DUPRI: With us it was always about trying to beat the biggest albums of our time––Bobby Brown’s [Don’t Be Cruel], Michael Jackson’s Thriller––and we didn’t feel like we did that yet. Usher was just a star; a guy that sang well and danced well. But he didn’t have the dirt on him like a Bobby Brown who was titled the “Bad Boy of R&B” or Michael who had whatever was going on with him. All Usher had was his relationship with Chili but it wasn’t dirty. Up until that point every time he put an album out his growth didn’t seem to get bigger and that’s because he wasn’t giving people anything to talk about. Then I started indulging into his life. His life as a single man dealing with one girlfriend and trying to have multiples was there. I just had to pay attention to it.
PITTS: I just felt like [Usher] needed some edge. He would always play it safe. Like when Sisqo said something about him in the press and folks were trying to rev it up, he gave the safe answer. Everything was always safe. So it was time for people to get to know him and he was opening up and willing to try new things.
HARRIS: Usher was just coming off , out of young manhood into real manhood and understanding what he was going through so it was easy to talk about. We’d sit and talk for hours about women, life, all the above… then’ be like, “Man we should do a song like this.”
BRYAN-MICHAEL COX (SONGWRITER): The irony is initially we didn’t know what the theme of the album was going to be. The first song we recorded was “Burn.” Just like the first song we did for 8701 was “U Got It Bad.”
DUPRI: “Burn” was about Usher and Chili, just like “U Got It Bad” was about Usher and this other girl he was cool with. Usher started telling me that he and Chili’s relationship felt like somebody was burning him, like a burning inside his body. Usually when people are in relationships they can’t take the burn so they stick with the person. He wanted to reverse it and say I’m gonna let this burn the shit out of me and get it out of my system.
COX: “Burn” was a snapshot of my life at the time. It was being in a relationship and being torn between what success brings and staying committed in this relationship. Just having a conversation with Jermaine and he’s like, “You gotta let that shit burn.” Let it burn connected with Usher because he too was fighting off temptation at the time. He actually finished writing the song.
JONES: Jermaine has this Dr. Dre-like ability. I was there when Jermaine cut “Burn” and I gained a lot of respect for him during that one session alone. During the [recording] of "Burn," Usher would say a line, and then Jermaine would say, "Why don’t we say it like this? This resonates with the culture a little more." It just gave me some real insight. He's able to put the puzzle together a different way.
DUPRI: The first song I wrote was called “All Bad,” which ended up on the re-release. [Ed note: A condensed version of “All Bad” is featured on the original Confessions, as “Confessions (Interlude)”]. The beginning of the “Confessions” video was this song. It basically started the imaging of the album. It came [from the notion that] men don’t confess. It was like let’s reverse it and be like “Fuck it. Yeah, I’m cheating. I got a girl on the side.”
COX: “Confessions” came about via conversation. We were talking about guys that we knew in Atlanta who would go to Los Angeles. and have a whole other life. That’s how the whole phrase “Every time I was in L.A. I was with my ex-girlfriend” came about. We didn’t think Usher was gonna sing it. We actually wrote the song in L.A. Usher came to the studio and we were like, “We got something. We don’t know if you’re gonna sing it, but the shit is fire.” We played it for him and he was like “Aw nigga, we can lay this right now.”
DUPRI: I don’t think he believed the world would react to the point where they started to believe it. I didn’t either. “Confessions” became so big that Chili started to think these songs were written about her, which is crazy because nothing about “Confessions” was about Chili. It was all me. I tapped into people really believing what Usher says. It went so deep that Chili started believing it. But [Usher] liked the mystery of the song. Like “Who is he talking about?” And that’s where we started. We wanted the media to ask us questions. Same as when [Michael Jackson] said Billy Jean. Nobody knows who the fuck Billy Jean is. We’re still looking for her.
PITTS: It was actually both of our stories. It was a Frankenstein piece of different things that we all went through. I was also big brother [to Usher] so I would hear a lot of stuff between sessions, being a shoulder and I would say “Let’s talk bout it, bro.” He was hesitant about putting his life out there so me and JD opened up about the shit we were going through. I’ve been through a lot of shit so it ended up being a therapy session for all of us. The initial theme of the album was “Real Talk.” So when “Confessions” came, it tied everything together.
COX: We go back to Atlanta and get to the studio and Jermaine is like “I got it!” At the time, R. Kelly’s “Ignition [Remix] Part 2” was poppin’. So Jermaine is like we got to do part 2 to “All Bad.” Then something clicked to him like “No, no, no. The name of this song is ‘Confessions’ and I got the storyline.” So he starts spitting the whole story to us: girl gets pregnant, etc. He’s telling the story super amped with every detail. I let him finish and after, he says, “What do you think?” And I say “This about you.” He never told us the whole situation between him and his daughter’s mother. So I said if this is about you you’ve gotta tell us the real story. So he gave me the whole story and I was like we gotta talk about all that! We came up with the hook together, but he literally wrote that song in five minutes.
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