A CURIOUS QUAGMIRE FOR THE R&B PURIST
'A' (Usher and Zaytoven) album review
By Efe Ogufere
16th October, 2018
16th October, 2018
Going through my daily rounds on the "twitterosphere" and I come across a tweet, Usher is making his return with a surprise album A, not so surprisingly, he teams up with piano loving Atlanta rap producer Zaytoven, the architect behind pretty much every big trap track of the past five years. Like clockwork fans starving for a return to R&B’s glory days [we’ll call them R&B purists] immediately rushed to social media, hoping, praying that this would be the long awaited Confessions sequel.
Bad news. Quick one, do you really think the market in 2018 would be as receptive to a Confessions album? Case in point, Mario’s recently released album Dancing Shadows. I think the purists would applaud his (Mario) efforts on that project, he didn’t stray too far from his roots. However, I found it bland and painfully boring. (That’s a review for another day/article)
If there is one thing Usher is good at, it is adapting and evolving with the times as is evident in the distinction in sound and direction of each album released post Confessions.
I had a conversation with a critic where he stated that Usher has been chasing a sound since Moving Mountains and is simply bouncing from one wave to the next, harsh, and not entirely true. I think the artist is simply redefining his sound to suit the market and maintain relevance. There is no harm in that, or is there? Pitch in and share your thoughts.
Usher is always trying on new personas, and on Hard II Love, he tests out thug-lover Usher. On A he takes it a step further and is settling into the sound more easily.
1. Stay At Home f. Future
3. Peace Sign
4. You Decide
6. She Aint Tell Ya
7. Say What U Want
8. Gift Shop f. Gunna
‘‘Stay At Home’’
After a successful collaboration with Future on Rivals, they both team up again for the opening song on this album. It is way below par and exactly what you’d expect a Zaytoven produced song with Future to sound like; trap drums, echo-y vocal effects. The major lows on this song is lack of lyrical depth. The song is lyrically lazy and laid back, a very worrisome opener to an album. I am not hopeful.
Now this hook is more like it, I could get used to this. Usher is more comfortable on this beat. The production is also much better than the opener. Where the songs offers a breath of fresh air hook-wise, the verses are a let-down, bland and downright corny. For an album that is supposedly a tribute to his home town Atlanta, two tracks in and I already feel some type of way, Shout out to 6lack for that East Atlanta Love Letter!
I like this, my man is actually singing, there is a richness in his voice. Smooth and silky. When Usher sings, you feel it. The track picks up the pace in the verse as well. wow, Legs Up Like a Peace Sign! word! The trap beats how been slowed down to suit his melody and he has more of a commanding presence on this joint. This is why I came here.
Now this is Zaytoven at his finest, the beat is top drawer, the production is smooth and that flute. Flames. Usher is remorseful, begging for another go. His voice is reassuring and I find myself wishing the girl would hear him out. This song picks up where Peace Sign left off, I am very relaxed now. Usher flexes his vocal range quite refreshingly on this song.
This is actually cringe worthy, what was he thinking? I am not big on comparisons but after listening to Drake’s Ratchet Happy Birthday, this is a very piss poor attempt at a birthday anthem. Usher needs to play more to his strengths, as noble as his efforts seem, when he falls short, he goes all the way and the resulting track is worse for it.
‘‘She Ain’t Tell Ya’’
This starts off quite nicely, he attempts to make up for the crimes of the previous track it seems. He is singing again. Usher is being petty, vengeful even, as he regales a man with tales of escapades with his girl. Dick move! The song is soothing in all the right ways, the beat and production is quite generic but Usher makes up for it and we have a decent song. No fireworks, just serviceable.
‘‘Say What You Want’’
This is smooth and totally relatable, Usher is begging for his relationship to be anything but over. The keys on this joint sound really awesome. This is a maturity about this sound, he asks if she has prayed about letting him go, assures that they would grow if they weather this storm. This is another promising note on the album.
The album ends with another collaboration, this time he taps Gunna for the feature. I have to say this track isn’t all that bad. It is mood music on some days, on others it is a very forgettable effort. Nothing stands out. The outro is just as uneventful as the intro and you have got to ask yourself, was the album rushed?
In this trap soul generation 6lack, Bryson Tiller and Tory Lanez are beacons and it is quite unfortunate watching Usher try and miss more times than he hits. Usher has the vocal range and depth to outdo these young cats but rather than stand out the man is stuck struggling to fit in. he could be so much more if he bent these beats to play to his strengths and not the other way around.
High Points: [You Decide & Peace Sign]
Lows: [Stay at Home & Birthday]