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The Usher Chronicles: Evolution of an Entertainer

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Within the confines of the world of music, singers with one

name represent an exclusive group who have mastered the art of name recognition

without the last name.

 

Prince, D’Angelo, Maxwell and Madonna are true masters in

their own right, as well as Usher. In fact, the Dallas-born crooner has

expanded his moniker with forays into acting and business, all while making the

time to plant roots with a wife and kids.

 

Long before coming clean in 2004 with his hit album Confessions, Usher Raymond IV set the stage for international

stardom with a stint in the group Nu Beginnings and an appearance on the TV

show Star Search. The appearance

segued into an introduction with LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid, who

signed Usher to the label and introduced the singer to a national audience with

the single “Call Me a Mack.” The tune was featured on the soundtrack to the

1993 Janet Jackson/Tupac Shakur film Poetic Justice.Call Me A Mack – Usher

 

Usher’s self-titled debut arrived a year later with featured

production from Sean “Diddy” Combs on several songs. In addition, the offering

included the hit singles “Can U Get Wit It” and “Think of You,” the latter of

which featured a video showcasing dance moves choreographed by TLC’s T-Boz.

 

And while selling a little more than 500,000 copies is

impressive, Usher continued to aim higher with his 1997 opus My Way. Not only did the album produce a string of popular

tunes (“You Make Me Wanna,” “My Way” and “Nice and Slow”), but it marked the

beginning of Usher’s alliance with So So Def head Jermaine Dupri as well as the

emergence of his chiseled physique and sex symbol persona.You Make Me Wanna… – Usher

 

Add to that the more than multi-platinum status the album

eventually achieved, as well as the same fate for its follow up (2001’s 8701 and singles “U Got It Bad” and “U Remind Me”) and

Usher’s star was well into orbit.

 

Pouncing on the opportunity to expand his résumé, the

vocalist spearheaded an invasion of the small screen with a recurring role

alongside fellow R&B singer Brandy on her show Moesha as well as acting experience on the soap opera The

Bold and the Beautiful, The

Twilight Zone, 7th Heaven and American Dreams. Those looking to dodge Usher at the local movie

theater were out of luck as the singer/songwriter marked his arrival on the big

screen with his film debut in the 1998 feature The Faculty. A starring role in 1999’s Light It Up provided preparation for fans who noticed Usher in

the romantic comedy She’s All That

as well as the 2001 vehicle Texas Rangers.

 

Yet despite everything, there was no one for the crooner to

share his success with. Enter T-Boz’s TLC group mate, Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas.U Got It Bad – Usher

 

The couple, who began dating in 2001, were seemingly a match

made in heaven, as one was never far from the other. Whether it be an awards

show, red carpet movie premiere or normal outing at a local hot spot, Usher and

Chilli were the equivalent of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. A picture perfect

couple that could do no wrong in the early millennium.

 

Or so we thought.

 

Three years later and paradise becomes undone. As Lauryn

Hill and Mary J. Blige have proven, with personal tribulation comes great

music.

 

Usher’s pain from his break-up with Chilli yielded huge

album sales with his most successful album to date, 2004’s Confessions.

 

Released on March 23, the Arista Records release garnered a

healthy buzz as it made an immediate dent with the Lil’ Jon and

Ludacris-affiliated super hit “Yeah.” Powered by  follow-up singles such as “Confessions Part 2,” “Burn” and

“My Boo” (a new addition featuring songstress Alicia Keys that appeared on a

special edition of the album), Confessions

received a Grammy Award for best contemporary R&B album while selling

nearly 20 million copies around the world and going platinum and gold in more

than 20 countries.

 

Needless to say, the music was good. But the question

lingered regarding how faithful the tunes were to Usher’s past relationship

with Chilli. Usher himself planted the seeds among fans by saying the album

will shed light on “his own little secrets.”

 

“All of us have our Pandora’s boxes or skeletons in our

closets. I let a few of them out, you know. I’ve got a lot to say,” said the

entertainer told MTV News about what he considered to be his most personal

offering yet. “I’ve got a lot of things and stuff built in me that I just want

to let go of.”

 

Details of the Usher/Chilli break up, which occurred in

January 2004, surfaced during an interview Chilli granted to an Atlanta radio

station the following month. Rumors that the album’s lyrical content stemming

from infidelity on Usher’s part had ran amok among fans.

