Don’t call it a comeback but 2016 was definitely a big year for Usher, as along with returning to the big screen in the major motion picture Hands of Stone (where he stars as boxer Sugar Ray Leonard), he also released his highly anticipated 8th studio album - which unexpectedly was many years in making. Initially rumored to be released in 2014 the Atlanta singer delayed the project without explanation, apparently working with a variety of talent and finding his sound, only to return 4 years later with the smash hit of the summer.
No Limit literally opened up Summer ‘16 and yes it was an immediate smash, where if that record didn’t move you then you need to get yourself rewired and tell God to get you some rhythm, cause that one was nothin but 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 and it’s not debatable. Later this past summer Usher performed the record at the BET Awards and despite audio trouble he absolutely annihilated that dance floor, reminding the likes of Chris Brown and Timberlake that he still has the best choreography in the game.
Ultimately good music always gets slept on but to true R&B fans that record provided hope that the new album would be My Way, 8701, and Confessions level, and even if it’s not his all time best work, critiqued track by track below Hard II Love certainly doesn’t disappoint.
"Girl, I need you now, Oh baby, I need you, oh baby, I need you... help me now... don't let me down" The intro to Hard II Love is one of the coldest, as this one has a smooth melody and it’s refreshing as contemporary R&B, a nice deviation from the turn up sound that has saturated the game for too long. This one sounds like a beautiful morning and it will stay in your head for days.
"I miss you, already, and I just wanna kiss you, already, so come on, come on, come on" This one is next level... the fire instrumental (provided by Pop & Oak) sounds as current as anything else... and then the melody reminds you of Jackson Five or Stevie Wonder or someone from that era... and somehow with Usher's vocals it works... creativity at it's finest... this one is good for the dance floor and good for any age bracket... a classic record.
No Limit ft Young Thug
“Make you say uhhh, No Limit, I C Mur-Mur-Murder that, No Limit baby, give you that Ghetto D girl, No Limit, just know when you roll with a ***** like me, there’s No Limit, baby” As described above this New Orleans record was the song of the summer, and although it didn’t capture any social media fame it was still too good to be denied, and without question will be a permanent addition to his performance catalogue for the rest of his career.
"I don't know where it's going (I don't know where it's going), and I don't know what to call this (and I don't know what to call this), and I don't know how it started (and I don't know how) but I'm ready to go, I'm ready to..." Produced by the tag team of super producers known as The Dream and Chris 'Tricky' Stewart, this one actually remind me of the Chris Brown/R Kelly collaboration 'Drown In It', or maybe even Chris Brown's R Kelly tribute record 'Songs On 12 Play' - either way it's reminiscent of one of those great records off the X album - and basically all that's saying is that it's a throwback to when r&b was smooth... this one could have came out in the 90's and for that reason it's right on time in 2016.... the Lil Jon ad-libs (always nice on a Ursher record) perfectly serve their purpose on this as well... as it's just good quality music that all r&b lovers need to hear.
"It never really mattered too much to me..." This one samples the timeless classic that is Ready For The World's "Let Me Love You Down", and Usher reinvents it with the explicit, and not quite as good, version yet he still does his numbers all the same.... If music imitates life and it goes in cycles, I can't wait for R&B to go back to the grown man music that it once was... as just the very tribute to the original record in this case is what makes the song.
“What you do in your downtime… is what you do in your downtime… that’s everything I know” this booty call record ain’t that bad but it ain’t that good and it’s best described as album filler… decent though.
"Would you mind if I still loved you? Would you mind if things don't last? Would you mind if I hold onto, you so that I won't crash?’" The second single off the album is definitely a pop record through and through, but it’s also got some rhythm and despite the appeal to radio the music itself isn’t compromised. Nice record overall.
Make U A Believer
"You keep listenin' to what all your friends say, don't listen to 'em, they tryna take your place, I can make you a believer, I can make you a believer, I can make you a believer, I can make you a believer, baby…” Skip! Produced by metro boomin this one seemed intriguing but it’s one of the most stale on the album
Mind Of A Man
“All I think about is bitches… and everywhere I go they come” This interlude is kinda tough and kinda smooth. A well timed intermission that was nicely done.
"Fuck with me, fuck with me, fuck with me, baby I can change can you stick around?” Next to No Limit this is the best record on the album, with a crazy instrumental and an infectious hook that is definitely likely to fuck up your rewind button. An underated banger that should have been released as a single.
Rivals ft Future
“Without you I feel uneven, make every day our love season, baby girl you know you're my rider, that should be enough reason, call you baby that's only your title, cause I don't need no more rivals...I put that on the Bible...you're the only thing that I want” The latest single off the album is likely to do numbers in the Atlanta scene, as Usher trades the verses and hooks with A Town resident Future, in which they both turn in respectable performances by way of a typical (yet decent) r&b trap record.
"We're going to a whole 'nother level, when we do it, it's so true, and it's so much more than sexual tonight, when we're connected, every touch, every kiss is perfected" The ballad on the album... 8 minutes of baby makin music... Usher's vocals are incredible on this record... everyone knows he can dance but he actually has range that he doesn't get credit for... he smashes this one...
Hard II Love
“I know that I'm, hard to love, hard to love, hard to love” SKIP! The title track is inexplicably garbage, and shouldn’t be played at all.
“Been through hell, now I'm hell proof, pouring cups of whiskey to get through it, oh sweet child of mine, gone way too soon, lost myself and lost my faith too” Dedicated to his deceased step-son that tragically died in a jet ski accident in 2012, this a nice tribute record to his honor nothing less/nothing more.
Champions ft Ruben Blades (from Motion Picture “Hands of Stone”)
“No more war, no more war, what are we even fighting for” Although it definitely delivers a nice message, it doesn’t have a nice melody, and for that reason this highly profiled record ultimately falls flat. The only saving grace is that it remains relatively interesting as it intertwines english and spanish, clearly used as a way to symbolize that the world needs to come together.
Overall Usher put out a solid body of work here, and although it will probably go down as his least successful album in terms of sales (only selling 28,000 copies in its first week), it’s also the best music the mega platinum artist has released in over a decade. It’s true that there aren’t any records that match the impact of the 'You Make Me Wanna’s' or 'U Don’t Have To Call’s' from years past, yet the 'No Limit’s' and 'FWM’s' are records that certainly belong in his Greatest Hits, which at this point is a solid catalogue that keeps on growing.