusion of different styles like Robin Thicke
— that just truly understand the essence of real music.
Do they sell a lot records? No, because it ain't bullsh--: cars,
clothes, hoes, money and wheels spinning. That's bullsh--!
soulful cat who's been critically acclaimed and given kudos by
fellow artists is Justin Timberlake. Since he emerged as solo
star, people have really been comparing the two of you —
the music, the stage performances. Do you see him as competition?
"Do you see Justin Timberlake as competition?"
Usher: Nah, not really. I'm out doing my thing. And you know,
Justin is doing his thing. Much success to my man for having such
success on his first album. It takes a lot to make it this long
in the industry, and I'm so happy and fortunate to have had all
my fans for so long and to actually still be able to be creative.
Here it is, four albums deep. Justin has to continue to do that.
I encourage it, I encourage it 100 percent.
MTV: There was talk
that Pharrell Williams was trying to get you and Justin Timberlake
on a song last summer but it never panned out. Is working with
J.T. something you want to do in the future?
Usher: Yeah, that's
sort of been up in the air. A few times we talked about it. I
talked about it with a few different producers, spoke to Justin's
people about it. I think my people spoke to Justin's people and
who knows? It might happen. I don't know. There's always the element
of surprise. If it does [happen], it'll probably be one of the
wildest experiences for MTV. The whole nine — the whole
world will be shook.
MTV: Not to bring up
old stuff, but what happened at your birthday party a couple of
years back in Atlanta? The rumor about you and Bobby Brown getting
into an altercation spread like an urban legend. So many people
were there, and yet nobody has the same story of what happened.
Usher: What happened
with me and Bobby Brown? Nothing. Nothing. Bobby showed up at
my party and the party was over. People kind of alluded to the
fact that maybe there was a fight or something like that. We never
got like that. That's it. He just got onstage and said some words.
No, actually I said some words to him, or actually to the audience.
That was it. Really, that was it. That's my story and I'm sticking
to it [laughs].