NEW YORK: Almost 20 years have passed since R&B fans first took notice of Usher Raymond on 1994’s debut album Usher. At that time, he was just a baby-faced teenager singing about things he hadn’t yet experienced.
However over the years, fans have watched Usher grow into a man and become one of the top-selling pop stars of the last two decades, documenting his personal highs and lows through his music.
But ask Usher, and he says his evolution has just begun. Now a seasoned performer and 33-year-old father of two young boys, Usher takes himself to new places musically with his seventh studio album, Looking 4 Myself, out June 12. The lead single “Climax”, marries R&B and electronic music, and sets the tone for 14 tracks of electronic, soul and hip-hop sounds.
Usher gets personal on “Sins of My Father”, a song about the consequences of growing up without his dad. The album’s thumping second single, “Scream”, and the Will.i.am and Keith Harris production, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”, are party anthems in the vain of “OMG”, his hit single from 2010’s Raymond v. Raymond.
On June 11, Usher introduces his album with a performance, directed by film-maker Hamish Hamilton, at London’s HMV Forum for the “American Express Unstaged” live stream music series.
Reuters spoke with Usher about Looking 4 Myself and the new direction he’s taking musically.
You said this is your most artistic album to date. How was working on this project different?
It was near a rebirth. I felt open and creative because I didn’t have anything in my mind. At some point, after making music for a long time, you have to find very new creative and innovative ways to do what you love.
I’ve felt restricted over the last several years and maybe it’s because I was holding myself back. I got to the point where I said, ‘I gotta go with what I feel and hopefully people will follow me.’
Will your old fans get it?
I always try to find a way for everybody to feel like they got something. On this album, dance or electronic music is not just your typical electronic experience — it’s been Usherised. I put it all in there — soul, R&B, hip-hop, electronic and I make it work, because I believe it.
What’s the overall vibe of the album?
I was a little held up in my emotions, and I used my music as a diary to log some of what I was dealing with. And then there are songs that are made to have fun.
Michael Jackson is one of your more obvious influences. Who are some artists you’ve been influenced by that may surprise people?
Picasso. I find inspiration in the fact that he found different ways to articulate himself. His artistic vision adjusted and he allowed himself to be in the moment and to be a part of what was going on around him in the art world.
Tell us some of your favourites from the album?
Songs like “Euphoria” I feel pushed the envelope. I think a lot of people will relate to “Looking for Myself”. “I Care for You” — that song is my heart. Saying ‘I care for you’ is like saying ‘I love you’ without saying those words. I think those can be dangerous words so I had to find a creative way to say it without saying it. ‘I love you’ can be scary, it can be dangerous.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2012.