With millions of record sold, seven Grammys, a Super Bowl performance, and mentoring Justin Bieber, Usher does not have much left to prove the world. With his new album Looking 4 Myself ready to hit shelves, the famed artist is ready to continue exploring the fusion of electronica, dance and R&B. Usher sat down with The FADER and delved a into the process of the making of the much-anticipated long-player that finds him collaborating with illustrious likes of Pharrell Williams, Diplo, A$AP Rocky and more.
Where did Looking 4 Myself come from?
I was surprised to hear that you’re still looking for yourself at this point in your life. I think we go through these metamorphoses in life and we’re always hitting the reset button. Or sometimes we don’t and we find ourselves recycling life experiences. If you don’t address certain things, it’s reciprocal. You just keep going through it, keep having the same experience over and over and over again. So I went through that in my personal life, where I began to just say, Man, what’s going on with me? What matters? What’s cool? What’s not? What do I like? Can I make music that I just like? Can I just make music that I was inspired to make?
Do you feel like you haven’t been?
At times I felt like when you have an audience that spans from five to 50, that’s a high-class problem to have. When you sell a million in a week, you did something right. It’s very hard to go back to where you were when you were 18, right? As a journalist, you’re not gonna go back to where you were at 21. You may have done incredible pieces, and maybe people would say to you, Sure, that was one of your best pieces ever, but okay, that was then, and here is a new vision of how I look at things and how I interpret things. So, Looking 4 Myself is a bit of my own journey, but I think it was a very creative way to talk about a journey through life. What are you looking for? I’m just looking for something that makes me feel good.
Your interest in using beats based in house and electronic music was really ahead of trend. How did you get interested in that music?
I think house music came through like—I don’t know if it was Chicago sound or whatever it was, but it’s songs like [Cajmere’s] “Percolator” that really began to introduce me to it. [He begins to sing Haddaway’s “What is Love”] Listening to songs like that as a kid, or Eurythmics, that began to make me understand that there’s just a different style or approach to music. The one cool fucking thing about music is that it’ll take you anywhere. Like, having an experience that takes you around the world sitting in your living room. So I never cut myself down. There weren’t clubs and things like that that I knew of or could even attend as a kid in Chattanooga or Atlanta, but I loved the music, and being in an eclectic environment, you have to at least be open. Again, I didn’t know if I would use it then or if I would be introduced to it now, so that I’d be okay with using it later. Because as things become more and more commercialized, it’s easier to try creative things, but R&B and pop were very specific at a time, I’d say in the ’90s.
It isn’t until now, honestly, that I’m able to explore. Before, I felt like my message was kind of streamlined for a specific audience. High class problem to have. From fucking five to 60—so how do you make records that all of those people will understand, like and enjoy and want to buy, right?
Can you answer your own question? How do you make those records?
You gotta love it. They have to feel the passion and believe in the music, because you can sing over anything. If you don’t believe it, I’m not gonna enjoy it. I’m not gonna believe that you’re really in this experience, you know? High-class problem.
But how do you do it without watering down the music you make?
You find people who are as passionate as you, first and foremost, who have the ability and understanding of expansion who want to be creative. I think that the really cool thing about Diplo is he never leaves anybody out of the party. So if you hear something, urban ears won’t fall deaf but electronic ears won’t fall deaf either. Everybody feels like they got something out of it.
Read the interview in its entirety here.