July 7, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my means up into the current.

Have you ever ever seen Usher Raymond IV in individual? He doesn’t appear actual. He looks like a mirage. His smile is simply too shiny. His voice is simply too easy. When he dances, it’s like he’s gliding sideways throughout the floor of a lake. Pop stardom is at all times a matter of timing and circumstances, however whenever you see Usher, it’s onerous to think about an alternate universe during which this man is something apart from a pop star. Do that: Shut your eyes and movie Usher as a carpenter or a school professor or a dentist. You’ll be able to’t. It doesn’t compute. All of these photographs flip into gauzy, horny music-video situations. Only a few folks have been born to be pop stars, however Usher was considered one of them.

9 years in the past, I used to be on the FADER Fort at SXSW, and Usher was a shock visitor. The headliners that evening have been the Afghan Whigs, and Usher got here out on the finish of their set to sing a couple of songs with them. Usher didn’t make a very convincing indie rock frontman, however he didn’t actually strive. As an alternative, he was merely Usher, and the members of this nice band merely pale into fuzzy shapes behind him. Even on this scenario — a couple of years after his final #1 hit, slumming via a type of hipster publicity stunt — the Usher I noticed was the identical glowing child who’d first topped the Scorching 100 within the early days of 1998.

That first chart conquest took Usher a short time, nevertheless it was going to occur. It was inevitable. Whilst a youngster, Usher was a titan in ready. “Good & Gradual,” Ursh’s first chart-topper, was a space-age sex-jam, and plenty of extra would observe.

Usher Raymond IV was born in Dallas and largely raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (When Usher was born, the #1 track in America was Exile’s “Kiss You All Over,” which appears weirdly acceptable.) Usher’s organic father gave him a reputation however didn’t stick round; he was raised by his medical-technician mom and his stepfather. In Chattanooga, Usher began singing in church at age 9. A 12 months later, he joined an area kiddie-R&B singing group referred to as NuBeginning, and he recorded an album’s price of fabric with them. (It got here out after he bought well-known.) However Usher’s mother didn’t see a lot of a future in NuBeginning, and he or she did see a future in Usher’s singing profession, so the household packed up and moved to Atlanta when Usher was nonetheless a child.

Usher’s mom began getting into him in native expertise exhibits. Usher received these expertise exhibits. The footage from these expertise exhibits is nice: Usher singing Boyz II Males, reaching out to carry arms with ladies within the viewers, making a spectacle of himself. AJ Alexander, Bobby Brown’s bodyguard, caught considered one of Usher’s talent-show performances, and he organized for an audition with LA Reid, who signed Usher to LaFace. When that occurred, Usher’s mother stop her job and have become his supervisor full-time.

The 15-year-old Usher’s debut single “Name Me A Mack” got here out as a part of the soundtrack to the 1993 movie Poetic Justice, and it’s a transparent try to faucet into no matter was left of the brand new jack swing wave. The track made a slight dent within the R&B charts, and it didn’t get wherever close to the Scorching 100. The following 12 months, LA Reid despatched Usher to New York. The thought was that Puff Daddy would take Usher below his wing and assist him craft a persona. Years later, Usher instructed Rolling Stone that his time in Puff’s “Taste Camp” was the toughest stretch of his profession: “Puff launched me to a very totally different set of shit — intercourse, particularly. Intercourse is so scorching within the trade, man… There was at all times ladies round. You’d open a door and see any individual doing it, or a number of folks in a room having an orgy. You by no means knew what was going to occur.” (I actually benefit from the phrase “intercourse is so scorching within the trade, man.”)

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Usher’s self-titled 1994 debut was positioned as a giant deal. Puff Daddy was an government producer, and plenty of huge songwriters and producers labored on the file: Religion Evans, Donnell Jones, Jodeci’s DeVante Swing. Relative to its expectations, although, the album fell flat. Its greatest hit, the Puffy/Chucky Thompson manufacturing “Assume Of You,” went high 10 on the R&B charts, nevertheless it solely reached #58 on the Scorching 100. The album stopped in need of gold. After its launch, Usher’s mom put him again on the talent-show circuit in Atlanta.

