Usher: Raymond v Raymond

Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

In search of his playboy swagger (and thankfully finds it), Usher fails to live up to his own musical standards in the process

Probably since Michael Jackson claimed the distinction of being the King of Pop, Usher Raymond felt like a close descendant of the influential superstar’s pop-laden capabilities. After starting out his career at the tender age of 14 and gaining immediate traction in the R&B world with his My Way album, the radio hits and new, reinventing formulas like sparkly MTV music videos and razor-sharp footwork followed his career throughout the late 1990s and early ‘00s. His musical maturity was obviously going through more transformable phases than pop princess Britney Spears and landed on his groundbreaking, super-platinum selling project Confessions. It was something of a window into his private, personal battles with ex-girlfriend Chili (of R&B/pop group TLC). Possibly the swarm of rumors and gossipy headlines gave the album the push it needed in the U.S., but the album yielded three #1’s and a Top 20 R&B hit (“Yeah, “Confessions, Pt. 2,” “Burn,” “Caught Up”) and ended any doubts of Usher’s surreal brush with MJ fame. But a marriage with Tameka Foster (putting a hurting on Usher’s legion of female fans) dried up the successful well on Here I Stand; which was a epical commercial failure when compared to Usher’s previous works. Even his ladies-only tour, an idea that worked favorably on Teddy Pendergrass in the late ‘70s, failed to generate the buzz Usher needed to maintain his sex symbolism and swagger. While it sold modestly well its first week and critics raved about his maturing, grown-folks R&B sound, the singles didn’t last long on the charts and the relationship with his wife throttled the headlines and gossip columns even more. So what does a pop icon like the now 30-year old Usher do in a situation like this – to rebound from career limbo, to resurface as the reigning prince of contemporary R&B and to once again dominate the pop world?

The new agenda, spearheading Usher’s sixth studio album Raymond v. Raymond, is to reclaim the manhood, the swagger, the sex appeal that accompanied his gold-christened singles of the past. With an album title as interesting and multi-dimensional as Raymond v. Raymond, you wouldn’t expect so much interest to dwell on such an assignment. The premature hype behind the album, even with foretelling satire behind the leaked single “Papers” and press statements made by the artist, gave the illusion that the album would follow the pattern of Confessions or glow as a comparative analysis to Marvin Gaye’s break-up masterpiece Here, My Dear. Instead we are left with more of an ego boost aimed at reviving the superstar’s curved machismo.

Interesting enough, the album opens up with hope of a detailed follow-up to Confessions. Usher whispers “there’s three sides to every story (“There’s one side, the other, and then there’s the truth.”). After sliding through trippy Transformers-like robotic voices chanting various phrases describing Usher, “Monstar” opens up the album using Janet Jackson-sounding thrills courtesy of Jam & Lewis. The club beats keeps a-coming with his VIP club pass and playboy passport “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)” and the menage-a-trois-focused “Lil Freak;” which cruelly sweeps the familiar synths from Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ for the City” into the chorus. “Lil Freak” does sound legit for today’s hip-hop playlist, even though it’s not lyrically tamed for the new divorcee.

Other places where the album falls a bit off from its saddle is when guest rappers including Ludacris and T.I. steal the show from Usher’s grasps. “She Don’t Know” only gets interesting when Ludacris spits out his rhymes. Unfortunately it’s only heard for a brief minute. And’s aspirations to blend Black Eyed Peas’ futuristic beats, Autotune with club chants on “OMG” fail to make Usher interesting.

There are a few highlights in the collection; particularly with the ballads. He uses the formulaic magic from MJ’s “Lady In My Life” on “There Goes My Baby” and a humble confession against infidelity on the Bryan-Michael Cox tune “Foolin’ Around.” It seems like a contradiction after following such racy, unfaithful anthems like “Lil Freak,” but every little bit of good helps. “Papers,” one of the album’s obvious stand outs, presents Usher with a little pep in his step; uses his angst from the rollicking marriage into one of the only confessional tunes on the album. “Pro Lover” delivers the singer a good set of cool points for its smart reggae bounce while “More,” the iTunes bonus cut, adds a new depth on Usher’s club tunes using rave/techno glitz and a singable pop melody.

The album focuses entirely way too much on Usher’s ego. Just listen to the opening lines of “So Many Girls,” with P. Diddy crying out “the king is back. Hey ladies, you know what time it is.” Raymond v. Raymond’s intentions may have been good, even necessary. But the album feels more forced, overtly contrived and serves as overkill for Usher’s pop resurrection. For a 30-year old crooner fumbling his way through a new set of trends while aiming to find his throne in the club, Raymond v. Raymond comes across as a career disappointment. Sure his swagger is back and he proves he can rock the most sexiest, sweaty, R-rated joints of the day. But now the former leader of the pack, who at one time could run circles around the acts of Trey Songz and Chris Brown, is wallowing too long around the trend setters of today; unfortunately leaving Usher tightly compacted against the wall. And everyone knows in the music world that the inclusion of too many superstars on a project makes the supernova look small. This should be a lesson learned for the once-proclaimed heir of a music king.




  • Release Date: 30 Mar 2010
  • Label: LaFace
  • Producers: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, The Runners. Jim Jonsin, Rico Love, Polow da Don, Bangladesh, Sean Garrett,, Bryan-Michael Cox, Jermaine Dupri, Zaytoven, Danja, AJ “Prettyboifresh” Parhm, James “JLack” Lackey
  • Track Favs: Foolin’ Around, Pro Lover, There Goes My Baby, Papers

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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