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Usher: The Oct/Nov Vibe Magazine Cover Story

 

VIBE Q: A Man On Fire

 

USHER HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE HIS JUNIOR MACK DAYS. AFTER BATTLING DRAMA, DIVORCE AND A MIDLIFE CAREER CRISIS, THE FORMER SEXED-UP SUPERSTAR IS A DADDY WITH ISSUES AND A THREE-LETTER SMASH HIT. HE’S LEARNED THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FIDELITY AND MONOGAMY, BUT CAN THE SOUL MAN RECLAIM HIS LEGACY AS MICHAEL’S HEIR APPARENT?

BY CLOVER HOPE

You could hide out here at the Sunset Marquis. In the Zen-like garden, or perhaps in a villa. It’s a modest West Hollywood hotel, con- temporary with plenty of angles. Usher Raymond IV retreats here often, though these days there’s hardly much need to. The 32-year-old divorced father of two sons (Usher Raymond V, age 2, and Naviyd Ely, 1) is no longer the biggest star on the planet that would be Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. He’s still dropping jewels (“There Goes My Baby”), still restlessly pimping (“Lil Freak,” featuring Nicki Minaj). But a lot less people care to notice. They’re more interested in having “OMG,” a club single off his latest album, 2010’s Raymond V Raymond, as their ringtone than Usher as their wallpaper.

Has R&B’s biggest triple threat since Michael Jackson lost his sex appeal? Ever since shattering his playboy image in 2007 by marrying his stylist Tameka Foster (a mother of three, almost eight years his senior), Usher has struggled to reclaim his relevance. Album five, 2008’s Here I Stand, was an age-accelerating mood killer. Through it all, the artist widely considered MJ’s heir apparent stubbornly insisted that he knew what he was doing. There were 26 million albums sold to prove it. If 8701 was his Off the Wall, then Confessions was his Thriller. The album’s salacious appeal was fueled by fans’ fascination with Usher’s real-life breakup with TLC sexpot Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. Spawning four No. 1 singles, the 2004 disc was the last album to receive the RIAA’s diamond (10 million records sold), making Usher the final relic of the music industry’s golden era. For now, that’s his legacy. Lately he’s re- emerged as an important pop figure partially thanks to the Euro R&B boom engineered by producers like David Guetta (Kelly Rowland’s “Commander”) and will.i.am, whose infinite synths thrust “OMG” to No. 1 on the pop charts and sparked the repackaged EP Versus (“DJ Got Us Falling in Love,” “Hot Toddy”).

For a man whose music draws so much from his personal affairs, separating what’s real from what’s simply a good song can be challenging. Seated at a tranquil outdoor booth at the Sunset Marquis, Usher sports a mix of luxury (Audemars Piquet watch) and thrift store finds (vintage earth toned button-up, gray undershirt). With his North American OMG tour launching in November, and a week away from performing at the MTV Video Music Awards—his official rebirth into pop’s top tier—Usher is reflective, insightful and at times combative. Though he claims he’s “not a good articulator,” Usher is most candid when talking about love, sex and heartbreak—including his rejected proposal to Chilli and what divided him and Foster. Currently stuck in an awkward phase—way beyond a Chris Brown, not as timeless as R. Kelly—Usher is the first to admit that he’s still writing his narrative in hopes of one day succeeding the King of Pop.

Are you more pop than soul now?

I’m all of that. I can’t be put into a box. Artists who have been an inspiration to me, like Stevie Wonder, did everything. You gotta evolve. The soul is always in, no matter what form it is—R&B, hip-hop, whether I’m singing, dancing, rapping, whatever it may be. Even my gig on Broadway [in Chicago], I brought the soul to that as well.

What was soulful about Raymond v Raymond?

[Long pause] The soul is the passion, the way I sing, how convicted I am in what I’m saying and if you can really tie what I’m saying to a specific occurrence in my life. We all know that I went through what would be perceived as tumultuous situations—having got- ten married, having children. Some of those things, I pull from.

Why were you apprehensive about releasing “OMG”? Will.i.am said your team was iffy about it.

I think maybe because they were skeptics about the evolution of my art: We know Usher to be this one thing. Over the last two years, it’s been questionable, because of personal choices, whether his decisions were on point, and we don’t want to do anything that would move too fast for his demographic. But obviously they changed their mind. At one point in time I, too, felt like “OMG” might not necessarily have went with the overall story, but when I really took a step back and looked at the entire landscape of what this album represents, it is “OMG.”

Was this album an attempt at a career rebound?

Let me tell you something. Here I Stand sold more than Raymond V Raymond. So the perspective is all based off of what? Personal choice? Maybe not understanding the full picture. Maybe not really understanding the artist.

What did they not understand?

I don’t think I ever really got a chance to explain who I am. I can’t explain it in one conversation, but my music will begin to explain to you the range that I have as an individual. I don’t think it was a rebound at all. Some people in my organization felt like it was a rebound, but for me it was business as usual. Were there hard times in the process? Absolutely. I think it was the first time that doubt was ever amongst the opinions. Like, Can he do it again? Is it possible that this can happen? When you have 15 years of a legacy built, it shouldn’t be questionable with one album.

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Black Texas Teen Barred From Graduation Because Of His Dreadlocks

A black Texas teen was suspended and is barred from graduation because of his dreadlocks, NBC News reports. DeAndre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, has to cut his hair if he wants to walk the graduation stage.

DeAndre, whose family hales from Trinidad, has had locks for several years, gets A’s and B’s in school, and wears his hair in compliance with the school’s dress code, his mother, Sandy Arnold, told Houston’s NBC affiliate KPRC. “The dress code is [hair] off the shoulders above the earlobes and out of the eyes,” she explained.