 

Although Chilli alluded to the singer/actor doing “the

ultimate no-no” as the reason she “will never be with him again,” Usher brought

his side to the forefront by saying the relationship “just didn’t work out.”

 

“But cheating is not what caused the relationship to collide

and crash,” he explained to MTV. “That ain’t what broke it up.”

 

Nevertheless, the rumors persisted, even as Dupri claimed Confessions

reflected what he, not Usher, was going

through. With more than one million copies sold in its first week of release,

the album became a historical achievement, as it emerged with Soundscan’s

highest-ever first week sales by an R&B artist and second-highest first

week sales for a male artist.Yeah – Usher

 

As a result, there was no better way to go out than on top.

Riding his wave of good fortune, Usher took time off to star in the movie In

the Mix as well as try his luck on Broadway

with his portrayal of Billy Flynn in the long-running musical Chicago. Although he didn’t release solo material during

this time, Usher occasionally made it into the studio to lend his vocals for

songs by Lil’ Jon (“Lovers and Friends”), Jay-Z (“Anything”) and R. Kelly

(“Same Girl”).

 

In addition, the Chilli era officially came to an end with

the revelation of the singer’s relationship with his stylist, Tameka Foster,

whom he became engaged to in February 2007. The union raised more than a few

eyebrows as Foster triggered less than flattering commentary from fans and

internet bloggers. Chatter about Foster’s tense relationship with Usher’s

mother, Johnetta Patton, came to a head when the crooner fired Patton, who also

served as his longtime manager. 

Despite rumors of the termination stemming from Foster and Patton, not

getting along, Usher went into damage control mode during a July 2007 interview

with VIBE magazine,

 

“I decided to not fire, not get rid of, but to give [my

mother] the ultimate compliment — to retire her to be a full-time

grandmother,” he said. “My mother and I decided to change her situation,

together,” Usher told the publication. “There was a conversation. I didn’t

write her a letter or pink slip her.”

 

Fed up with constant criticism leveled at Foster, Usher

sounded off in an open statement, saying how:

 

“It’s disturbing that the media and bloggers (under the

guise as ‘fans’) continuously speculate on the personal aspects of my life,

therefore making assumptions and wrong insinuations that my fans are subject to

believe. I am happy, excited, completely clear and independent on my direction,

feelings, decisions and I am NOT BEING LED. Some media and bloggers have been

totally intrusive, they have misconstrued aspects of my personal life and,

because of this, my ‘true’ fans are not sure about what is fact and what is

fiction. There is a difference in stating an opinion versus drawing a

conclusion that is incorrect.”

 

“…I understand the fact that I must sacrifice some anonymity

for the career I love, however some things are personal like having a child or

a marriage. These aspects are not for the public and, to me, are sacred. I

would hope my privacy in these areas would be respected.”

 

Ultimately, love did conquer all as the couple finally

married on Aug. 3, 2007 in a private ceremony. By the end of that year, the

Raymond’s welcomed their first child, Usher Raymond V. Naviyd Ely Raymond

followed a little more than a year later.

 

Between the births of his first and second born, Usher

released his fifth album Here I Stand.

Unlike his previous efforts, the album carried a more mature theme that

reflected his new outlook with track such as “Moving Mountains,” “Trading

Places” and the title song. Despite the current frame of mind, Usher unveiled a

throwback to the past with his hit lead single “Love in This Club” and its

accompanying Beyoncé and Lil Wayne-featured remix.

 

To help support the album, the singer capitalized on his sex

symbol status to embark on a tour for ladies only.

 

Despite all of his accomplishments, the presence of singers

like Justin Timberlake and Ne-Yo offer a legitimate threat to Usher’s dominance

in the years to come. But with a part-ownership of the NBA’s Cleveland

Cavaliers franchise and his own record label, US Records, (not to mention his

nonprofit organization New Look), Usher can take comfort in knowing that life

after music will not be difficult.

 

Nevertheless, the challenge for his fellow entertainers may

be to amass as much, if not more, recognition and a sense of fulfillment that

comes with making your first name an entity unto itself.Love In This Club – Usher **To get the latest AllHipHop Alternatives Features, follow us on Twitter @ www.twitter.com/AHHalternatives**

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