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—by Rashad D. Grove
Usher Raymond IV is one of the most iconic figures in popular music history. Undoubtedly, he's been one of the top performers for the past 25 years. Ever since he burst on to the scene as a teenager, Usher's been a fixture in music, starting out as one of the flagship artists of LaFace Records.
In his accomplished career, Usher has received numerous awards and accolades including 18 Billboard Music Awards and eight Grammy Awards. Usher is one of the best-selling artists of all-time, selling over 75 million records worldwide. As a vocalist and live performer, Usher has influenced an entire generation of R&B/Pop artists who ascribe to the singer/songwriter/dancer motif that he's perfected.
Proving that he's still an innovator with his hand on the pulse of the music industry, Usher recently released a collaboration album with producer Zaytoven titled A.
In celebration of his 40th birthday -- which was Sunday, Oct. 14 -- let's take a look at Usher's 11 game-changing songs.
11. "Think of You," 1994
After his first single failed to gain much traction, Usher made himself known to the music world with his second single, "Think of You," off of his self-titled album. Riding the wave of mid-90's hip hop soul, "Think of You" was the first song by Usher to have success on the charts. Co-written by Usher, alongside Donell Jones and Faith Evans; and produced by Sean Combs and Chucky Thompson; "Think of You" tells the story of the emotional effects when teenage love goes awry. Although "Think of You" only peaked at No. 58 on the pop charts, it was a foreshadowing of the potential that Usher had for future success.
10. "My Boo" featuring Alicia Keys, 2004
By this stage in his career, Usher was arguably the biggest music star in the world. In the tradition of his R&B idols, he wanted a duet for his discography. Enter Alicia Keys. Another superstar, who was flaming hot at the time, for their classic collaboration, "My Boo." Written by Usher, Keys, Jermaine Dupri, Adonis Shropshire, and Manuel Seal, Jr.; and produced by Dupri and No I.D., "My Boo" was the fourth single from Usher's mega-successful Confessions album. The song was written from the perspectives of an ex-couple who were reminiscing about their past relationship. "My Boo" was another smash hit for Usher, climbing to number one on the pop charts and staying there for six weeks straight. "My Boo" is a reminder that we never forget our first love.
9. "OMG" featuring will.i.am, 2010
On Usher's sixth studio album Raymond v. Raymond, he began to collaborate with writer/producer will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas. With the release of his fourth single "OMG," the two hit the jackpot. "OMG" was a certified club banger and it was one of the biggest hits of 2010. With elements of Eurodance, dance-pop, synth-pop, auto-tune, and crowd chanting; "OMG" was a departure from the smooth, hip hop R&B influenced sound that fans have grown accustomed to hearing. But, it worked like a charm and "OMG" is one his signature songs.
"OMG" became Usher's ninth No. 1 hit in the United States, making him the first 2010's artist to collect No. 1 singles in three consecutive decades. "OMG" indeed!
8. "Nice & Slow," 1998
The story goes that while working on the My Way album, Dupri told Usher that he needed a ballad that would knock everyone out. With "Nice & Slow," they knocked it out the park.
Co-written by Usher, Brian and Brandon Casey of the R&B group Jagged Edge; Seal Jr. and Dupri (who also produced the track), "Nice & Slow" became his first No. 1 hit on the pop charts. The song helped Usher break from the teen pop idol image and he transitioned into a young man with a more mature sound.
"Nice & Slow" is a sensual, quiet storm song that's still a favorite slow jam 20 years later.
7. "You Don't Have to Call," 2001
Never just a balladeer, Usher is at his best when he's creating dance music that bangs in the club. "You Don't Have to Call" was scorching hot right out the gate. The song tells the story of a man who's tired of worrying about his woman and decides to go live it up with the fellas. Originally intended for Michael Jackson, "You Don't Have to Call" was written and produced by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes, who were beginning their ascent as prominent composers in the music industry. It was the third successful single from 8701, reaching number three on the pop charts.
"You Don't Have to Call" had dance floors on fire and it's still a favorite at Usher's live shows.
