'Ushering In A New Regime'
After being spotted by a LaFace record executive at a talent show in his hometown of Atlanta, GA, it took no time for hip-hop crooner Usher Raymond's career to take off. The 14-year-old auditioned for LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid, who signed the gospel choir boy to a recording contract. Raymond was introduced to the world simply as "Usher," and released his debut album of the same name in 1994, which featured co-executive producer Sean "Puffy" Combs.
After graduating from high school, Usher graduated as well to his sophomore release, My Way, in 1997. In an attempt to display his maturity and songwriting abilities, Usher co-wrote six of the nine songs and enlisted the help of producers Jermaine Dupri, Babyface, and, again, Sean "Puffy" Combs.
In the meantime, Usher launched an acting career, appearing in the 1998 horror spoof 'The Faculty' and the 1999 urban high-school drama 'Light It Up.' To tide fans over, he issued a concert recording titled simply, Live in 1999. Usher returned with his third proper album, All About U, toward the end of 2000. His third album, 8701 (2001), moved Usher from a teen pop star to a sultry R&B singer.
Catching up with the man himself whilst he was backstage at one of his London (England) shows, I first asked him who he was listening to himself? "At the moment? That's hard! Recently it's been a lot of live material. I try and keep listening to authentic soul like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Commmodores, Al Green. It's been really mellow on my bus, but my dancers' bus is wilder. Before I go on stage I listen to my warm up CD, which is all my vocal training exercises."
Nelly seems to like her, but what do you think of Kelly Rowland from Destiny's Child?! "Ha ha. I think that she's gorgeous. I'd go on a date. If she thought I was cute, of course!"
How did you get that pumped body of yours any damn way?! "I was born like it! I'm 22, so my physique is at its best now," he laughs.
Do you ever get tired off all these women throwing themselves at you night after night?! "I don't think I could ever stop loving that, I'm looking for more! I get mobbed everywhere we go. I did something really dangerous in Stockholm. I'd been working so much that I needed some time off and I went out without any security and nobody saw me. So, we did a performance that night, and I simply tried to walk outside to my bus, but the fans mobbed me!"
You were the first person to get a mention on an Eminem single. Have you met him and did you get on? "No I've never met him, but he's cool. I hope that I can use that bit in one of my songs one day!"
When did you start singing? "As far back as I can remember I've loved to entertain. I've been singing professionally since the age of 14, but before that I was in my youth choir at school. I used to sing R Kelly songs, stuff like that."
Can you still 'Moonwalk'? "Of course I can do the moonwalk! I practice lots of moves like breakdancing all the time. It takes a lot of working out," he grins. "Actually, it takes a lot of McDonalds to get this body, and staying up late eating sugar works too!"
How did Aaliyah's death affect you? "It was devastating for every artist because of who she was. She was at the tip of the iceberg in her career. Personally it was a great loss, and it just makes you take another look at life."
What was it like to work with Sean 'P Diddy' Combs? "I hate him, this story will be told later!" he laughs. "No, I'm just joking! Working with him at such a young age taught me a lot. He's a great producer and a great visionary, a great promotions guy. Honestly? I think he's a better producer than artist."
Interviewed By Marcus Bright For Exclusive Magazine
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