After a lengthy break on the bench, ‘TGJ Replay’ is back!
Designed much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ features, ‘Replay’ is That Grape Juice‘s newest retrospective segment – a written quest, if you will, to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday.
Unlike its ‘Rewind’ and ‘Vault’ predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase entire albums (and eras) from a library of pop and Urban pop music hits. As this week brought with it the 36th birthday of R&B veteran Usher, our latest ‘Replay’ will “fast backward” to his tertiary hit album ‘8701.’
You can’t talk about Usher‘s ‘8701’ without addressing its blockbuster of a predecessor – 1997’s ‘My Way.’
Wielding megahits ‘U Make Me Wanna’ and ‘Nice & Slow,’ the six-time platinum project not only became the Atlantan crooner’s breakthrough album, but also set the expectations even higher for its follow-up. To ensure those expectations were met, Ush took the long-time adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to heart and assembled ‘My Way’s production cast for a redo. Primarily helmed by Jermaine Dupri, The Neptunes, and P. Diddy, the album also saw some additions from serial hitmakers Babyface, Bryan Michael Cox, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and more.
Christened ‘All About U,’ it was set to make its way to record shelves in the fall of 2000. Drenched in a mix of futuristic, hard-hitting R&B, dance records, and bass-driven ballads, the project was designed to reflect the crooner’s newfound personal and artistic maturity. Coming as the first album of his adult life (third overall), ‘All’ was packaged as a grown-up extension of ‘My Way.’
The first single chosen to represent said growth was ‘Pop Ya Collar’:
Not even popping into the top 50 of the Billboard 100, the song and parent album were both ditched when reports surfaced that it had leaked in its entirety onto then-popular file sharing website Napster. The circumstance prompted him to go back to the studio to revamp and revise the ill-fated project.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, the move would prove lucrative.
With a slew of new and refreshed tunes under his belt, the once-christened ‘All About U’ was now repackaged and blessed with a new moniker – ‘8701.’ Any reminder needed that Usher had all but fallen off was found via its first single, ‘U Remind Me’ (seen above). Featuring production from longtime Janet Jackson-collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, their hitmaking hands in conjunction with the song’s sleek, Urban music video that featured then-rumored girlfriend Chilli (of TLC) as a leading lady, proved itself a potent combo.
Together they helped hoist the song right to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two months after its release, its parent album would follow suit and skyrocket to the upper tier of the Billboard 200 (#4 peak).
With over 200,000 copies sold in its first week, ‘8701’ shone as proof that the success of ‘My Way’ was by no means a fluke. Earning nods fans, critics, fellow artists, and idols Michael and Janet Jackson, the album’s commercial acclaim would only be cemented by the time its second single was lifted.
Enter ‘U Got It Bad’:
Talk about a monster success!
Resting his oft-envied dancing shoes to put his vocals front-and-center, the Jermaine Dupri-produced ballad was hailed by many as the “song of the year.” As its dramatic video put to rest any rumor that he and Chilli were not an item, the clip also pushed the tune to the perch of singles charts. Hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 just a week after its release and spending six non-consecutive weeks there, the feat gave Usher his third overall chart-topper (second from ‘8701’ alone).
Awe-inspiring performances like those seen at the American Music Awards didn’t hurt either:
With ‘U Remind Me’ and ‘Bad’, Usher became the only solo male act that year to reach the top of the Hot 100.
If critics were in need of verification that the crooner was a bonafide hitmaker, the album’s third and final U.S. single would yield it for them. Tapping The Neptunes-produced ‘U Don’t Have To Call,’ its accompanying high octane dance video would prove itself a return to form of sorts.
Showcasing moves that put Usher worlds away from his competitors, the song slid right to #3 on his oft-envied heels. Despite not enjoying the radio or sales success of its predecessors, ‘Call’ still demonstrated a respectable run.
By the time the dust settled, ‘8701’ collected a multitude of accolades including: Usher’s first 2 Grammys, 2 #1 singles, and certification of nearly 5x platinum. Establishing him as Urban pop’s leading male act, the album would prove itself a launching pad to even greater heights just years later (see; ‘Confessions’).
But, we have a confession. Though his spot in line to Michael Jackson’s throne would earn challengers in the form of Sisqo, Justin Timberlake, and later Chris Brown, we still say that no one can do it quite like U. As such, we take this time to ode this modern R&B masterpiece.
Our favorite cut from the set is ‘Twork It Out.’