Albums That Raised Me: Usher ‘8701’
Growing up, R&B music was the one safe genre for both my parents. My father, who lived in Brooklyn at the time, and my mother, back in North Jersey, were skeptical about the rap music then. Mom was too religious, and Dad was too reverent to his era of hip-hop music. I knew that if I had control of the cassette or CD player (aux cords weren’t household items in the ’90s), playing R&B was the one genre that resonated with everyone.
Other than the iconic Michael Jackson, there wasn’t another R&B artist that had as much of a profound impact on me like Usher. Songs like “My Way” and “You Make Me Wanna” were instant classics, and I rehearsed every word in a pre-pubescent screech as if I understood love, sex, or relationships. As the ’90s drew to a close, and the ’00s began, Usher stood out as the only male R&B artist that exhibited both the ability to craft great music, and the capacity for longevity. He began to build his third studio album, until technology struck. Napster.
In the early ’00s, music leaking online to the Internet prompted record labels to delay album releases and forced artists back into the studio to record additional content. Crazy right? (Today, rappers leak their own albums online.) Usher was forced to record several new tracks for the album, and change the title of the project. Fans and critics were both worried about what the end result would be. At the time, other leaks had forced artists to drop lukewarm projects. Just the year before, Nas was forced to rerecord Nastradamus due to leaks, which watered down the project. Usher defied the odds though, and created an album that solidified him as the king, 8701.
There are so many classic records on this album. “U Remind Me” may be one of the best songs of my youth. In fact, if you play that song for anyone between the ages of 25-35, it should invoke a deep emotional response that includes attempting to the hit high notes accompanied with an unrealistic revival of breakdance sliding. The music video featured Chili, who would go on to be the main inspiration behind “Burn” on Usher’s magnum opus, Confessions. She was a goddess in her own right, the perfect femme fatale to Usher’s smooth player voice.
“U Got It Bad” is another classic that can turn the most gangster person you know into a falsetto singing fool. Produced by a superstar team that included Jermaine Dupri, “U Got It Bad” is the ultimate break-up anthem. Commercial hip-hop consumers in 2017 feel like a quippy Drake line comparing love to a rose is emotional, and while I do love a good Drizzy ballad as much as the next guy, it lacks true depth. “U Got It Bad” touches on every emotion connected to a break-up, from depression to anger and confusion.
Right now, if I walked into a room of millennials, and bellowed out the quote “Don’t leave your girl round me, true player for real, ask my nigga Pharrell,” the entire crowd would respond with a drawn out, high-pitched “situattiioonnsss” in response. “U Don’t Have to Call,” another undeniable R&B classic, advocates the spiteful and self-destructive culture of partying a heartbreak away. It’s an anthemic shot of whiskey, it dulls the pain while helping the listener exude confidence.
8701 is a rollercoaster ride. From the club-hopping, Harlem shaking banger, “I Don’t Know,” to the sedated ballad “Can U Help Me,” Usher’s third album solidified him as one of the greatest artists in the industry. He taught me about emotions I had yet to experience, and in retrospect, I believe my morals and ideals surrounding relationships and love were heavily influenced by this album. They say that women are influenced by images of love in the media at a young age, and that goes on to dictate their relationships in the future. This album had that effect on me as a man; which is why 8701 is an album that raised me.