Big Jon Platt
Los Angeles
“Making people care about love again,” says Usher, “that was the mission for me on this album.”

That’s no small goal to set for yourself, but Usher Raymond has never been shy about his ambitions. With his new album, HERE I STAND, one of the biggest stars in the pop universe has truly stepped into new territory—boldly presenting his music with a maturity, scope, and range (both vocal and emotional) beyond anything he has achieved before, and driven by a blazing purpose and passion.

“I wanted this album to really be who I am,” says Usher. “I’m going to be 30 years old this year. I’m not the same as I was when I was 21, or 24 when I started my last album. I’ve had lots of changes in my life, I have a wife and a child, and I wanted to do something that really showed that.”

Certainly, the last year has been a time of great upheaval for a man who has sold thirty million albums and won five Grammy awards in his remarkable career. After a tumultuous period around his wedding last summer, Usher and wife Tameka Foster welcomed a son, Usher Raymond V, in November. A few months later, Usher’s father passed away.

It’s enough to make anyone evaluate the work they do and the legacy they want to leave. “I knew it was time to step up and take control of my life,” writes Usher in the album’s liner notes, describing himself as emerging from his trials and tribulations “unwavering, steadfast, pure-hearted, and wholly dedicated to love.”

This aspiration runs through HERE I STAND, whether expressing a yearning for intimacy in the vulnerable ballad “His Mistake” or struggling with fidelity on “Appetite.” What Usher ultimately reveals is a depth and integrity that have largely been absent from contemporary R&B.

“In the last few years, hip-hop had gotten so popular because it was so honest, and R&B was dying because it was losing its substance,” he says. “I was thinking, how do you balance the score? And what I realized is that to make change, you can’t just conform, you have to dictate, and be willing to take risks."

“I want to influence people to evaluate what’s important in life, and I feel like I’m doing that.”

It’s hard to believe that it has been more than fifteen years since Usher was discovered after an appearance on “Star Search” and signed to LaFace Records—more than half of his lifetime has been spent in fame’s white-hot spotlight. His self-titled 1994 debut was a moderate hit, but his breakthrough was 1997’s MY WAY, which sold six million copies and featured the massive hits “You Make Me Wanna,” “Nice & Slow,” and the album’s title track.

The four-times-platinum 8701 followed in 2001, which included "U Remind Me" and "U Don't Have to Call" (songs which won back-to-back Grammys in the “Best Male R&B Vocal Performance” category) and the Number One hit "U Got It Bad."

But none of that success could compare to the phenomenon that erupted around 2004’s CONFESSIONS album. The disc sold over one million copies its first week of release, still the highest debut-week numbers ever for a male R&B artist. "Yeah!," "Burn," and "Confessions Part II" all topped Billboard's Hot 100 singles charts, and Usher became the first solo artist in history to have three singles inside the Hot 100's top 10 simultaneously (only the Beatles and the Bee Gees had previously accomplished this feat). After "My Boo," a duet with Alicia Keys, also hit Number One, he closed out the year having spent twenty-eight weeks at the top of the U.S. charts.

CONFESSIONS was the most successful album of 2004, selling over 10 million copies in the US and almost 20 million worldwide. Usher won three Grammys, two MTV Video Music Awards, three World Music Awards, four American Music Awards, and eleven Billboard Music Awards.

How do you follow that kind of triumph? For Usher, who has acted in a number of successful feature films, it was time to conquer another medium. In 2006, he took over the role of Billy Flynn in the long-running Broadway musical CHICAGO. He also took part in a number of hit collaborations in the aftermath of CONFESSIONS, recording alongside Lil’ Jon, R. Kelly, Omarion, and Mary J. Blige.

But when it was time to tackle a new, full-length project, Usher would not rest easy. “My goal with every album is to be as honest as I possibly can,” he says, “and to be better each time.” He also knew that he needed to take a long, hard look at his own life to identify the sounds and themes of his new work.

“This album is about the process of finding love,” he says, “of wanting to be married to someone and spend your life with them. You hope to find that person, and when you do, you go on a journey, and it consists of ups and downs, joys and temptations.”

Usher was clear in his mission from the very beginning of HERE I STAND, which includes contributions from an all-star team of producers(Jermaine Dupri, Stargate, Danja) and guest spots from Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Young Jeezy.

“I worked with a lot of people on this album, and everyone had to understand that sonically, I needed this album to be something over and above,” he says. “Not just a club banger, something that’s hot in this moment, but something that would stand over time. Everyone was challenged in that way, that this was more than the normal Usher formula.”

That focus is evident in the epic, atmospheric sweep of “Moving Mountains” and in the classic structure of the title track, which has the makings of a pop standard, a first-dance wedding song (“I didn’t write it for that purpose,” says Usher, “but I was the first person who used it for that—I danced to it at my wedding.”)

Not that all of HERE I STAND is, as someone put it, nice and slow. “Mark Pitts, my A&R, said, ‘We gotta lighten it up, people might think it’s too serious, too mature,’” says Usher. “We needed something more fun, loose, electric, so we brought in people like Will.I.Am and Tricky for that more lighthearted side. Polow came up with more of a trance/techno record, and that was ‘Love in This Club.’”

Usher explains that while the hit first single may seem to be at odds with the album’s grown-up approach, it really serves as a “prelude” to the songs that follow. “The album is about that boy, looking for a good time in a club, becoming a man,” he says. “The topics changes, and the ways he deals with things.

“Every album is about immortalizing that moment of where I was and what I was feeling,” he continues. “So with a song like ‘Love in This Club,’ I tried to put myself back three years, to how I felt at that time, and then bring it up to how I feel now.”

With HERE I STAND, Usher invokes such immortal inspirations as Al Green and Marvin Gaye, for the masculinity and adult sensibility of their work. And he thinks that he’s standing at the leading edge of a change in R&B. “You’re starting to see male artists embracing that next step in life,” he says. “It’s just naturally what happens—you can’t continue to do the same thing at 30 or 40 that you did when you were 20. Is it still as important to be that hustler, that player, as it is to be a father, a stand-up man in a monogamous relationship?

“Music had gotten to a place where nobody wanted to settle down, they just wanted to keep the party going,” says Usher. “But for me, it was time to put away childish things and become a man.”

My Boo
Confessions Pt. II
U Got It Bad
My Way
2002-Grammy Award Winner-for Single "U remind Me"