USHER, INTERVIEWED (2000): The rise of the house of Usher

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USHER, INTERVIEWED (2000): The rise of the house of Usher

He's young, gifted and, somewhat surprisingly, back.

When 14-year-old r'n'b singer Usher crashed into the US charts with his single Think of You back in '94, the world seemed at his feet: he was signed to L. A. Reid's Bad Boy label and hanging with Reid, the late Biggie Smalls and Sean "Puffy" Combs.

Songwriters like Al B. Sure and Jodeci's DeVante Swing (at Puffy's suggestion) lined up to write for his debut album, he looked good, already had the hit single ...

If this was the Mafia, Usher Raymond IV was "a Made Man," and superstardom of the Stevie Wonder kind beckoned.

Then it fell apart. Despite the hype and heavy-hitters behind it, his self-titled debut album stiffed while critics pointed out that sexually suggestive lyrics clunk when coming from a kid still treating acne.

Suddenly Usher's career looked more like that of Tevin Campbell, the 12-year-old Quincy Jones discovery who has been lost somewhere between cuteness and maturity.

So a chastened Usher moved out of Puffy's house, went back to school, and considered the lessons learned.

"Maybe it was just Puffy and his entourage had got into something that was a little too much for me, and my management felt I should pull out of it," says the quietly assured 19-year-old. "Not to discredit Puffy because he did a great job on the album and we really did fall off, but that's not to say we're not going to get together again.

"It taught me that just because people say they love you doesn't mean they do. You are somebody when they want you around, when you can't bring it anymore they don't, that's a lesson.

"Hopefully it won't apply to me because the thing that keeps me grounded is I know I have to work to keep what I've got, and even though we've had a great deal of success, there's still more to do.

"I could be so much larger an artist. That's not to say I'm not giving 100 per cent now, I give 130 per cent to every performance, interview, everything. But you gotta remain humble, that's what keeps you around - people remember a humble person."

These days Usher has a lot less to be humble about.

Last year on the back of his My Way album (five million sold, and rising) he picked up Billboard magazine awards for artist of the year, top r'n'b artist and a Hot 100 Singles award, along with Grammy nominations for the album's lead-off single and title track plus a Soul Train award for best male r'n'b single ...

He's appeared on Moesha, The Bold and the Beautiful, Oprah, The American Music Awards ... His film credits include a spot in the forthcoming The Faculty alongside Piper Laurie and Salma Hayek, a starring role in the Babyface-produced Light It Up, which has Vanessa Williams, Judd Nelson and Forrest Whitaker in support roles ...

71tRVVjokEL._SL1500_He's opened for Janet Jackson on her Velvet Rope tour, counts Brandy, Monica and Li'l Kim among his friends - and there's something here in the small print about being a Tommy Hilfiger model?

"It's actually the opposite, I'm in a lawsuit with them now over exploitation of my likeness. I'd hate for people to be persuaded. You might have a million kids who may go out and find that hat because Usher wore it, and that's not fair. So I'm not modelling, but there are a lot of opportunities on the table."

These days, burnt by experience and relying on his canny but likeable manager/mother (who hoots with laughter when it'is suggested she's more interesting because she knows where the money goes) Usher comes off as smart, self-aware and highly motivated.

His My Way album pulls it all together and world domination seems just another hit single away. Certainly he and Mom are already preparing.

Japan has just fallen under his spell, they get back to Europe shortly and on Tuesday he, his six dancers and four-piece backing band play the Logan Campbell Centre topping a big r'n'b hip-hop bill.

For Usher it's more than just a show. As with Japan, it's a chance to read a market.

"Even though the Japanese are into a bit more techno, they have an appreciation for r'n'b and I have a hip-hop edge to my records. It's great breaking into this international area because that's a vital part of my career, and next year I plan on releasing an album that will cater for everybody. I figure if I'm familiar with these crowds and what they listen to, then I can go somewhere with that."

Usher today is a listening and learning kind of guy. From being around the likes of songwriter/producer Teddy Riley, he says he's picked up the tactics they use for instrumentation ("precision is everything, that's what makes hits") and from Janet Jackson that "you just have to have a massive amount of confidence and believe in what you do - and have the staff that believes in what you do because if you have people around you kickin' on negativity that's never gonna work."

Yet with tours, movies, television, recording (there's a new live disc added to My Way for this swing through New Zealand and Australia), videos and modelling offers, does he ever just have fun?

"It's all work. But I look at this as more than just a job, it's a lifestyle you have to learn to accept. I try to deal with the pain and keep going."

And to where exactly? "Overall I would want to be a positive entrepreneur, I wanna own my own label, restaurant, food chain, become part of a corporation, all things like that. I want to do the right thing because how many chances do people get in life but neglect?

"I try to take advantage of each and every situation. And I try to shine light for people and have self-esteem. Whatever you do, you need that. People should want to be the best at whatever they do. If it's sweeping floors, be the best.

"If it's working in McDonald's, make the best burger every last one.

"Take pride in every thing you do."

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