A (released October 12, 2018)
Michael Jackson had Thriller. Nas had Illmatic.
And Usher Raymond? The gift and the curse of his career has been Confessions.
It’s been 14 years since that album cemented Usher as a modern-day R&B icon, and like MJ and Esco before him, it became the album that all future work would be compared to – and the sound fans crave for him to revisit.
We’ve talked before how unfair it is to expect an artist to remake an album that dropped well before y’all knew what a tweet was. Albums aren’t created in a vacuum; they’re the product of their time period. It’s futile to try to recapture the lightning in the bottle that happened way back then.
So when Usher announced the surprise release of A, fans starving for a return to R&B’s glory days immediately began bombarding social media, hoping, praying that THIS would be the Confessions sequel they’ve been praying for.
But for the three of you out there dying for a sequel to 2016’s abysmal Hard II Love, it’s your lucky day!
For the rest of us, go grab some cotton balls out of the medicine cabinet. Your ears are about to bleed.
If you hoped Hard II Love, Usher’s painful attempt for trap relevancy, was a one-off, I’ve got some bad news for you. On A – his latest, LP, umm, mixtape, err, EP, uhh playlist? I’m not sure it even matters anymore these days – he teams with producer Zaytoven, the architect behind pretty much every big trap track of the past five years.
The result is basically the same as every other trap record you’ve ever heard in your life. While A is supposed to be a tribute to Usher’s hometown and its sound, it’s a shame that it’s rich musical heritage is watered down to something so disposable.
Nearly everything here falls into two categories – typical or outright ridiculous. “Stay at Home” is exactly what you’d expect a Zaytoven song featuring Future to sound like – trap drums, echo-y vocal effects, Ursher sounding like a C list rapper, and Future dropping mind-blowing bars like “look like I sell dope/put some fur on my coat.”
Man seventh-grade Edd banging beats on the lunch table would murder today’s rappers. And I was just rhyming nurse with hearse!
Speaking of lyrics, Usher’s have taken a huge nosedive too. On “ATA,” he tells some young lady that he “put your a** through college, give me brain, educated.” Reminder: This man turn 40 years old this Sunday. He had better lyrics on his debut album, WHEN HE WAS 15.
“Gift Shop” is the embodiment of the worst elements of trap all in one place – repetitive lyrics, dull beat, lazy guest verse and Usher rapping through his vocals. He mailed this thing in with a self-addressed stamped envelope.
And before y’all scream that I’m just Old Man Yelling At Clouds here, allow me to clarify: There is nothing wrong with trap, when done well. Jay Z and Beyonce, two veteran artists from Usher’s generation, dropped a trap-inspired album this year that was very well done. Sure, it had its silly moments (Beyonce yelling I’M MALCOLM X between Jay’s bars is comedy) but neither Jay nor Bey sacrificed their artistry. Jay rapped well, Bey (mostly) sang well. But Usher is in complete autopilot here – with two exceptions.
“Peace Sign” and “You Decide” show glimmers of promise. Usher’s falsetto on the former make it somewhat interesting but it can’t just rise above being a typical strip club anthem. The playful “You Decide” doesn’t blaze any new ground but really makes the most of Zaytoven’s production. It’s the only track here worth a repeat listen.
Listen, it’s unfair to judge A by the unreachable benchmark set by Confessions. This is a completely different album – as it should be.
But that doesn’t excuse A from sounding so rushed and lazy in its execution. Listening to “Birthday,” where Usher sounds like the weird old divorcee in the club reeking of Axe Body Spray screaming “go girl it’z ya burfday!,” isn’t just disappointing. It’s depressing.
These are my confessions: Usher, you’re better than this.
Best tracks: “You Decide.” Dassit.
1.5 stars out of 5