Music Interviews
5:04 am
Sun June 10, 2012

In Latest Album, Usher Takes To 'Looking 4' Himself

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 6:43 pm

James Brown once remarked that singer Usher Raymond was "the Godson of Soul." With an accolade like that, it's no wonder that Usher is one of the bestselling artists in American music history.

Usher has won seven Grammys and was the second biggest selling artist of the 2000s. He's also acted in films and won critical praise for his Broadway performance in Chicago.

All this, and he's only in his early 30s.

Usher is about to release his seventh studio album called Looking 4 Myself. He tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin that what he tried to do with this album, musically, was to make it enjoyable to anyone that is willing to listen.

"What I have recognized is that there aren't really boxes anymore," he says. He says the barriers between an artist being simply a hip-hop, rock, R&B or pop artist are broken down.

"As I make songs ... I always try to be cognizant of who is listening," he says.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

James Brown, the late Godfather of Soul, once crowned the pop singer Usher the Godson of Soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG, "YOU MAKE ME WANNA")

USHER: (Singing) You make me want to leave the one I'm with. Ooh, yeah. Start a new relationship with you. This is what I think about the things that come along with. You make me, Make me...

MARTIN: Usher's dance moves and high-energy performances are often compared to some of Michael Jackson's best work. With praise like that, it's no wonder that Usher is one of the best-selling artists in American music history, with seven Grammys to his discredit.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG, "CLIMAX")

USHER: (Singing) Going nowhere fast, we've reached the climax. We're together...

MARTIN: This song, "Climax," is the lead single off his new CD and its already hit number one on the Billboard charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG, "CLIMAX")

USHER: (Singing) ...run away. Do we separate? Oh...

MARTIN: Nearly 20 years have passed since Usher released his debut album; he was just 14 years old, believe it or not. His latest studio project, titled "Looking 4 Myself," is his seventh. I spoke with Usher recently about what it was like to start out in the music business so young, and how he kept himself from buying into his own hype.

USHER: Actually, I believe in it - not the hype - but the reality that it could become a reality. If you don't believe it then you don't have a motivation to keep you moving forward with. So I only said, OK, well, if I'm this, then I have to live up to it. And in my mind, I never quite arrive in that place. I just continue to move forward in trying to be that thing, even though I don't know if I believed it 100 percent.

MARTIN: So, this is your seventh studio album. I mean...

USHER: Seven it is, seventh heaven.

MARTIN: Its seven - lucky number seven. I imagine you don't get too spun up about how it's received.

USHER: Actually, I do. You know, because...

MARTIN: Do you?

USHER: I mean, I do. I'm very much so into making the greatest, you know, impression. But at the same time, I think I've reached the point where I have this creative license to just go for what I feel. And those who have believed in me in the past, I'm not going to let you down. I'm going to give you some incredible records and hopefully they suit you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

USHER: Let me put my shades on. Everybody come around. (Singing) You got it twisted. Ha. Wait a minute...

MARTIN: There are a lot of interesting collaborations on this album. This one called "Twisted" featuring Pharrell Williams. Let's take a listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

USHER: (Singing) Oh-oh-oh. You introduced it. You know I don't play. Wait a minute. You had me looking stupid, but I let it go that way. I suffer from delusions, I should put myself away. Wait a minute. All the time and money I've spent, can't believe what I'm in. It ain't right...

MARTIN: It's kind of a throwback vibe. But at the same time, it feels completely current and modern.

(LAUGHTER)

USHER: Well, that's what it was. It was nostalgia. It was like a nostalgic record, right? That kind of takes you back to, I'd don't know, the '70s? And even the '60s, you know what I'm saying? I've always talked about earlier influences of Jackie Wilson and also James Brown and that kind of era. But I wanted to do it in a way that will be very modern.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

USHER: (Singing) You better twist it like you love it. Go twist it day and night. Twist it till you love it. Then twist it to the right Then twist it like...

The message and it was pretty clear. How many times have you got yourself twisted up in a situation and you're like, man, I should've known better to get myself caught up in this. You must have it twisted, you know what I mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWISTED")

USHER: (Singing) Oh, yeah. I see. Keep twisting, baby. She can never get enough.

MARTIN: What do you want to do musically with this album that you hadn't done before?

USHER: I wanted this record to be enjoyable to every person that will listen because what I have recognized is that there aren't really boxes anymore. And what I mean by that is, whereas an artist would be an R&B artist or a pop artist, or a rock artist or a hip-hop artist, now those barriers are kind of broken. So, as I make songs, as I do, you know, these albums and records, I always try to be cognizant of who's listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW ME")

USHER: (Singing) We-ho. How's life? We-ho. Great. We-ho. Everybody is going through something. They got to get over it. You can't go around. Let's just enjoy the time...

MARTIN: You have your own record label now and you signed Justin Bieber to your label. What did you see in him?

USHER: It was a moment I recognize that this kid has something that you just cannot manufacture. He lit up to every little thing, every little detail, wanted to ask a million questions, always wanted to sing, always wanted to move. Every time I'd come around him, he'd want to dance - show me a dance move, you know. Look at this. I got this. I learned this. And you could tell that it was the beginning of a true student.

MARTIN: There is a song on this album called "Sins of My Father."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINS OF MY FATHER")

USHER: (Singing) Oh, it's the sins of my father. He left a debt to his son. To pay the girl who's a mother, collect the one, let me run...

MARTIN: What's the story of this song?

USHER: I think a lot of things that we as men experience are really a product of our upbringing, or lack thereof. I did not have a one-on-one connection with my father. And for whatever reason, be it, it was too complicated for him, substance abuse, whatever it may have been, he had a varied life and I have no judgment. I made peace with my father in the making of this album.

Actually, before even started working on it, he passed. It was unfortunate that he was unable to be there for me. But that's what makes me fight so diligently in being the father that I am. Because there's a lot that comes up against me in terms of priorities, but nothing is more of a priority than my children and being there for them. They are my greatest investment and greatest accomplishment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINS OF MY FATHER")

USHER: (Singing) No, I don't deserve the debt that came with my birth. Oh-and oh-oh. What happened? Addicted to something that had may came up with, I'm praying I can reverse this curse. It's the sins of my father. He left a debt...

MARTIN: Considering where you are in your life and your career now, if you could talk to that younger version of yourself, what advice would you give?

USHER: Slow your ass down.

(LAUGHTER)

USHER: What are you in a rush for? You know, there's a lot of living to do. I definitely would say have fun, man. There's so much, you know, out here. And don't get me wrong. It's I'm not going to make it seem easy. I really took on a lot of the job. You know what I mean? I took on a heavy responsibility being the artist that I am and being the person that I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOKING 4 MYSELF")

MARTIN: Usher joined me from NPR News West. His new album is called "Looking 4 Myself." It comes out this week.

Usher, thanks so much for talking with me. It's been really fun.

USHER: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOKING 4 MYSELF")

USHER: (Singing) Hoping that the next one, one, one...

MARTIN: And you can hear more songs from Usher at nprmusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOKING 4 MYSELF")

USHER: (Singing) I was way better, better, better. Maybe it's begun... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.