Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of Usher’s “Confessions”
Today marks the day our lives were changed. Exactly ten years ago, to the day, Usher Raymond IV dropped his fourth studio album Confessions and shut the music industry dow-nn. It was, by all accounts, a game changer. I already know the CD is on your iTunes, you know not only the words but have memorized the order of the tracks and can most likely remember what was going on in your life around March 2004. You know Confessions…intimately. But we’d bet good money that you know don’t some of these facts behind the album.
Jermaine Dupri was the one with the secrets.
We’re going to ease you into this thang with a fact quite a few of us know by now. In promotion of the album, Usher said what all artists say that this was his “most personal work to date.” That he drew from “life experiences” to come up with this project. He was being his “most authentic” etc. You know the cliches. And since Usher was baring his soul, we all assumed that the relationship issues he was discussing in those songs were his own. Wrong. He didn’t get someone pregnant while he was dating Chilli. Instead, Jermaine Dupri was the dude who impregnated another woman while he was in a relationship. A couple of years after the album came out he admitted that those lyrics were about his own messy situation.
But “Burn” was about Chilli
And even though the pregnant side chick story wasn’t his own, Usher did speak up about the dissolution of he and Chilli’s relationship in the song “Burn.” Anyone who was living in the United States in 2004 , heard the mess worn out of this song. It was everywhere. Incorporating his relationship into the promotion of his album was a very intentional, strategic move. Even back in 2004, Usher and his team realized that artists in the new millennium had to sell not only the music but their life stories in order to get people excited.
We already know that the streets loved this album but aside from Confessions becoming a cult classic, the album also had the numbers to back it up.
Within the first week on the shelves, it sold 1.1 million copies in the states. By the end of 2004, 8 million copies had been sold.
And then to sweeten the pot, Confessions took home the Grammy award for Best Contemporary R&B album. Today, Confessions is the second best selling album of the 2000s decade in America.
“Yeah!” almost didn’t make the cut.
When Usher submitted Confessions to the record label, he’d already recorded 40 songs and thought he was done. But L.A. Reid, who was the head of Arista at the time, thought that it was missing something. Usher was pissed, as any artist would be.
But he got himself together and recorded a few more songs. This time around, his producers solicited the help of fellow Atlantans Lil Jon and later Ludacris. Usher actually hated the song initially…for a while actually. It wasn’t until some changes were made that he finally got on board. The song obviously went on to become a smash hit.
Lil Jon leaked it
After the album was finished the label had trouble deciding which song should be the lead single. The two strongest contenders were “Burn” and “Yeah!” “Burn” was all set to be the winner. There was a video in the works and everything. But in the interest of promoting his work, Lil Jon was giving “Yeah!” to DJs across the country, without the label knowing about it. It could have been a huge problem. In fact, LA Reid tried to stop the fire. But more and more stations just kept picking it up. Once Arista saw how much radio play the song was getting with no promotion, they decided it was worthy of the lead single. “Yeah!” will never leave us. No lie, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this song from 2003, played at parties from the past 5 years.
The Opening Act
It may hard to believe but back in 2004, when Usher went on the road with The Truth Tour, performing songs from his Confessions album, his opening act was a Chicago producer turned rapper by the name of Kanye West. Though Kanye had already established a career behind the scenes, his debut album The College Dropout also came out in 2004, so he was still trying to become a household name. These days the only person Kanye will open for is Jesus Christ… literally.
What do Robin and Paula have to do with it?
You probably recall that in the song “Can U Handle It?” there’s a woman echoing Usher’s questions. That woman is none other than actress Paula Patton. When you relisten it really does sound like her. But the question is, why was she even around the studio? Well… that song was written and co-produced by Mr. Robin Thicke, her husband.
We typically associate background singers as being people who either don’t like the limelight or are waiting for their chance to take center stage. But in case of Confessions, veteran Faith Evans blessed Usher with her background vocals on the song “Superstar.” I had no idea and when I listened, I almost missed her again. But when you get to the bridge, you can definitely hear Faith all over that. Unfortunately, the label forgot to add her name to the final credits.
“Throwback” For Real
You can listen to “Throwback” and tell that it has a retro sound to it. (Hence the name.) But for those of us who don’t know our old school too well or didn’t follow Dionne Warwick’s career that thoroughly, you might not have recognized that not only is that her voice singing with Usher but the instrumentation was also sampled from Warwick’s 1973 song “You’re Gonna Need Me” from her Just Being Myself album. It’s actually quite beautiful. You should take a listen. Auntie Dionne did that!
We can hardly believe it’s been ten years since Confessions came out but no matter how much time passes, that album will always be timeless.