Ten years ago this week everyone’s fantasy boyfriend Usher released his diamond-selling juggernaut Confessions spawning five Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hits, four of which reached No. 1, solidifying his reputation as a definitive worldwide R&B badass. We’ve already been celebrating the milestone of the record breaking hit, but our commemoration wouldn’t let be complete without a few words from the man himself. We hounded Usher for fifty-eleven days and um-teen hours until he graciously found time in between his busy schedule of shooting The Voice and recording a new album to answer our questions about the anniversary via email (yaaaaasssss!).
We were hoping he’d address his reply with “My boo…” He didn’t. Instead, we got some amazing insight from Mr. Entertainment about making that historic album as Usher reflected on its success a decade later. Among his revelations: how Confessions is almost a country LP, why he wishes Twitter was around in 2004, and how more than just Jermaine Dupri had some confessing to do during the making of that album.
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VH1: “Yeah!” almost didn’t make the final cut. Did anticipation that it would be a big hit make you decide to keep the track?
USHER: A lot of times, until you’re at the final editing process of making your album, you’re not certain of your first single, second single, third single. The one thing that no one knows about “Yeah!” is that when I received it, it was the same beat as “Freek-a-Leek” and that’s why it wasn’t as much of a priority. So after me, Lil Jon and the label had a conversation about changing the beat, that’s when it became magic. Of course, success has a million fathers as they say, so there were many people who played into my comfort with cutting the record, but ultimately it was up to me at the end of the day to get my ass in the f*cking booth and sing it. So, I did. So no matter if I missed it in the moment or saw it later…Yeah! It happened [Laughs].
VH1: You’re hitting some high notes full out on that song. Any challenges with recording it?
USHER: The most challenging song for me to complete was “Yeah!” because of the many different steps and things that went into it in terms of reproducing it. It was not an easy vocal to sing. I couldn’t get it right, so I left the studio and ran for 30 minutes on the treadmill, and that’s the vocal that you got [laughs]. I mean…who does that?
VH1: So which track would you have chosen to be the first single?
USHER: I pushed for “Burn” to be the first single, because I felt that I was redefining the standard for the R&B ballad. It was the one thing I was most certain about. It was the one thing I felt spoke to who I was as an artist and what this album represented. I felt like with Confessions we redefined the ballad, where [they] were mostly about heartache and pain. R&B became conversationally similar to country music with this album, and rhythmic the way hip hop was.
VH1: Which track took the least amount of time to complete?
USHER: “Burn” came to me in the reality in of what I was going through. I woke up, went to the studio, had it in my mind serviced it to JD (Jermaine Dupri). In a lot of cases, I’ll have a title of a song and then I’ll start working on it from there. Melodies start to go down and we go on from there. So, yeah…”Burn.”
VH1: So… is “Burn” life-to-art about your then-relationship with TLC’s Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas like we all suspect?!
USHER: No. “Burn” was an intangible feeling. It was the best way that I could explain what breaking up in a relationship [was like] before I got with Chilli.
VH1: Alright. Let’s clear up some more rumors. We heard the inspiration for “Confessions” being about you, friends and most recently Jermaine Dupri. Once and for all whose story is it?
USHER: Jermaine wasn’t the only person going through that. It was several people going through that, which is why I did the song. The collective of us, sitting in the room discussing the reality of that situation, and how you would handle that situation of having a girl and getting another girl pregnant. How do you explain that? That was realistically going on amongst a few of us, but I won’t blow up anyone’s spot [Laughs].
VH1: Damn! So did you ever have anyone coming out of the woodwork waving paternity papers because of the buzz around “Confessions”?
USHER: There wasn’t anybody claiming I had a baby by them, but the speculation was strong enough to keep people talking. I mean a lot of people wanted to know what was going on in my personal life like if that was the reason Rozanda [Chili from TLC] and I broke up.
VH1: Do you have a favorite song from the album 10 years later?
USHER: Making me pick a favorite song is like asking me to select my favorite child. They all mean something. What I will say though, as a body of work, this is the type of album I can listen to from the beginning to end as a fan of mine. I think it is great work and great combination of everyone who participated in the album. But this is by far one of greatest albums of collaboration that I’ve ever had. And not because of the fact that this is [my] last album to receive a Diamond Award which sits proudly in my den every day as a reminder. It was an effort of all passion. We didn’t know what we were doing when we were doing it but we knew we wanted it to be incredible.
VH1: Speaking of collaborators on Confessions, who are some notable ones like Stevie Wonder many people don’t know about?
USHER: As I always say, success has a million fathers and failure’s an orphan. If Confessions wasn’t the success it is, you wouldn’t be doing this f*cking interview. So, I feel fortunate that I’ve had a ton of people to be supportive throughout the years. In particular, artists who’ve been there for me and have been good friends from the beginning like Faith Evans, who sang background on “Superstar,” did a phenomenal job. Also, Stevie Wonder on “Confessions Part I,” who played the harmonica. Not many people knew that. He’s always been a supporter of mine. Robin Thicke and [his production partner] Pro J did a great deal of work on the album, who we actually ended up crediting on the song “Can U Handle It.” Those were great building sessions. Shakir Stewart was an incredible supporter and not many people know that he was a part of “Yeah!.”
That’s just to name a few, but I feel happy about the friendships and the people that have been there to support my growth as an artist. Conversations during those times with [hit producers] Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, or with good people like my A&R at the time, Mark Pitts. Darrale Jones came in and was supportive as an A&R and a consultant. There were very difficult moments that I was going through in my life, and it was amazing to have my sister, Sherry Hughley there to be supportive. She was so helpful in being there and contributing to me finding my voice. It truly does take a collection of people to make something incredible.
VH1: Which track did you enjoy performing most 10 years ago and which do you prefer performing more now?
USHER: My favorite songs to perform back then and now are “Confessions Pt. II,” “Bad Girl,” “Caught Up,” “Yeah!” and of course “Burn.” [It] is such an incredible record. No matter where I go, whether it’s Australia or Wyoming, that record works.
VH1: Have any of the 40 tracks originally intended for Confessions that didn’t make the record appear later on other artists albums?
USHER: Some of those songs have surfaced for sure. Not sure exactly where but I’ve heard them. They have not been singles but they have surfaced.
VH1: Name one thing you would change about Confessions if you could go back in time?
USHER: If Confessions came out this time, with what social media is now, it would have been 10 times bigger than what it was then. I wouldn’t do anything different, but if I could take that album and release it at this time, it would be incredible. Michael Jackson’s Thriller is considered one of the biggest records of all time because of what it sold and what it was capable of at that time. This record performed well because what was capable of that time.