A few weeks back in Atlanta for Spelhouse homecoming, I got into a fun and spirited debate with my crew of Day Ones over Sunday brunch. Because we love to have deep and intellectual conversations about shit that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, music and entertainment are usually an easy go-to. The particular day’s topic: R&B legends.
One of the homies asked the all-important question and then drew a parallel. The all-important question (and if I’m getting the ‘pacifics wrong, I’m sure the homies can and will correct me): Is Usher a legend? The parallel was made to Bobby Brown, whose legendary status was then subsequently questioned.
Let’s start at the beginning: Bobby Brown is absolutely a legend. He created ONE single solitary album worth talking about in what amounts to 30-plus-year career of music and shenanigans. And yet, that one album was like Wilt Chamberlains’ 100-point game. Bobby wrecked shop throughout the industry, bagged Janet Jackson, slept with ghosts, married Whitney Houston, did all of the drugs and created Don’t Be Cruel (hot-take alert), the best R&B album of all time post-Thriller. While one of the homies who instituted the convo doesn’t believe that Bobby Brown is necessarily a legend, I think it’s pretty safe to squarely put him in the R&B legend camp. He is easily and far-and-away the most successful member of New Edition.
Yet pitting Bobby against Usher might be unfair; Bobby’s heyday is the reason why acts like Usher could even thrive. And artists like Usher may have had Michael Jackson in their sights in terms of impact, but Bobby Brown was the blueprint for super-edgy R&B, and Usher took that baton and ran with it. But for my money, in his own right, Usher is a legend, and I’ll explain why. For the record, and the very reason why this is even a discussion is this: Apparently not everybody thinks that Usher’s reign was legendary. Color me badd, yo.
Back to Usher’s legendary status. I think that if we were to put together a male R&B Mount Rushmore, both Bobby Brown and Usher would absolutely belong on that mountain. For you, who belongs there can depend on any number of factors. Hell, if you’re over 50 you might think I’m smoking that la la la for even including Ursher, Baby. For my money, I’m rounding out my facade with Luther and Babyface. Considering that Babyface has written and was responsible for several hits for each of the aforementioned acts, maybe they should call it Mount Babyface. And I mean, Prince? What is he? I quit.
Usher Raymond IV is a superstar R&B artist. Of his eight studio albums, four of them have been No. 1 albums on Billboard. Confessions, his highest-selling album, went diamond, which is the Recording Industry Association of America’s designation for selling 10 million copies of an album in the United States. That album sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Not quite Michael Jackson but it is good enough to be the best selling album for 2004, back when folks were still buying albums; even Jadakiss’ Kiss of Death album went platinum. He also had the best opening week for an R&B act—ever. And that’s just Confessions.
Usher’s best song? Cleary, it’s “U Don’t Have to Call,” a Neptunes-produced record off of his almost five million-selling 8701 album, which also included seminal hits like “U Got It Bad,” and “U Remind Me.” As you can see, Usher is a fan of the letter “U.”
Usher has the record sales to be a legend. But what else makes one a legend? Usher is an amazing vocal talent, but couple that with his performance stylings, clearly in the perfectionist vein of Michael with the seductiveness of Bobby ‘nem, and Usher leveled up the game in every single way. He is a dancing ass dancer who commands(ed) the stage in a way that, for his time, made his concerts a must-see event. While Usher is mostly scandal-free (mostly, I said scandal, not STI), he’s also lived a rock-n-roll lifestyle, one that Bobby perfected for the masses to learn (and unlearn) from.
Usher, whose career got going in the mid-’90s and is still going today, is a name that both sells and garners respect for what he brought to the R&B table as a talent and a personality. When people talk about R&B greats, Usher’s name belongs in the conversation. While I know that many are loathe to give legendary status to artists still making music and young enough to be other legend’s children, the fact is, Usher has done enough work, been around long enough and has enough hits and a classic album (Confessions), that to argue against his legendary status seems nonsensical.
But alas, I know some don’t see it that way. If you ask me, Usher’s a legend, hands down. To others, maybe not.
What say you? What is your confession?
Let it burn.