Wednesday , June 19 2024
Since 1995, the Atlanta native has been churning out R&B hits. Can he keep up his track record?

Usher – Raymond V Raymond

Most singers who begin their careers as teens don’t continue to produce hits into adulthood. Particularly in the fickle world of R&B, performers often find it difficult to remain relevant through constantly shifting fads.

Usher is one of a select few who’s beaten the odds, attaining successful sales figures each time out. Still, the experienced entertainer, now 31, has to walk a fine line between trend-consciousness and cutting-edge style in order to compete with younger counterparts.

As a result, Raymond V Raymond is an at times appetizing, other times dry, batch of tunes. The production skills of proven hit lockers Sean Garrett, Danja, and Rico Love induce a fair share of head-nodding and booty-shaking. This is evident in the snazzy arrangement of “She Don’t Know” and the percolating electro-spice of “So Many Girls.” Less satisfying are the lyrical copouts. Take, for example, the unimaginative premise of “Lil Freak” or “Daddy’s Home." ‘If you’re really comin’ with me, you let her put her hands in your pants,’ he sings of club hook-ups on “Freak”; while a characteristic line of “Daddy’s Home” goes, ‘Girl, tonight we’re gonna do a lot of sexin’…You just float that bottom up in the air.”

Vocally, Usher is up to par throughout Raymond V Raymond. The problem is that no one song comes close to the authentic passion and fullness of past hits like “U Remind Me” or “Yeah!” The most frequent starting points are easy, overused storylines and commonplace beats that don’t give the singer a lot to run with. There are, however, a few exceptions: “Monstar” is intriguing in its off-center arrangement and insidious melodic structure; and the #1 R&B hit “Papers” is classic Usher in its revealing, true-to-life words and heartfelt, church-infused sound.

About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via [email protected].

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