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Five thoughts after first listen – Usher x Zaytoven – ‘A’

Turbulent. The one word that encapsulates R&B superstar Usher Raymond’s trajectory over the last few eras in music. After catapulting to commercial heights with the electro-pop driven hit ‘OMG’, the singer struggled to maintain relevance and arguably inherited an angered and confused facet of his fan base who were used to Usher’s passionate soundscapes and soulful runs.

Arguably, the act found traction in places with singles such as ‘Climax’ (Billboard Top 20) and ‘Good Kisser’, however, consistency has been noticeably missing from Usher’s career, which leads us to where we are today. ‘A’, the entertainer’s ninth studio album and first collaborative effort sees super producer Zaytoven step into the arena, but can he aide in reviving Usher’s career?

LØST CULTURE presents five initial thoughts on the joint LP.

1)  Usher is struggling to communicate with younger millennial’s and Gen Z-ers

The Future collaboration on track one, the cliche Birthday anthem, Usher Raymond is clearly trying to engage with the younger crowd to heighten his relevancy and sales in the streaming era. The awkwardness of it all manifests further in some of the lines throughout.

Blow that bag for your birthday
Spend a band if you worth it”

He spits on ‘Birthday’. This served as an early indicator that the Usher on this track isn’t the Usher that listeners are historically used to. His lyrics are stripped back in order to encapsulate an audience. Using slurred like bars and ad-libs in abundance. You can’t blame a guy for trying eh?

2)  Zaytoven is diverse as a producer

This one was a surprise take away, but a valid one nonetheless. Zaytoven has really expanded on his offer over the years, and it’s incredible to see a producer grow in front of our eyes. What the hit-maker strips back the 808-bass heavy soundscapes that we’re used to, and fundamentally take a back-seat allowing Mr Raymond to vocalise his way through the ‘A’. Luckily for Usher, this, in places, makes up for the lyrical chaos and demonstrates that he still has it vocally. In fact, if Usher debuted now, as a completely new act with ‘A’ as his introduction to the world, he’d dominate the trap space because he doesn’t need to auto-tune and sounds crystal clear alongside Zaytoven’s studio works.

3)  It’s not all cringe-worthy

Usher and Zaytoven can work in places. Records such as ‘You Decide’ show evolution and creative expansion as an artist, but lineage to the vocalist’s foundations in R&B. The difference with ‘You Decide’ and other numbers (‘Stay at home’) is that it feels as though Usher is chasing the likes of Chris Brown, however fundamentally, he is best when he’s relaxed, which definitely comes through on the aforementioned album cut. In fact, the singer seems confident and passionate on the track also.

4)  Usher takes from Trap pioneers to help guide ‘A’

Multiple flows were used as a referencing tool for Usher throughout set. For example on ‘Gift shop’, the projects closer, The essence of Thugger (Young Thug) in the crooner came out to play. Not that there’s anything wrong with flow biting, but when it’s that evident, it again points to the fact that Usher is chasing. The thing is, once you chase trends in order to target specific demographics and not because it’s true to your sound, you’ll always be behind and in search of a larger part of that market.

5)  Ironically, the set isn’t as bad as anticipated

On paper, Usher and Zaytoven pairing looks like a disaster. But in places, it’s evident that both parties tried. Zaytoven clearly crafted bespoke productions and Usher didn’t hold back vocally. Now, it’s clear to emphasise that like Usher’s placing in music right now, this was inconsistent. Both parties revert back to the lazy, sub-par standard.

However, because of the highlights, the listener should arrive at the finish-line avoiding complete disappointment. The approach going into this set though isn’t expecting a fully fledged comeback from Usher Raymond, it’s having an open mind for artistic “experimentation” even if in Usher’s case, it’s largely a desperate cry to remain relevant.

Stream ‘A’ on all streaming platforms by clicking here.


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L Ø S T C U L T U R E.