Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Our friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
There’s a scene in Eminem’s semi-biographical film 8 Mile, where he’s about to deliver his final battle rap, preparing for his opponent to air out all of his dirty laundry. Instead, Eminem chooses to confess it all — from minutiae to major factoids -—ultimately leaving his opponent Papa Doc with no fodder left to expose. That was Usher’s angle taken with his fourth studio album, aptly titled Confessions.
R&B music in 2004 was approaching a crossroads. It was a year for women to takeover, as acts like Destiny’s Child, Ciara, Ashanti, Janet Jackson and even Jill Scott were either delivering breakout projects or critically acclaimed masterpieces. The men were lacking. John Legend wouldn’t arrive until the end of the year, and R. Kelly wouldn’t pair with Jay Z for a second time until close to Halloween. The lane was wide open for Usher Raymond IV to become what he always wanted to be: a chart-topping global sensation. In order to do that, he had to release some of his demons and replace them with sonic innovation that would not only soulfully bend genres in a way that had never effectively been done before, but reinvent the wheel for the male R&B artist.
From top to bottom Confessions had a formula, which was to emote in a way that would still be punctuated with machismo, even at the most vulnerable moments. At the same time, Usher was tinkering with a new style that would make his music more “Rap-friendly.” Sure his earliest days were spent with Diddy, and his right hand producer man was (and still is) Jermaine Dupri, but it wasn’t enough in the burgeoning Hip-Hop-Meets-Pop scene. He needed more. Much more. And he found it. On his own terms. More »