Usher Spends All Of 8/7/01 Celebrating 8701

The R&B crooner releases his first album in four years, will join Michael Jackson celebration.

NEW YORK — With Clive Davis celebrating the first anniversary of J Records and Interscope feting the release of Jadakiss’ solo debut, Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, Tuesday was a busy night for music-industry insiders. The evening’s liveliest function, though, turned out to be Arista Records’ fiesta at the restaurant Tuscan for the release of Usher’s 8701, which marked the 22-year-old singer’s reentry into the music scene. (Click for photos from the event.)

When asked last month during a press teleconference if he thought his four-year hiatus between albums would hurt his career, Usher replied, “I feel what’s meant for me will wait for me. A lot of artists have followed the footsteps I laid with ‘My Way’ and ‘You Make Me Wanna,’ and I’m fine with that.

“That’s what true legends do. I don’t profess to be one, but I’m growing and I follow the legends. I hear people say different things but I don’t let it bother me. I’m cool. I let my music speak for itself.”

On Tuesday, Usher began what his label dubbed “Usher Day” with a morning performance of his hit single “U Remind Me” on “Live With Regis & Kelly.” He popped up on “TRL” that afternoon while girls dressed in red Usher T-shirts flooded the sidewalks below the show’s Times Square studio. He subjected himself to a two-hour autograph session at a Virgin Megastore before slipping across the street to Planet Hollywood for an album listening session with fans.

“Pushing the record back was a risk,” Usher said of 8701, which was originally slated for an October 2000 release. “But I thought it would build anticipation.

“Lyrically, 8701 is my soul,” he continued. “This is what’s been going on in my life in terms of relationships. I was inspired by love and heartache. I listen to a lot of Donny Hathaway’s, Stevie Wonder’s, Marvin Gaye’s and Michael Jackson’s earlier records, those Motown greats. There’s a little bit of all of that in the album. I really appreciate what music was back then as well as in the early ’90s when you had artists like Troop and Jodeci, and Michael Jackson was in his prime.”

At 12:30 a.m., while stars such as Jay-Z, retired NBA hooper Dominique Wilkins, All-Star forward Kevin Garnett, 3LW and Carl Thomas mingled inside, the line to get into Tuscan remained long. Usher, though, was nowhere to be found. Could “Usher Day” have been too hectic for its namesake?”

A refreshed Usher made it in a hair shy of 1 a.m. accompanied by TLC member Chilli, who he grinds on in the “U Remind Me” video and to whom he sang with a glimmer in his eye during the song’s performance on June’s BET Awards.

Are they an item? “Nah, we’re just really good friends,” Usher explained. He said their friendship took off following the video.

It’s his story, and Usher, whose next single will be the emotional ballad “You Got It Bad,” is sticking to it. One thing he won’t be sticking to, at least for a while, is album promotion. He plans to spend his time rehearsing for his spot in Michael Jackson’s September 8 and 10 tribute at Madison Square Garden.

“I don’t plan on knocking him out of the spotlight,” laughed Usher, who said he might perform “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” “If anything, I’m so happy they chose me to be up there and represent the Michael of that time. I’m gonna put 8701 on hold, just for a moment, to get it right. They have two weeks of rehearsal and I’m gonna lock myself in. No fun, just work.”