Retrospective: Usher's Career Post Confessions

During the mid to late 90's, Usher was a solid name in the music industry and R&B, garnering huge success with his 1997 album My Way. After a few years, he would hit big with his next two albums, 8701 (in 2001) and Confessions (in 2004). Confessions was the pinnacle, as that album went on to sell well over 10 million copies garnering a diamond plaque. Since the release of Confessions, Usher has seemingly had a tough time recapturing the glory he created with the album. Does that mean he's hit his peak or is it just a case of people sleeping on his music now? We examine his career post Confessions and see how it holds up.

Let me just flat out say that I’m forever a fan of the Usher that is responsible for everything up to Confessions. Things get a bit cloudy after that and that’s about as honest as I can get for you. Growing up when Usher was in his prime, it’s a bit disappointing to see the materials he released. But I understand growth and wanting to try different styles. It happens.

I was old enough to appreciate My Way, 8701 and Confessions. Usher was consistently bringing music that tickled our ears and serenaded our souls. His music, dance, and quite frankly, attractiveness, held our attention for many years.

I believe Confessions was so popular because of the scandal that surrounded it. Not only was it a project that covered every aspect of relationships, but the production was timeless. That album IS the perfect blend of upbeat, ballad, and chill music.

After that no. 1 album, Usher did collaborations with artists like R. Kelly, Omarion, and Mary J. Blige. He also did work on the Broadway stage in the musical “Chicago.” His next album Here I Stand didn’t see the same success as Confessions.

Usher took a different turn on this one. It was very clear that he had matured and was on a “grown man” vibe. With production from Polow da Don,  The Dream, Jermaine Dupri, Ne-Yo, and more, this album was a buffet of artistry. Honestly, I couldn’t connect to the entire album. “Love You Gently” and “Love in This Club Part II” are as far as it goes for me.

Between albums, Usher saw some major changes in his personal life. After a divorce, he released Raymond v. Raymond. Having a single about said divorce entitled “Papers” was not the best move in my opinion. As a fan, I didn’t want to hear Usher in that mode. Despite my own feelings, the song was number one for 2 weeks. People clearly thrive off scandal and drama. Usher added the magic of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on this album. “There Goes My Baby” probably stands as my favorite song by this singer next to “U Got It Bad”. That’s just not going to change and I’m completely okay with that decision.

On his album Versus, he took on a bit of a techno approach in his music. I understand wanting to reach a different demographic or audience. It happens often in this industry. He even had collaborations with Justin Bieber and Pitbull. The single “DJ Got Us Fallin in Love” gained plenty of success across the globe.

His last album Looking 4 Myself also had a different feel to it. It was as if he was living out the title of the album. He was searching for a certain sound musically and getting back to himself personally. I don’t necessarily have any favorites from that album, but I enjoy “Climax.” When the single was first released, I was a bit underwhelmed but it grew on me. Usher had again produced a number one album.

Since then he’s released a few other singles but no album. He’s been on tour as well as holding a spot on the competition show “The Voice.” Reality reminds us that we can only hold on to memories. People grow and change. Sometimes we aren’t so accepting of the change in others but that’s life. Usher remains one of my favorites because of his melodic voice. I’m not sure what we can expect from him next, but I definitely want to see him succeed.

Usher has been sort of a blessing and a curse for R&B/Pop. Since his debut, Usher hasn't necessarily been the most consistent artist, however he's been the one artist that has always seen success when his albums are reflective of whatever he is going through emotionally. 2008 and beyond,  Usher gave the fans exactly that, and "Here I Stand" is the album that would speak to his feelings with regards to his new wife(who he would later divorce), his son and even choosing the title to show his strength while dealing with the loss of his father. He includes ballads that are very profound throughout the album. Although "Love In This Club" would be the typical banger track and receive the most positive feedback as well as be a Billboard chart topper,  "Moving Mountains" would be the song that would give glimpses of the emotional struggle he may have experienced prior to settling down with his wife. "Trading Places" is another one because I find this was the first time Usher would use this theme of role reversal in a relationship and have it received well.