After that first album bricked, Usher developed a rapport with Atlanta figurehead Jermaine Dupri, who produced most of his sophomore album My Manner. Collectively, they discovered a sound that match Usher significantly better than the Puffy method. My Manner is a slick, glassy tackle R&B. The file is filled with pianos and acoustic guitars, however these devices by no means really feel actual. Tracks hover weightless, generally getting right into a tamer model of the jittery stop-start manufacturing that Timbaland was injecting into the pop charts on the time. Usher sings so much about intercourse, and his voice sounds tender and frictionless. It skates over these tracks. Usher generally delivers his lyrics a bit bit like a rapper, in dense clusters of syllables. He does melismatic runs, too, however they by no means sound effortful. As an alternative, he glides with a mechanistic effectivity. Even at his most passionate, he sounds blithe, unconcerned.

Usher successfully launched that new sound, which might develop into the brand new sound of each pop and R&B within the years forward, with “You Make Me Wanna…,” the lead single from My Manner. “You Make Me Wanna…” has a beat pushed by herky-jerk drum programming and staccato gasps, and its acoustic guitar appears like one thing that the liquid steel Terminator may play whereas sitting round a campfire. Usher sings about ditching one relationship for an additional, and he makes it sound just like the pure selection, not one thing price an excessive amount of anguish. That track is the second that every part clicked. “You Make Me Wanna…” bought as excessive as #2, and it in all probability would’ve gone all the best way if “Candle In The Wind 1997” wasn’t hogging up all of the area on the high of the charts. (“You Make Me Wanna…” is an 8.) Usher was made.

By the point Usher launched the follow-up single “Good & Gradual,” the My Manner album was already platinum. By the point “Good & Gradual” reached #1, it was double platinum. (It might go on to promote six million home.) “Good & Gradual” made excellent sense after “You Make Me Wanna…” The observe hit that very same clear, ripple-free R&B mildew. It’s a track about eager to have intercourse actually, actually badly. Usher begins out the track — at seven o’clock on the dot — driving round and occupied with how he’s bought plans to place his arms in locations he by no means seen, lady, you understand what he means. He spends the remainder of the track pleading, saying that he desires to take issues good and sluggish whereas making it clear that he doesn’t plan to attend for much longer. His pleas by no means actually sound like pleas. This man is aware of he’s about to get laid.

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“Good & Gradual” doesn’t precisely break any lyrical floor, however the track’s improvements are in the best way it makes use of its manufacturing and Usher’s voice. On the intro, when he’s telling you to get it scorching for him and to put on that little factor he likes, Usher does the previous Philly soul spoken-word factor, however that’s the place the similarities finish. The observe itself sounds clear and airless, filled with exact guitar-flutters and punctiliously calibrated synth tones. Usher himself locks into totally different cadences. More often than not, he sings straightforwardly about doing one thing freaky to you. However then he breaks into these little tourettic half-rap jags, just like the half the place he spells out his title and makes “O-N-D” sound like “oh, certainly.”

On the bridge, Usher sings a line over and over: “I’ll freak you proper, I’ll.” However he deliberately journeys over the phrase “freak” and makes it sound like one thing else. Greater than as soon as, I heard “Good & Gradual” on the radio and figured that they’d by chance performed the specific model, however there is no express model. Usher simply made the world hear “fuck” the place there was no “fuck.”

Jermaine Dupri co-wrote “Good & Gradual” with three different writers: Usher himself, Dupri’s “All the time Be My Child” collaborator Manuel Seal, and Brian Casey, one of many two equivalent twins within the Dupri-affiliated R&B quartet Jagged Edge. (Jagged Edge’s highest-charting single, the 2001 Nelly collab “The place The Social gathering At,” peaked at #3. It’s a ten.) In Fred Bronson’s Billboard E-book Of Number one Hits, Usher says that “Good & Gradual” was drawn from his personal life: “That was my every day routine after I got here residence from the studio. I’d decide up the phone and name my lady, and it went a bit one thing like the start of the track.” I like how each Usher interview has strains the place you must think about him pausing after the sentence in order that any girls close by can scream.

Within the Bronson guide, Manuel Seal talks about “Good & Gradual” extra when it comes to positioning than nuts-and-bolts songwriting: “We didn’t need too good a man like Michael Jackson, and we didn’t need too unhealthy a man like Bobby Brown. So we needed to make [Usher] a pleasant man however not too good.” Perhaps a few of that thought went into the “Good & Gradual” video, a really stunning piece of absurd maximalist filmmaking. The nice Hype Williams shot Usher in Paris, and the start of the video suits fairly commonplace R&B-loverman tropes. Usher will get off a airplane after which dances shirtless in entrance of the Eiffel Tower, generally pretending to play guitar. He additionally romances Kimora Lee Simmons, who seems to be scorching as fuck and who had not but married and divorced Russell Simmons or launched the Child Phat clothes line. That’s all fairly regular, by ’90s R&B video requirements, however then issues take a flip.

