Time is testament to the mark of greatness, and for this era that mark belongs to Usher Raymond IV, the consummate entertainer who transcends the boundaries of popular culture, redefining the nature of superstardom. Usher’s considerable achievements begin with over 45 million records sold world wide and a stable of five Grammy awards. The singer, composer, producer, actor, businessman, designer and philanthropist is the quintessential contemporary icon, celebrated for nearly two decades.
Usher, a self-described “master of the moment,” was born to lead-from the stage to the boardroom. Over the course of his exemplary career, Usher has led by countless examples, creating a rich catalog of hit songs and crowning achievements. With the release of his monumental seventh album, Raymond v Raymond, Usher returns to his original medium – making songs into masterpieces that illuminate the struggle between man and legend.
“There’s the perception and the person,” explains Usher. “There’s a perception of what life might be like for someone in my position and that perception is based on the access I’ve been granted, the women, wild nights… On the other side of that is the reality, the emotions, loves and real life experiences. Life is about balance, and I find in the end that both sides come together to create a simply, complicated individual who strives in his deeds and aspirations to make a better world along the way.”
Usher has come into his own as a sage artist, skillfully capturing the stirring emotions of the human heart in a complete, balanced album in soul-stirring jams, in serious grown man fashion. From his enchanting lyrical delivery on “There Goes My Baby,” to the cosmic creativity of “Monstar” produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Usher picks up where he left off in the style of his seminal album Confessions – expressing what’s on his mind, but leaving enough to pique the imagination and engage the five senses with breathtaking vocal delivery.
“Every super hero [has to] to have theme music,” he quips on “She Don’t Know” and that’s true for Usher, whose powers are indeed supernatural, framed against percussive handclaps and his familiar one-word recourse. On “OMG,” set off by Will.i.am’s crisp beats, Usher takes it to the floor, and goes hard as the seductive melody comes to a frenzied crescendo. With “Mars vs Venus,” Usher morphs into a mystic over the synth-edged sound of breath as he ruminates on the subject of his desire. “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home),” produced by The Runners and Rico Love, finds Usher more playful as a man of experience.
Raymond v Raymond was made in Atlanta and Las Vegas studios, reflective of the contrasting themes Usher explores. “Conceptually, the recording process mirrored the album. This time I recorded the album in both Las Vegas (for the first time) and Atlanta. In Vegas, it’s no-holds-barred, unlimited access. There are so many different places and experiences. Then I recorded in Atlanta — the city represents to me the reality of emotion and feelings. One city represents perception and the other reality.”
That reality has evolved in the eighteen years since Usher was discovered on “Star Search” and subsequently signed to LaFace Records, as he consistently raised the bar for excellence. From his first hit single, “Think of You,” it was clear an enduring star was born. With the release of his second album My Way in 1997, his celestials powers grew with seven million copies sold, featuring the massive hits “You Make Me Wanna…,” and “Nice & Slow.”
In 1999, he released, Usher Live a compilation of hits and music medleys from his concerts, followed by the four-times-platinum and critically-acclaimed 8701 in 2001, which included “U Remind Me” and “U Don’t Have to Call” (both received Grammys in the “Best Male R&B Vocal Performance” category) and the number-one hit “U Got It Bad.”
However, it was Confessions that propelled Usher into infamy with over one million copies sold in the first week of release in 2004- the highest debut-week numbers ever for a male R&B artist. “Confessions Part II,” “Burn” and “Yeah!” soared to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles charts, making Usher the first solo artist to have three singles inside the Hot 100 Top 10, simultaneously joining the ranks of the Beatles and the Bee Gees. Confessions was the most successful album of 2004, selling over 10 million copies in the US and almost 20 million copies worldwide. Usher won three Grammys, two MTV Video Music Awards, four World Music Awards, four American Music Awards and eleven Billboard Music Awards. In fact, this year Usher earned the distinction of being the “Top Hot 100 Artist of the Decade” with 13 consecutive top 20 singles (seven reaching No.1 and collectively spending the most weeks atop the Hot 100 Singles chart for any act in the decade).
Usher’s indelible influence on the culture was echoed in the Showtime special “One Night, One Star: Live from Puerto Rico” capping off a flurry of success that spread across the globe. The DVD was declared seven times platinum. He won over fans and critics alike with accolades, which continue to multiply: 5 Grammy Awards, 4 American Music Awards, 8 Soul Train Music Awards, 4 BET Awards, 3 Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award, 6 Teen Choice Awards, a Blockbuster Music Award, 3 R&B Hip Hop Conference Awards, 9 ASCAP Awards, a staggering 17 Billboard Music Awards and countless other international awards from several countries.
Usher may indeed have super hero DNA, which is one plausible explanation for how one man is able to accomplish so much. Usher, a seasoned television and film actor, hit the Broadway stage in 2006 playing the riveting lead, Billy Flynn in Chicago to a sold-out audiences as the youngest cast member in the lead role of the slick-talking lawyer persona. “They say to be an entertainer, you have to do it all,” says Usher. “When I was young and decided I wanted to be in entertainment, I watched people like Bob Fosse, Sammy Davis Jr. and Ben Vereen. They were triple threats – dancing, acting, and singing. It really inspired me. I want to live up to that title and showcase all of my talents and be able to say I’ve experienced it all, and had fun in the process.”
A commitment to helping others is paramount, exemplified by Usher’s New Look Foundation (http://www.ushersnewlook.org). Founded in 1999, (UNL) empowers youth from disadvantaged communities to use their unique talents to become corporate and community leaders. Following Usher’s lead, young people find personal power in the ability to create change in their communities, the world and in their own lives. Over the years, the non-profit organization has made a tremendous impact on the lives of youth and families in underserved communities. “By opening this door to service more young people. We’ll see they do have the power to create change,” Usher declares. The partner organization HandsOn Network was one of the first non-profits to hit the ground in the Gulf Coast and begin the rebuilding effort. With funding raised through Project Restart Concert and a partnership with Armani Exchange, the program helped over 750 families re-establish housing through rent and utility assistance and provided over 1,200 youth and families with food and clothing.
With the global crises in Haiti following the devastating 7.0 earthquake in January 2010, UNL stepped up immediately, announcing a partnership with One Economy Corporation to engage youth around the world to participate in providing aid to Haiti through United Nations Relief Efforts. UNL is involved in year around programming, including a two-week residential Sports and Entertainment Camp in Atlanta that serves over 1,300 disadvantaged youth from around the country. “Somebody has to look out for and protect our kids, and I feel blessed to be a blessing to someone else,” Usher says.
A savvy entrepreneur, Usher brings his business acumen to his passion for sports. In 2005, he became part owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team and has played a formative roll in building the team’s entertainment initiative, leading to a flood of support from fans. His signature Double C hand gesture is a staple during events at the arena. His line of fragrances for men and women, Usher HE and Usher SHE, developed through a partnership with Elizabeth Arden, was the #1 selling fragrance in Macy’s department stores. He has launched two additional lines including UR For Men and UR For Women in Sept. 2008. VIP, his third installment with Elizabeth Arden, was released with much fanfare in Sept. 2009.
Usher also helms his own record label US Records and his eye for talent is unmistakable in his newest discovery Justin Bieber. “I’m always working,” he shares. “People think I take long breaks, but I’m constantly working on building my brand.” A brand defined by excellence inherent to Usher.