In the scattered field of teenage R&B singers who emerged onto the music scene in the early-mid Nineties, only one cemented himself as a superstar Usher. Over fifteen years, the Atlanta-based singer/dancer released several increasingly popular albums, while also standing as a reference point for many of today’s popular male R&B vocalists
Usher (full name: Usher Raymond IV) got his first break in 1992 at age 13 after performing on Star Search. He signed with LaFace Records and releasing his first single Call Me a Mack, which appeared on 1993’s Poetic Justice soundtrack.
Released in 1994, Usher’s self-titled debut was executive-produced by Sean “Puffy” Combs. Think of You was a minor hit on the R&B charts, but the album didn’t even crack the Top 100 Albums List.
1997’s My Way paired Usher with the hottest songwriters and producers in R&B, including Babyface, Teddy Riley, and most importantly, Jermaine Dupri. Dupri and Usher generated chemistry, and the pairing resulted in three consecutive smash hits. You Make Me Wanna… spent 11 weeks at #1 on the R&B charts and 7 weeks at #2 on the pop charts, stuck behind Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute.
The follow-up, Nice & Slow, became Usher’s first pop #1, while the album’s title track went Top 5. My Way established Usher as a star to watch, selling 5 million copies and winning the young singer multiple Billboard Music Awards, including Artist of the Year. Usher branched out into film then too, starring in the movie Light it Up and appearing on television shows Moesha and The Bold & The Beautiful.
A live album released in 1999 performed well, and a third album called The Wonderful World of U was scheduled for a late 2000 release. After Pop Ya Collar stalled on the charts, and Usher was sent back into the studio to retool the album. The re-titled 8701 was released in late summer 2001. Singles U Remind Me and U Got it Bad both hit #1 pop and R&B, and Usher wound up snagging his first two Grammy Awards for songs from this album. Featuring production by Dupri, as well as the legendary team of Jam & Lewis and young upstarts The Neptunes, 8701 was the perfect synthesis of classic soul with modern-day hip-hop elements. Videos showcasing Usher’s singing and dancing earned peer respect and fan adulation.
A tabloid existence followed. Usher’s relationship with TLC singer Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas hit a dead end amid rumors of infidelity. The singer also bristled at the new pop/R&B singers following in his wake, most notably Justin Timberlake, who he attacked several times in mainstream media.
Meanwhile, a fevered pitch surrounded Confessions, which would be Usher’s fourth album after a leaked teaser track, Yeah! (featuring Lil’ Jon & Ludacris) became an unexpected smash. Confessions came out in spring 2004 amid buzz that the lyrical content of its title track , in which Usher apologizes to his girlfriend for impregnating another woman was autobiographical. Usher spouted non-denials long enough to see Confessions rack up 1.1 million sales — the biggest first-week for an R&B album in history. Confessions stayed at or near the top of the charts for most of 2004, charting four #1 singles. Confessions has sold more than 10 million copies and won Usher three Grammy Awards.
After Confessions’ success, Usher branched out even further, although his first leading film role (In The Mix) stiffed, as did One Chance, the first act released on his music label. Usher’s had more success as a part-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team and with his own fragrance. He also had a successful run in the Broadway musical Chicago.
In 2007, Usher became a husband and a first-time father, amid a bit of controversy (his reasonably-older wife was a divorcee, his mother/manager disapproved of the marriage and the wedding was even called off once).
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