Usher Talks Working With Nicki Minaj And Drake On New Album
Fresh off the announcement of The UR Experience Tour and his 2014 MTV VMA performance, Usher sat down for a chat with XXL. During the sit down, the ATL crooner delved into a variety of topics that fans have long pondered, like his working relationship with Nicki Minaj, recently connecting with Drake and what to expect on his upcoming tour. Usher lets it all hang loose. —Miranda Johnson
XXL: We’re now at your 8th studio album. What kind of Usher are you giving us on this one? 8701 Usher? Confessions Usher?
Usher: That’s the two that you like the most. A little bit of all of them. I’m even going back to “My Way” too. Here’s the thing: in making this album, I don’t think I was inspired by anything more than the freedom that I had making those albums. While they probably were inspired by other artists, this time I decided to listen to my own music. And really go back to the source of what I had done over the years because I really realized that over the last 20 years, with Confessions, one, it’s the 10-year anniversary for that record. But over the last 20 years at every bench mark where I decided to make an album, I represent something different. So I want to make sure that no one feels left out, I want to make sure that everybody gets a little bit of what they love that is Usher. I didn’t necessarily want to go towards one style or anything like that because everybody loves something different.
What topics are most prevalent on the album? I know with Confessions you were explaining that you had stepped outside of your relationship. What story are you telling with this one?
Well, I haven’t finished it yet. But as far as I know and what I’ve created has been in the space of reconnecting with life in a way that brings me back from a place. I felt like with the last three or four albums, in being experimental, I disconnected in a way. Not disconnected from a certain audience but I kind of disconnected emotionally in a way. Maybe I have to hold on to this place that may not be something that you can tangibly put your hands on but an emotional feeling that brings me back to life. Sometimes it can be a musical change that does that, sometimes it can be love and passion, the connection, the sex of whatever it may be at that time. But all of those things make up a feeling that, "I’m getting to know Usher in a way that I didn’t feel him or haven’t felt him in awhile." Some of it may be venting at time. Again, I haven’t finished the whole album. I worked on like 50 songs and then I slim it down to about 12 or 13 songs.
And Drake will be on one of those records. How did you guys connect?
I’ve been around him a few times. He came to Atlanta, that was the first time we were around each other. We talked about working together. Later on, I saw him in passing and I told him, “If I ever feel like I have something, I’m going to reach out to you." I happened to be on the set of “She Came To Give It To You” and he was there. I had him listen to some of the songs that I thought were definite. I let him listen to three songs and he identified—well, actually he asked me to send him all the records. I said, “Which one do you love?” and I sent him this record called “Slow Motion.” What he’s touching on in the song is kind of personal. It’s always great for an artist to use where they are at the time as inspiration. That song is a relationship song. That all I’m gonna give you.
So you just announced a tour, The UR Experience. That word “Experience” makes me think you’re going to have some crazy theatrics going on. Can you tell me a bit about the tour?
Everything is theatrical when it comes to me. You never know what’s going to happen. But there are a few unexpected guests. I’m not going to tell you but they’ll just happen. There’s this magic hour within my show. The show normally runs from two and a half to three hours. Probably around three hours, don’t quote me yet. There is this magic hour in my mind where it’s all about the experience that’s different. The entire show is different but that’s when something happens that will probably never happen, happens every night.
I’ve been to a few of your shows before. I remember one time there was water on the ceiling. Are there any mind blowing things like that?
The unexpected nature of it. You just don’t know what to expect. You have to come knowing that there is going to be a surprise. Is it gonna be the dancing, is it going to be what I’m physically doing, will it be the instruments played, will it be the special guest, will it be the connection and where I am at that moment? Will I be in the audience? I don’t want to tell you too much because I don’t want to give it away. But The UR Experience is about connecting with my fans in a way that I haven’t done in awhile. It’s been three years since I’ve toured but I’ve had a few shows within the last year that gave me an opportunity to tear away all the choreography and just really make a connection. Sometimes we were just playing instruments, sometimes we were just talking to the audience and making them feel a connection. Having a real dialogue, that right there felt like something I’ve never felt. I want to have that experience throughout North America. 27 cities. I’ll give you guys something to talk about.
Something that people were talking about was Nicki Minaj’s VMA performance. You guys have a great connection on stage. What’s your relationship like with Nicki?
Me and Nicki since “Lil Freak,” it’s been a great artist relationship, every time I bring her a record or an idea. The first time it was Polow [Da Don] and he brought her to me. After we made that connection, I was just waiting for the right moment, waiting for the right song and also keeping my line open as well if she ever felt something that she wanted to try. When I played her “She Came To Give It To You,” she has actually worked with Pharrell and had already started that dialog. She loved it and she was on it. She was like, “Give me a couple days and I’ll get it over to you,” and she showed out.
Did you guys feel an extra urge to kill it after her VMA wardrobe malfunction? After that were you guys like, "We’re going to kill this one”?
We didn’t really speak that much. We spoke, I think in rehearsals the day of but leading up to it we didn’t have a lot of time. But thank God that she’s such a professional, she was able to fall in and understand exactly how to take her place. I think I made it easy enough for her. I just said, "Toot that booty up right here and I got it." [Laughs]