LOS ANGELES — Usher is confused. Every so often, he looks up, and material from his new album is getting out there before it's supposed to. In some cases, before it's even recorded.
A few weeks ago, a song called "Crazy" hit the Internet. On it, R. Kelly references vocals from what was purported to be a new Usher recording. The lyrics revolved around having second thoughts about getting married, among other things.
Next there was a track named "Moving Mountains" (with Timbaland) and another record called "Dat Gurl Right There" (featuring Ludacris) that surfaced without being mastered or properly mixed. More recently, "Love in This Club" (with Young Jeezy) came out earlier than it was supposed to without Usher's knowing.
"It's internal conspiracy," he said Sunday night at the Grammys. "I don't know what's going on with all these records that have been leaked. It ain't been me, dog."
Thursday night, the culprit (at least behind the leak of "Love in This Club") revealed himself to MTV News: It was the track's producer, Polow Da Don.
"I actually leaked it. I'm the culprit," he said nonchalantly. "It's no secret. I told him when I saw him that I had to put my relationship on the line. 'If it fails, I know you probably gonna be mad at me. I know you probably won't f--- with me anymore.' I just felt like it was so much back-and-forth [between Usher and his record label]. I know this record is it! I'm out there, I know what it is. It got 600 spins in two days. That's great for a record label. Imagine how good that is for one person who leaked it? Radio stations were getting it off the Internet and playing it. Before I left Atlanta, they were playing it 10 times in a row.
"When I spoke to Usher, he was like, 'Maaaan, why'd you do it?' " Polow added. "He knew I leaked the record, he didn't have to ask. I was like, 'What?' He said, 'You know you leaked the record.' But he was getting good calls on it too. He wasn't mad, but he was like, 'Why'd you do that?' Because everything has to be set up on their end. A video should be in place with an artist like that as soon as it drops. Those are the things you risk, but it's working out beautifully. Flex is playing it, DJ Clue, DJ Khaled, Greg Street. Girls love it."
"I will tell you there is an overall rollout plan," Usher clarified. " 'Love in This Club' is a record you've been hearing at radio. I'm really excited about it. We're getting ready to shoot a video for it very soon."
Polow said he put the song out there because he was tired of waiting on label politics. He basically followed Lil Jon's blueprint. Jon leaked "Yeah!" in late 2003 before Usher's Confessions was released in early 2004.
"Same thing," Polow said unapologetically. "Usher has people around him like, 'He's Usher. He can't do a song like that. Blah, blah, blah.' Ain't really no young people around him besides his assistant and the guys he runs with. But as far as the corporate people, they not out here in the street. They don't know. I felt like me being best of both worlds — half-corporate, half-producer, all real n---a — I'm in touch with what people want."
Polow said he was inspired to make the beat for the song after spending the weekend in Las Vegas for the VMAs.
"If you listen to the beat, the synths and everything has a Vegas feel to it," Polow said. "Making love in the club, people in Vegas are kinda wild. Vegas had that 'I don't care, I'm living life' attitude. When I came back [from the awards], I was like, 'Man, clubs gotta be like that.' I wanted to bring that environment to the 'hood. It's like a Euro, worldly type of sound, but it blends with the 'hood sound. I was like, 'This is perfect for Usher.' I played it for Usher, told him my experiences, how girls feel about him now that he's married. This song helps him do what a few greats have been able to do. Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt. When they get married, they make the girls still want them."
The producer said he wanted to give Ush a little bit more swag in the eyes of the fans by taking him out to touch the town.
"We started hanging out in [Atlanta] clubs, 'cause I go from Magic City to the Opera," Polow said, name-checking a few ATL clubs. "The Atlanta party scene is back. I'm not married, I'm living the life. I had to get Usher out the house a couple of times to show him what it is to be out and about. It was right around the time he was having his newborn. We made the record trying to grab the moment, grab the people and shock people. The song is not really all about having sex in the club, it's about having that urge. It's about meeting somebody for the first time, and you kinda wish nobody was there. You're like, 'You're the one.' Lust at first sight."
"I will tell you, look out for this album," Usher said. "It's an evolution. There's a lot of growth in it. It starts in one place, then matures in another direction. As you know, this has been a very tumultuous year for me," added the singer, who got married and welcomed a baby boy in 2007. "So I have a lot of great stories to tell. But more than that, as far as music and the contribution I wanna make, I wanna make sure it's very wide. You're gonna get a great variety on this album, and I promise to make the wait worthwhile. I been looking around like, 'Man, I better get back on my A game.' "
Usher said he definitely misses performing. As the Grammy Awards were progressing Sunday, it was all he could do to not get up out his seat, and start singing and dancing on the stage.
"When I saw Morris Day and the Time, I wanted to jump up there with them, I'm not going to lie," he smiled. "That was really one of the highlights for me. I feel like Kanye killed it. His movement was crazy, and I can't wait to see him on tour. When you see something like he did tonight, it only makes you excited to see what he's going to do onstage."
Usher laughed off the comparisons that are being made between Kanye West losing Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock and Usher falling short in the same category in 2005 against Ray Charles' posthumous release Genius Loves Company.
"I really felt Herbie Hancock is a great musician, and for him to be recognized by the Academy is great. There's no losers. For us to be recognized for what we do is always great. But I know what it feels like, Kanye. I really do. I know what you feel like. I was proud of my man, though, the way he handled [losing]."
Usher also praised his friend for his performances of "Stronger" and "Hey Mama." The latter was a touching tribute to Kanye's mother, Dr. Donda West, who passed away in November.
"Man, priceless," the singer marveled. "That was incredible, man. No one can truly understand the pain of what that is. I recently lost my father, so I could understand it from a different perspective. He had a really great relationship with his mother. I didn't have as much of a deep relationship with my father. But your mother is your mother, your father is your father. To lose a loved one is always very hard. For him to hold it together onstage and also be as vulnerable and allow people to see, that was great. It was greater than any dance movie or high-pitched note. To give people the truth is always great."
Usher's new album still doesn't have a release date or title, but we'll keep you posted.