2 years later, Usher would release "Raymond v. Raymond" in March of 2010, and this was a weird album. On a personal level, he was dealing with a lot of press and media coverage with his marital situation/divorce, so essentially this album would be yet another "self-confession".  This album would gain certified platinum status, Grammy award wins and even a tour. Partnering with Will.I.Am, "OMG" is an obvious favorite on this album and gained tons of radio play. This song was everywhere all the time! The other 3 singles from this album would also aid in the popularity of this album, as "Papers" would address the issue of his divorce and "Hey Daddy" would serve as almost a follow up to that. Usher would also partner with Nicki Minaj on "Lil Freak", which was the other single that gained this album a ton of positive reviews. Also in 2010 Usher dropped the "Versus" EP, although this isn't considered part of the catalogue per se, it has my absolute favorite song from that year "Hot Tottie" where he partners with Hov. This song was just brilliant...the lyrics are fun but I do think (and kind of obviously) Jay-Z's verse was what made the song. Regardless it was dope and definitely one of my favorites.

"Looking For Myself" would drop 2 years later and yet again Usher would craft a seemingly good album. He partners with Pharrell Williams on the production side and as far as featured artists, he would have Rick Ross, ASAP Rocky and a few others. "Lemme See" would be the third released single and again, one of my favorite songs. This album would be his 4th chart topping album and gain a lot of recognition not only on Billboard charts, but he would perform this on various TV appearances as well.

Usher is one of the few artists we got to see sort of age, mature and grow, not only musically, but in life and it's so evident through his discography. I think "Confessions" is the perfect milestone in his career and everything that he made and released after that album truly showed the shift in his mentality and life. He dealt with getting married, getting divorced, firing his mother who was his manager, dealing with his father's death, and all of this right in the public eye. I don't really fault him for the inconsistencies from album to album for that reason, but the one thing Usher has remained consistent on is his ability to deliver chart topping tracks and bangers.

Confessions is truly one of the last great R&B albums ever. And first off, let me just explain this..... Bryson Tiller's album isn't even in the same league as Confessions, so don't ever disrespect that classic by comparing them. However, after Confessions, Usher's career gets a bit cloudy. With "Here I Stand", "Raymond v. Raymond", "Versus", and "Looking 4 Myself", he doesn't have a truly great album post Confessions in his catalog. It seems as if he lost his musical direction a bit after the timeless classic, and would struggle with figuring where to go next musically. However, one thing he managed to still provide was hit songs and some great bedroom anthems on each album. It's best for me to speak directly on each album and my favorite songs off of both.

Here I Stand
-This album was seen as a bit of growth in his life and I think Usher getting married changed the perception of his music from there. Though I enjoyed "Love In This Club", as well as the unintentionally hilarious "Trading Places", my two favorite songs here are "Love You Gently", which is one of the smoothest tracks of Usher's career, and the honest and relatable "Appetite", which shows Usher trying to maintain being faithful in his new marriage. If Usher had expanded on these topics more, as well as put forth better production, this album could have been something truly special. It feels a bit lifeless in certain parts however.

Raymond V. Raymond
-This album felt like a return for Usher, as his impending divorce and fatherhood seemed to influence his direction and spawn the hits like "Hey Daddy"(which has a version with Plies on it that's hilarious) and the raunchy "Lil Freak". However,  my favorite songs from this album are the ballads "There Goes My Baby", "Mars vs Venus", and of course the final track on the album "Making Love (Into The Night)". A bit more cohesive than Here I Stand, Raymond v. Raymond is a good album and while it doesn't compare to Confessions, it is likely his best album since then.

-I didn't understand the point of this EP, and while it wasn't the worst, it was just unnecessary. The pop and EDM style influence of "DJ Got Us Fallin In Love", and the Jay-Z featured "Hot Tottie" don't quite do anything for me musically, but the smooth "Lay You Down" is easily the best song here along with "Lingerie". I was not a fan of the EP outside of those 2 songs.

Looking 4 Myself 
-I haven't really listened to this album much and to be honest with you, the only songs that stuck out some were "Climax" and "Dive". The direction Usher took with this album just didn't seem to connect, though he managed to create a few hits and such. I just couldn't get into this album at all and since this album, Usher has been preparing a new album now titled Flawed and has released single after single that got radio play and attention, especially the Juicy J featured "I Don't Mind", but hasn't delivered a full length project yet.
In closing, Usher's career post Confessions has been essentially up and down, with the quality of his music taking a small hit. To me personally, the best thing he's done since Confessions is his duet with R. Kelly "Same Girl", which is honestly a classic. Regardless, Usher is always a big name in R&B and it remains to be seen what his next project will sound like.



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