The school district allegedly changed the dress code around Christmas of last year. According to the latest Barbers Hill Student Handbook, hair must be “clean and well groomed.” Students are not allowed to cover their heads, dye their hair, or wear “geometric or unusual patterns (such as Mohawks and Faux hawks) shaved or cut in the hair.” For male students, hair can’t fall below the eyebrows or earlobes and must not extend “below the top of a T-shirt collar.”Beards, goatees and mustaches are also not allowed.

DeAndre’s mother said that she reached out to board members and the superintendent to rectify the issue but with no luck.

“They say that even [when] my hair is up if it were down it would be not in compliance with the dress code. However, I don’t take it down in school,” said DeAndre.

The teen proudly rock his dreadlocks because the hairstyle connects him to Trinidadian culture. “I really like that part of Trinidadian culture. I really embrace that.”

Barbers Hill Independent School District released a statement noting that the district enforces a “community supported hair length policy” that has been in place “for decades.” The statement adds, “Barber Hill is a state leader with high expectations in all areas!”

The teenager's story is similar to that of a 6-year-old boy in Texas whose school also wanted him to cut off his dreadlocks. DeAndre's mother said her son won’t be getting a hair cut. “This is a pat of who he is. So [we're] absolutely not going to cut his hair.”

See more in the video above.

 

 

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Former Recording Academy Boss Says The Grammy Awards Are Rigged

Former Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan is accusing the Recording Academy of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, days before the 62nd annual Grammy Awards.

The 46-page complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Tuesday (Jan. 21), claims that the Recording Academy abides by a “boy’s club mentality”  and manipulates the Grammys voting process, among other allegations.

In the documents, Dugan accuses the Recording Academy of attempting to smear her reputation for speaking out against the alleged harassment, gender discrimination, unequal pay, and unlawful retaliation, that she claims to have endured. Dugan, who was recently ousted from her position, also accuses music lawyer Joel Katz of sexual harassment.

Katz “categorically” denied Dugan’s allegations in a statement through his attorney.

Dugan, the Recording Academy’s first female CEO, says she took over after former CEO Neil Portnow resigned “in disgrace after being caught making misogynistic remarks about women recording artists.” Dungan claims that her salary was significantly lower than her two male predecessors, and that she was later told to hire Portnow as a consultant for a $750,000 fee. The documents goes on to claim  Portnow's consultant contract was severed because he was accused of raping a female recording artist.

Portnow denied the rape claim which he called, “ludicrous and untrue.”

Dugan filed a HR complaint in December of 2019. She was put on administrative leave three weeks later. However, the Recording Academy claims Dugan was placed on leave over a bullying complaint from Portnow’s executive assistant. Dugan alleges that the Recording Academy attempted to work out a settlement with her before backing out at the last minute and giving her one hour to agree to a new deal. She later informed the company of her intent to sue.

Dugan's complaint outlines how women and minority groups have been “historically underrepresented” at the Grammys and within the Academy. For example, the docs note that only 10 black artists have won the coveted Album of the Year honor and that R&B artist are typically excluded from top awards in favor of country, rock and pop music. The docs point out some of the criticisms the the Grammys has received, including failing to honor black artists and a lack of diversity among winners. Eminem for instances, won Best Rap Album seven times despite the category being dominated by black artists. Also mentioned in the documents are Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who beat out Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Kanye West for Best Rap Album in 2014. Dugan used Drake and pop star Dua Lipa to support her claim that the show cuts acceptance speeches short if the artist criticizes the Academy.

Further in the docs, Dugan exposes the Grammys nominations process as allegedly being “ripe with corruption.” Submissions are voted on by 12,000 Recording Academy members all around the country. The selections are narrowed down to the Top 20 entries, which are then reviewed by “secret committees.” Dugan asserts that board members on the committees have relationships with recording artists, thus furthering an artist's chance of getting nominated.

“The Board also manipulates the nominations process to ensure that certain songs or albums are nominated when the producer of the Grammys (Ken Ehrlich) wants a particular song performed during the show,” the documents claim.

Click here to read Dungan's full complaint.

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‘Red Table Talk’ Inks 3-Year Deal With Facebook Watch

The Emmy-nominated Red Table Talk, hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter Willow Smith and mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris, has inked a three-year deal with Facebook Watch that extends through 2022.

In addition to a new contract, Westbrook Studios (owned by Pinkett Smith and Will Smith) is expanding the Red Table Talk brand with a spinoff series starring Gloria Estefan.

Red Table Talk: The Estefans, will be produced by Pinkett-Smith, Westbrook Studios and Estefan, with Ellen Rakieten and Miguel Melendez serving as executive producers. The series features the music icon along with her daughter and rising musician, Emily Estefan, and her niece Emmy winner, Lili Estefan. The new show will be based in Miami, where Estefan lives, and will showcase three generations of women having candid conversations about timely topics, social and personal issues with family, in addition to celebrity guests and experts.

“I’m incredibly proud of ‘Red Table Talk,’ and thrilled to build upon this franchise with my family and with Gloria, Emily and Lili,” Pinkett Smith said in a statement. “‘Red Table Talk’ has created a space to have open, honest and healing conversations around social and topical issues, and what’s most powerful for me is hearing people’s stories and engaging with our fans in such a tangible way on the Facebook Watch platform.  I’m excited to see the Estefans put their spin on the franchise and take it to new places.”

Estefan added that she’s “incredibly excited” to carry on the “'Red Table Talk' torch” with her family.

“Jada and I have spoken about this a lot and feel my daughter, niece and I can tackle issues important to us and our fans with a new and fresh voice,” said Estefan. “Jada has done this incredibly and continues to do with her family in their candid, intimate, and groundbreaking conversations at the iconic Red Table.”

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