6. "U Remind Me," 2001
After a three-year hiatus, Usher was preparing to make his return to the music scene. "U Remind Me" was the first single from the Usher's third album 8701. It written by Anita McCloud and Edmund Clement, and produced by the legendary Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. "U Remind Me" is about a man who meets a woman who he's attracted to. But, the guy makes the decision not to pursue a relationship with her because she reminds him of his ex-girlfriend, whom he just broke up with.
A mid-tempo track, "U Remind Me" was the perfect reintroduction for Usher. It showcased his growth as an artist. It also reestablished him as the leading voice of contemporary R&B. It would go on to reach No. 1 on the pop charts and eventually earned him another Grammy. Usher was back.
5. "Confessions Part II," 2004
For better or for worse, sometimes art imitates life. The lines can become quite blurry. After a very public breakup with Chili, in the spirit of the R&B greats of the past, Usher held nothing back and poured himself, with brutal honesty, into his music. "Confession Part II" was the result.
Produced and written by Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox alongside Usher, the song is a man's confession to his woman about his impregnated mistress. It acts as the second installment of "Confessions Part I," which spoke to the man's infidelity. Rumors began to circulate that the song was Usher's way of revealing the truth about his own fractured relationship with the TLC member. However, Dupri disclosed that the background of the song was actually taking from his friends' similar experiences.
"Confessions Part II" was Usher's sixth consecutive single to reach No. 1 on the pop charts and became the break up anthem of the 2000s.
4. "U Got it Bad," 2001
The second single from 8701, "You Got It Bad," tells a tale about not being able to get over a past love. It was co-written by Usher, Dupri and Cox -- who also produced the track. According to Dupri, he and Usher were in the studio working on music for the album. But, Usher's attention was diverted by a woman who happened to be in the studio. Failing to get Usher to focus, Dupri told him, "We're going to do this session later on. You got it completely too bad right now. You got it bad." This incident became inspiration for the song. Dupri composed the lyrics with the intention that it would be an enormous hit for the album... and it was.
"U Got It Bad" is a banger, a classic contemporary R&B song. It became his third single to go to number one on the pop charts, as Usher continued his hot streak.
3. "Burn," 2004
"Burn" is the ultimate anthem for when a relationship is broken beyond repair. With extreme pathos, Usher delivers a gut-wrenching performance about when love turns into dismay. Co-written by Usher, along with Dupri and Cox, who also produced it; "Burn" was a peek into the psyche of Usher who was going through very public, personal struggles in his own relationship with Chili.
"Burn" was a worldwide hit. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight non-consecutive weeks and hit No. 1 in the UK, as well. "Burn" is the central theme of the Confession album. Sometimes, all you can do is let it burn.
2. "You Make Me Wanna," 1997
Usher had not yet achieved the success that he and his label had envisioned at the time of this song's release. Beginning a new partnership with Dupri at 18 years old, "You Make Me Wanna" was the major breakthrough single that Usher desperately wanted. It was his first top ten hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Co-written and produced by Usher, Dupri and Seal Jr.; the song tells the story of Usher falling for his woman's best friend, creating a love triangle. With its distinctive use of acoustic guitar and hi-hat in tandem with Usher's passionate vocal performance, "You Make Me Wanna" had all the ingredients necessary for an R&B classic.
"You Make Me Wanna" was a career-defining moment for Usher. It launched him from being moderately successful into superstardom, a place he still occupies today.
1. "Yeah!," 2004
After the recording process was complete on his Confessions LP, the label executives responded that the project was full of tremendous material, but lacked a strong lead single. Going back to the drawing board, Usher enlisted the production help of Lil Jon. Adding Ludacris into the mix, they came out with "Yeah!" and the rest was history.
With a minimalist musical approach, "Yeah!" became more than song. It was a global event. "Yeah!" was the first time Usher incorporated crunk and R&B, which Lil Jon coined as "Crunk&B," in the composition of one of his songs. Released as the first single from Confessions, "Yeah!" became a cultural phenomenon, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 consecutive weeks selling over four million copies. Still his biggest hit to date, "Yeah!" catapulted Usher into legendary status.
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