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 Usher Gyrates His Way Into The Hearts Of Hundreds At NYC Show

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— by Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Joseph Patel

At some points when you're listening to Usher's new LP, Confessions, it's hard to believe that it's him because of what he's saying and how he's saying it.

"These are my confessions," he croons on "Confessions Pt. 2." "Just when I thought I said all I could say, my chick on the side said she got one on the way."

What? Even though he's been telling people in detail about the bombshell he's going to drop when the album's released March 23 (see "Usher Lets Skeletons Out Of The Closet On Confessions"), it's still a little weird to hear the guy we've been watching mature over the past decade singing about planting his seed. Weird, but irresistible.

Like Mary J. Blige in 1994 (coincidently the same year Usher debuted) on her My Life album, Usher gives the world his evolution not only as an artist, but as a man: He messed up before and he's sorry. He's a better person because he's learned from his mistakes, and now he's ready to move on.

"I'm very single," he'll tell anyone in a New York minute, shutting down any innuendo that he and Chilli will do as they've done before in their relationship, break up to make up. It's a wrap — at least for now.

From an artistic standpoint, Confessions is probably his best album to date. It's certainly his most expansive and experimental. Lil Jon and Just Blaze, who've made most of their money off of hip-hop, came to the table flirting with soulful rock and roll (see Blaze's soundscape in "Throwback") and futuristic rhythm and blues, a la the #1 song in the country, "Yeah!"

"Mr. King of Crunk," Usher boasts of fellow ATL blueblood Jon, who produced "Yeah!" "Obviously with all the hip-hop hits that he has, it was only right for him to go ahead and take it full circle. 'Let's take an R&B record and why not go ahead and put Ludacris on it?' We made a good connection there."

Usher's also reaching heights he's never touched before as a crooner, trying new flows and hitting new notes on records like "Burn" and "Follow Me."

Always aiming to stay ahead of the curve, "Mr. Entertainment" elaborates on why he decided to open up like never before, his competition with Justin Timberlake and an alleged altercation with Mr. Whitney Houston.

[Editor's note: The following Q&A session is culled from two different recent Usher interviews.]

MTV: A few months ago when you were talking about the song "Confessions Pt. 2" you said you were going to let a few skeletons out of your closet on the album. And wow, you lived up to your word.

Usher: Well, you see, I've got a lot to say. This album had to be a lot more personal than the last. It had to be something different than the last. For the most part, the topics, they're very much so personal. In a way, [I wanted] to play off the name Confessions, to make the entire album seem as if I'm confessing to someone or something. All of us have our Pandora's boxes or skeletons in our closets. I let a few of them out, you know. And with everything that's been happening in my life, I've got a lot to say. I've got a lot of stuff built in me that I just want to let go of.

MTV: As heartfelt as you've been about expressing yourself through music, you've also been vocal for almost a year now about the music itself. More specifically the state of R&B and how it's faltering. Last summer you talked about how a lot of the soul has been taken out of R&B and too many singers are trying to latch onto hip-hop.

Usher: Just listening to the radio, I was really concerned. R&B, man, you've got to understand the true essence of what R&B is and where it came from. That's what I fight for. That's why every album you can hear influences of Marvin Gaye, Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, just to hopefully restore and continue to educate young people about R&B and what it really is.

MTV: So what's the essence of R&B?

 Jay-Z, Ludacris & More Celebrate Usher's Confessions release
Usher: The essence of R&B is real experience. It's based on soul. It's based on feeling groove and rhythm and a combination of all them coming together to make a piece of magic. It sort of puts artists in a vulnerable place where they're emotionally drenched, pouring something out, you know. If you think back to Whitney Houston's earlier days, Aretha Franklin's earlier days, Bobby Womack's earlier days, it's like they were crying to you on records. Sam Cooke, you felt him. James Brown, you felt him. That's what it is, that's funk R&B.

MTV: Who do you think are some of your peers on the R&B level?

Usher: Obviously R. Kelly. Beyoncé is definitely doing her thing, Joe definitely understands. You've got new cats — newcomers who understand R&B but do it in a fusion of different styles like Robin Thicke — that just truly understand the essence of real music. Do they sell a lot records? No, because it ain't bullsh--: cars, clothes, hoes, money and wheels spinning. That's bullsh--!

MTV: Another soulful cat who's been critically acclaimed and given kudos by fellow artists is Justin Timberlake. Since he emerged as solo star, people have really been comparing the two of you — the music, the stage performances. Do you see him as competition?

  "Do you see Justin Timberlake as competition?"
Usher: Nah, not really. I'm out doing my thing. And you know, Justin is doing his thing. Much success to my man for having such success on his first album. It takes a lot to make it this long in the industry, and I'm so happy and fortunate to have had all my fans for so long and to actually still be able to be creative. Here it is, four albums deep. Justin has to continue to do that. I encourage it, I encourage it 100 percent.

MTV: There was talk that Pharrell Williams was trying to get you and Justin Timberlake on a song last summer but it never panned out. Is working with J.T. something you want to do in the future?

Usher: Yeah, that's sort of been up in the air. A few times we talked about it. I talked about it with a few different producers, spoke to Justin's people about it. I think my people spoke to Justin's people and who knows? It might happen. I don't know. There's always the element of surprise. If it does [happen], it'll probably be one of the wildest experiences for MTV. The whole nine — the whole world will be shook.

MTV: Not to bring up old stuff, but what happened at your birthday party a couple of years back in Atlanta? The rumor about you and Bobby Brown getting into an altercation spread like an urban legend. So many people were there, and yet nobody has the same story of what happened.

Usher: What happened with me and Bobby Brown? Nothing. Nothing. Bobby showed up at my party and the party was over. People kind of alluded to the fact that maybe there was a fight or something like that. We never got like that. That's it. He just got onstage and said some words. No, actually I said some words to him, or actually to the audience. That was it. Really, that was it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it [laughs].

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Photo: MTV News

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