I’ve been working on this post for about two weeks now. I have listened to the new Usher album Raymond v Raymond, countless times, letting it run till the end and then starting it all over again. I’ve gone back and listened to the Usher of old, submerging myself in what I consider classic Usher, songs like Nice & Slow, You Make Me Wanna, U Remind Me, Confessions Pt II and U Got It Bad. I still remember being fascinated by how a teenager could sing wonderful songs with feeling and emotion, yet still retain his youthfulness.
This is an artist who was able to carve a space in the world of R&B and stay relevant for over a decade. His music is never going to change the world or evoke the kind of emotion that icons like Michael Jackson have, but it has its place and I have been a fan from Usher (1994)and My Way (1997) through to 8701 (2001) and Confessions (2004). The Here I Stand album in 2008 just passed me by. I heard the Love In This Club track and, while it was catchy, it did not do much for me so I never took the time to listen to the whole album.
Now he’s released Raymond v Raymond and, after all the listening and reflection, the only thing I was sure of when I started listening to it was that I wasn’t sure of how I felt about the album. There were tracks that I felt very ambiguous about, including OMG, She Don’t Know (featuring Ludacris), Guilty (featuring T.I.) and Lil Freak (featuring Nicki Manj) and there were songs that I immediately took too. Songs like There Goes My Baby, Mars vs Venus, Pro Lover, Foolin’ Around and Papers are very well written and produced, with Usher seeming to put all of his talent and charisma into each song.
The one overriding characteristic of this album is the level of production, which outshines Usher in a couple of instances. Producers include the legendary Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and all seemed to bring their A-game when putting their minds to their work. The production on Lil Freak is absolute fire. I was a bit disappointed with Will.I.Am’s OMG. He didn’t seem to stretch himself at all and, while it is catchy, it feels like an extension of his work on Boom! Boom! Pow!
I am fascinated by how artists work to stay relevant and I find that artists like Usher seemed to lose themselves a bit in trying to be current. In an attempt to compete with new artists like Chris Brown, they stray too far from their foundation and try to be and sound like the newer artists. It shouldn’t be that way. He has his place.
On further reflection, I like Raymond v Raymond. Having to articulate my feelings has resolved the issue.