About midway via the “Good & Gradual” video, Usher’s fancy convertible stops in the midst of the road, surrounded by generic bad-guy sorts. They beat up Usher and kidnap Kimora Lee Simmons. Then they put her in what seems to be a canine crate, which is not regular or generic by any requirements. Usher goes to the police, determined and pleading, throwing papers within the air in frustration, after which he cools himself out by dancing shirtless in entrance of the Eiffel Tower some extra. Then Usher places on an eyepatch and rides his bike to the unhealthy guys’ hideout. He fools them with the previous exploding-briefcase trick, after which he dance-fights via the smoke of the explosion. Usher and Kimora proceed to journey off because the unhealthy guys’ hideout blows to items. (Usher should’ve hid some extra exploding briefcases in there.) That’s the Hype Williams contact, man. That’s that actual slick, stunning madness. This column is now into my absolute favourite music-video period, when the budgets have been big and when no one felt any stress to make any form of narrative sense.

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“Good & Gradual” doesn’t hit with the identical immediacy of “You Make Me Wanna…,” and it hasn’t lasted in fairly the identical means, although that complete “I’ll freak you proper, I’ll” half positively entered the rap and R&B lexicon. However with out one other “Candle In The Wind” sucking up all of the air within the room, “Good & Gradual” cruised proper to #1. Usher adopted “Good & Gradual with the excellently bleepy and environment friendly “My Manner.” Within the video, Usher wore Clockwork Orange eye make-up and dance-battled Tyrese within the LA River. That video could have invented the visible sensibility of each Step Up sequel. Nice shit. (“My Manner” peaked at #2. It’s an 8.)

For Usher, this was merely the start. We are going to see an entire lot extra of that man on this column.

GRADE: 7/10

BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Kinds P rapping over a sped-up “Good & Gradual” pattern on his 2008 observe “The place I’m From”:

(Kinds P’s highest-charting single as lead artist is 2002’s “Good Occasions,” which peaked at #22. Since Kinds didn’t be a part of the opposite Lox members on Puff Daddy’s “It’s All About The Benjamins,” the highest-charting single with a Kinds visitor spot is Akon’s “Locked Up,” which peaked at #8 in 2004. It’s a 7.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Brockhampton’s 2020 “Sugar” remix options Dua Lipa, Jon B, and Ryan Beatty, and it’s constructed across the “seven o’clock on the dot” bit from “Good & Gradual.” Right here it’s:

(Partly on the power of that remix, “Sugar” is the one Brockhampton observe that’s made the Scorching 100; it peaked at #66. Dua Lipa’s two highest-charting singles, 2019’s “Don’t Begin Now” and 2021’s “Levitating,” each peaked at #2. “Don’t Begin Now” is a 9, and “Levitating” is an 8. Jon B’s highest-charting single, 1998’s “They Don’t Know,” peaked at #7. It’s a 5.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s dvsn’s video for his or her 2020 Snoh Aalegra collab “Between Us,” which is powered by a “Good & Gradual” pattern:

(Dvsn don’t have any Scorching 100 hits on their very own, however they did visitor on Drake’s 2016 observe “Trustworthy,” which peaked at #72.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Bryson Tiller’s 2021 observe “7:00,” which additionally makes use of the “seven o’clock on the dot” bit from “Good & Gradual”:

(As lead artist, Bryson Tiller’s highest-charting single is 2015’s “Don’t,” which peaked at #13. Tiller additionally guested on DJ Khaled’s 2017 Rihanna collab “Wild Ideas,” which peaked at #2. It’s a 7.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Gunna and Chloe Bailey’s video for his or her 2022 observe “You & Me,” which makes use of the “I’ll freak you proper, I’ll” bit from “Good & Gradual” as considered one of its hooks and which additionally samples the Jon B’s above-mentioned “They Don’t Know”:

(“You & Me” peaked at #28. Gunna’s highest-charting single is the 2018 Lil Child collab “Drip Too Exhausting,” which peaked at #4. It’s a ten. Chloe’s highest-charting single, 2021’s “Have Mercy,” peaked at #28.)

THE ASTERISK: Matchbox 20’s attractive yarl “3AM” peaked at #3 on Billboard‘s Radio Songs chart whereas “Good & Gradual” was at #1. Because it by no means got here out as a single, “3AM” by no means charted on the Scorching 100. If the scenario have been totally different, “3AM” may’ve had a shot at #1. It’s a 6.