My cheeks are illuminated with a rosy glow. A deep sigh brushes past my teeth and my chest compresses. That’s how Usher‘s new album makes me feel.
From the moment I heard “No Limit” at the 2016 BET Awards, where he first performed the Young Thug-assisted anthem, I knew Usher had returned to his R&B roots. Produced by B.A.M and Rock City, ‘No Limit’ is exactly what we’ve been craving from the ATL superstar.
Usher strays from the electronic dance music that plagued the last few years of his career on the long-awaited Hard II Love. It’s like he sat in the booth and said, ‘Gather ’round children of the game, here’s how you make good music.’ And with their noses pointed to the sky, sitting Indian style, they listened intently.
Usher is to this R&B generation what Kobe Bryant represents to the NBA (sans retirement). After all, this is the man who blessed us with Confessions, My Way and 8701.
Hard II Love marks the other side of a difficult transition for Usher. His prior three releases, Here I Stand, Raymond v Raymond, and Looking 4 Myself, were recorded after his failed marriage to Tameka Raymond. These albums lacked the cohesiveness of Confessions and ballads like ‘U Got It Bad’ on 8701. He seemed stuck in the mud, stifled somewhere between heartbreak and recovery.
Radio-friendly singles ‘New Flame’ and ‘Climax’ proved, if nothing else, the ‘Nice & Slow’ crooner could stay afloat the wave and release a timely sounding hit. But that formula doesn’t always equal success, as fans expect their favorite artists to evolve with and/or create the trends.
But Usher is in a new place, remarried to Grace Miguel, and at the blissful height of the honeymoon phase. He’s found his sweet spot on this project, which infuses a harmonious blend of new school vibes, sexy ballads and his signature falsetto.
During a live-listening session in L.A., Usher revealed he ‘went through an entire transformation as a man’ while recording Hard II Love. The three-year long process was a labor of love.
He taps producers The-Dream, Metro Boomin, Brandon “B.A.M.” Hodge, and songwriter Bibi Bourelly to lace Hard II Love with headboard banging beats and lyrics that will serenade your soul.
The opening track ‘Need U,’ grabs your attention from the beginning. ‘I f*cked up,’ he sings. ‘Don’t give em my love, you ain’t even like that/ What type of point you tryna’ prove/ You hate to admit it, but you still take me back/ All that shit you was talkin’ it don’t hold no wait.’
Hard II Love weaves intricate ’90s samples into songs like ‘Bump,’ which boldly uses the Uncle Luke’s ‘I Wanna Rock’ famous intro. INOJ’s ‘Let Me Love You Down’ provides a smooth melody on ‘Let Me.’
‘Tell Me’ is the standout among the 15 tracks. “This song is gonna get a lot of people pregnant,” Usher proclaimed. ‘Tell Me’ feels like sex in the jungle, under the night sky encapsulated in a jar with fire flies. His voice soars on the Geniuz League production.
‘Stronger’ chronicles Usher’s pain after the loss of his stepson Kile Glover. ‘Been through hell, now I’m helpful/Pouring cups of whiskey to get through it/Oh sweet child of mine, gone way too soon
Lost myself and lost my faith too,’ he sings on the uplifting track.
Hard II Love ends on a triumphant note with ‘Champions,’ featured in the ‘Hands Of Stone’ film starring Usher.
Stream Hard II Love on TIDAL right now.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty