DAR Music: Usher's 8701
1. Intro-Lude 8701
2. U Remind Me
3. I Don't Know
4. Twork It Out
5. U Got It Bad
6. If I Want To
7. I Can't Let U Go
8. U Don't Have To Call
9. Without U (Interlude)
10. Can U Help Me
11. How Do I Say
12. Hottest Thing
13. Good Ol Ghetto
15. U R The One
As a big fan of Usher's music growing up, there are some albums of his that really stick out to me. Sure, everyone loved Confessions, and rightfully so, as it is one of the greatest R&B albums ever IMO, but the album he released before it in 2001 is honestly just as good, and depending on who you ask, they might say it's better (it's not). Today, we wanted to take a quick look back at the 8701 album and everything that made it so special. It's almost surreal to think it's been almost 16 years since the release of this album. Let's get into it.
Production And Background
In terms of the production, the album features a range of producers from Jermaine Dupri, Babyface, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and The Neptunes, among others, all of which are great producers with extensive track records. The style of production ranges from upbeat to smooth ballad, and I think the work Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis did was beyond amazing for Usher. For his third album, it looked as if Usher wanted to express his growth musically and personally. The themes on this album ranged from falling in love, breakups, heartache, and everything within the realm of relationships. It was his testament to his real life experiences and his attempt to go from the young kid who made "My Way" to a more mature path. 8701 was the album that really started the maturation of Usher Raymond.
My favorite tracks from the album range from the hit singles with a bit more bounce to them like "U Don't Have To Call" all the way down to the New Edition era reminiscent "Can U Help Me", Usher doesn't disappoint. Much like other albums of his, I find his interlude to be amazing ("Without U") and wish it was a full song, but it leads into the aforementioned "Can U Help Me", making it a perfect complement to the song. What are the top songs of this album? What songs make this album what it is? Let's take a look.
*U Don't Have To Call
-The Neptunes had the midas touch at the time and they would supply Usher with a solid instrumental to sing over. This is the most upbeat track on the album to me, as Usher seamlessly coasts over the beat and creates an anthem for anyone feeling single for the night... or in general.
*U Remind Me
-One of my favorite Usher songs, "U Remind Me" has a nice production sound, and some of my favorite Usher vocals in his career. The story arc of the song is one that's almost familiar to every man, and I think it was well put together and executed. It is funny however, to imagine how this conversation would actually go in real life. Perhaps not so cordial? Still, a truly classic song and one of my personal favorites on the album and his catalog.
*U Got It Bad
-I remember when I first heard this song, I thought it was the perfect ballad for people newly in love, and with the breezy opening production, going into the guitar riff that coasts across the drums, it's no surprise that this became a huge hit and the biggest off the album. The song was seemingly dedicated to his relationship with TLC singer Chilli and it's one of the most interesting times in Usher's career summed up in one song.
*Twork It Out
-Usher works well with slower tempo songs and this is one that's right in the middle, so it's got the best of Usher and then some. I hate the title of the song, but I can't deny how great it sounds. It's one of the best on the album.
*Can U Help Me
-The Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced and written ballad is essentially what you love to hear from the duo. This sounds like a song they've could have written for New Edition, which makes Usher singing it even more significant. He takes the song and makes it his own, and it's one of the highlights of this album easily.
For years, the funniest track on this entire album has been "U-Turn". The reality is, when we first heard the song drop, my friends and I thought it was a hilarious track just for the instructions ("put your hands up, bend your knees"). The album doesn't have many misses or mishaps, but there are a few. Let's take a look at the tracks on the album that missed the mark.
-As I mentioned, this song was really hilarious to me when it first dropped. The call and response style hook that also gives you the instructions to the dance thar sounds extremely bland. I'd hope no one was actually doing this dance, but then again, in 2001, you never really know.
*I Don't Know
-This P. Diddy featured track might seem like it would be one of the best songs on the album, but for some reason, it's never worked for me as a listener. The Neptunes production surprisingly falls short here, and the song just sort of drags on. It's not a bad song necessarily, just doesn't have the pizazz of some of the other tracks on the album. Plus, the guest verse from Diddy is absolutely awful.
*I Can't Let U Go
-Jermaine Dupri yelling at the beginning of the track is probably not the smartest way to start off a track, but Usher allows him yelling all over the track and on top of his singing. It's honestly the worst part of the song and it ruins the vibe just a little bit. The song itself doesn't necessarily work for me either, as the production is quite bland, and although Usher vocally steps up, the lyrics don't help the cause anymore than JD did on the adlibs.
*Good Ol Ghetto
-Usher doesn't miss much on his albums, and he doesn't miss too much here, but this song just feels forced. I remember laughing at it as a teenager (the title invokes laughs to me), and though I know songs about the ghetto life and women of that neighborhood were popular, it just didn't work well at all when Usher attempted it. It is not a terrible song, but it just really misses the mark and sticks out in a bad way on a mostly great album.
Is this album better than Confessions? Not in the slightest bit, but it is a really good album that could compete with My Way for the no. 2 spot in the Usher catalog, which is in some way extensive. I think 8701 was Usher in transition mode, hinting at how great his project was going to be. There's a bit of immaturity in the project from the content in "Good Ol Ghetto" and "U-Turn", which at some point clashes with the content in "Can U Help Me", "U Remind Me", "U Got It Bad", and the other quality songs. At the end of the day, 8701 is not only one of Usher's best albums, it's an album title that is instantly synonymous with him and his career.