Making the transition from teeny-bopper heart-throb to a leading man and bonafide sex symbol has been a crap-shoot in many genres, but especially in R&B. For every Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, there’s a Tony Thompson and Ralph Tresvant. Even Bobby Brown, who was once crowned the King of R&B during his peak, suffered a steep fall from grace before he was in his mid-20s.
With Brown’s downslide, it left behind a vacant spot for the next R&B contender to step in and fill. Enter Usher Raymond IV
Usher, who would be the next great R&B hopeful to successfully evolve into a true adult superstar. That evolution, which was spurred by the singer’s multi-platinum sophomore album, My Way, was completed with his third LP, 8701, which arrived in August of 2001. The album, which came four years after the release of My Way, would be the one album out of Usher’s catalog that had the most riding on it. But as he had just proved with his previous outing, expectations have been nothing but fuel for Usher since he first stepped into the music industry.
After deciding to dedicate his life to music in 1987, which is in-part the inspiration behind the title, 8701, Usher would make his first foray into the music biz as a member of a local quintet called NuBeginnings, appearing on the album, NuBeginning Featuring Usher Raymond IV. The album, which was only available regionally and through mail-order, would fail to catch on and Usher’s mother, who also doubled as his manager, would pull him out of the group, instead deciding to embark on a career as a solo act.
After an impressive appearance as a contestant on Star Search, Usher caught the eye of a talent scout for industry titan L.A. Reid’s record label, LaFace Records, which housed some of the hottest R&B talent at the time. Signing the young, charismatic performer on the spot after an impromptu audition, Usher became the hit factory’s newest act, and would immediately make a good first impression with his debut single, “Call Me a Mack,” which Usher contributed to the soundtrack for the 1993 film, Poetic Justice.
The teenage ladies man would begin work on his eponymous solo debut, honing his craft under the tutelage of Sean “Puffy” Combs. After being whipped into shape and molded by the fast-paced lifestyle in New York City, LaFace unleashed Usher’s debut album in August of 1994, which peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Spawning three successful singles, one of which – “Think of You” – landed at No. 7 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, Usher would establish himself as a young artist with promise, but failed to light the world on fire in comparison to fellow young R&B acts like Tevin Campbell, Aaliyah, Brandy, and Monica, all of whom had achieved platinum success while Usher would fail to go gold until much later after its release. His future in the music industry in limbo, Usher retreated to the open-mic and live showcase circuit, continuing to build his chops as a singer, as well as his fan base, impressing L.A. Reid enough to bet the bank on Usher and throw the kitchen sink into his sophomore album, My Way.