The Usher Chronicles: Evolution of an Entertainer
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, DAngelo, 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
Ushers 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 TLCs 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 Ushers 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 (2001s 8701 and singles U Got It Bad and U Remind Me) and
Ushers 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 1999s Light It Up provided preparation for fans who noticed Usher in
the romantic comedy Shes 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-Bozs 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
Ushers pain from his break-up with Chilli yielded huge
album sales with his most successful album to date, 2004s 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 Ushers 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 Pandoras boxes or skeletons in our
closets. I let a few of them out, you know. Ive 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 albums lyrical content stemming
from infidelity on Ushers 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 Soundscans
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 didnt 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
In addition, the Chilli era officially came to an end with
the revelation of the singers 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 Fosters tense relationship with Ushers
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:
Its 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
Raymonds 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 Ushers dominance
in the years to come. But with a part-ownership of the NBAs 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