It is fair to say that there is no way you can have a conversation about R&B music, or have a R&B playlist without at least one Usher song. For this reason and in my humble opinion (having grown up listening to his music), the king of R&B has returned. Yes, that is Usher Raymond who just recently released his studio album Hard II Love.
Usher should be considered, and to many is, amongst the greats. At this point in his 20 plus year music career, he is an R&B legend. He may not have held the same momentum, but he has definitely been able to sustain the buzz, love and interest of his fans.
However, it is fair to say that, particularly for those of the new generation who didn’t grow up listening to Usher, they may not understand this. This leads to an important question raised by Charlamagne Tha god on The Breakfast Club: “Is Usher appreciated like he needs to be?”
Even as an Usher lover, it has been (I regret to say) easy to underestimate him. It is evident that over the past few years, despite Usher still remaining in the charts and on our TV screens, he hasn’t been able to emulate or even succeed the same critical acclaim and success as albums such as My Way, 8701 and Confessions.
The real question is: Does the new generation know the Usher that impacted our lives with “U Don’t Have To Call”, “U Remind Me”? Or the Usher that made every man suck in their pride and call their exes, after listening to “Confessions, Part II”. These are just a few songs which really showcased the Usher that we respect. Memorable classics, music that really have transcended through time.
Usher’s Raymond V Raymond explored a different sound that we had heard from him. He channelled the EDM genre which was a popular sound at the time, met of course by a lukewarm response. He followed the album with Looking 4 Myself’ in 2012. The album was a good, with songs like “Climax” and “Dive” pushing the album forward and bringing back the soul and harmonies that we had missed from Usher. Despite this, the album as a whole was missing something. It certainly showed that Usher was ‘looking 4 [him]self’ and his sound, but in the end, didn’t quite manage to find it.
In fairness, we are now in 2016, a whole twenty-two years since he released his self-titled debut album in 1994. We have to accept the fact that it is a different time, era, generation and certainly a different sound. Most noticeable is the new wave trap that is surrounded in Atlanta, crossing over everywhere.
To name a few of Atlanta’s own: Gucci Mane, Future, Metro Booming, 21 Savage and many others. As Usher stated in his interview at the Breakfast club, Hard II Love is his way of “paying homage to Atlanta” which is one of the states he grew up in. He also said that with Hard II Love, he is making it the “priority […] and conscious decision to go back to [his] culture“.
Hard II Love to Usher fans, could be at times, embraced as a new sound from him. For Usher, it is more so an album that is probably most representative of who he is, his culture and background. For this reason alone, I was very excited to hear what it had to offer. After listening to it, I must admit, Hard II Love proves that he is back and better!
The album features Young Thug on its massive single “No Limit“, which already has a video out. The song is less about the vocals; neither is it a very high tempo song. It’s a fun song that you could bop your head to in the club, due to the trap elements.
Usher collaborates with another trap/Atlanta artist Future on “Rivals“. The song is a slow R&B song, reminiscent of Future’s “I Won”. I appreciate that there are minimal features on Hard II Love, which makes us focus on just his voice. The album shows that he is keeping on trend, but he simultaneously stands on his own.
Throughout the album, Usher incorporates spoken narration. This has been a popular theme in albums this year, also incorporated in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Tory Lanez’ I Told You and so forth. At first I was thinking: okay not another one, but it really works well within the album.
The spoken narration breaks down the significance of the the album title, the album starts off with Usher proclaiming: “I f**ked up. I’m man enough to admit it” before the first track starts. This line is reminiscent of those in “Confession Part 2”, with the recurring message and emphasis on being a man, and being man enough to accept fault.
Feelings of nostalgia were brought back when I listened to the opening song “Need U“, which reminded me of ‘Climax.’ Straight away we are reminded of that sweet harmonic falsetto voice. The harmonies are what I mostly enjoyed, which immediately had me excitedly thinking: Yes, he’s back!
Just like the decayed image of Usher on the album and the holes in his face, they are somewhat representative of the minor holes and missing elements in the album. He’s moved away from jumping on the EDM wave to now slightly moving onto the trap genre. In good time, and hopefully with his next album, he will rediscover his sound fully.
Nonetheless, in all, Hard II Love is overall a great album, I think that this is the closest that we have got to the Confessions album from Usher. When I think about why Confessions is such an incredible body of work, I not only think about the music, but also the story behind it.
I remember thinking (along with every other girl in the nation): Did Usher cheat? And Who he is talking about? Just the whole story telling aspect alone was captivating and this is exactly what we get on this new album.
2016 has been a great year for new music especially in black culture. Usher’s album is undoubtedly one I would add to the list, if you haven’t already, or want to find out why usher is Hard [to] love, go listen and support! Purchase Hard II Love on iTunes here.
To answer Charlemagne’s question, No Usher is not appreciated like he needs to be. But! Even at his weakest and most questionable moments in his career, he still delivers a good body of work. Even if you’re not a fan of everything he does, he will always be up there as one of the greats!
Words by Elizabeth Abbey