On the heels of his July 4 performance at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, Usher was in Hollywood on Thursday evening for another headlining appearance. The occasion was to celebrate the launch of the singer’s collaboration with year-old Los Angeles-based school supplies company Yoobi, co-founded by CEO Ido Leffler.
“Mixing street smarts with school smarts” is the slogan for Yoobi X Usher, a new back-to-school collection being sold exclusively at Target and on Yoobi.com. Curated by Usher and designed by artist Jonni Cheatwood, the collection features folders, pencil cases, composition books and binders splattered with vibrant slashes of pink, yellow-green, black and gray. For every product purchased, one product will also be donated to a classroom in need. “So it’s philanthropic in addition to culturally just being cool,” says Usher.
During a quick chat before the festivities got fully underway at Siren Studios’ Tower 3, the artist talked about his involvement with Yoobi, his own New Look Foundation, black independence and — yes — what’s happening with that long-awaited album.
Why he teamed with Yoobi: “Preparing future leaders through my New Look Foundation has always been about having the proper tools to succeed in life. If they don’t have the tools, young men and women from underserved communities can’t even begin to understand the idea of having a new or different perspective. So that’s where this collaboration came together: giving young people the tools and supplying them with hope.”
Sixteen years and counting for his New Look Foundation: “In the days leading up to the July 23 luncheon, I will begin posting news online about the men and women who are going to be recognized. Every year has been a success, and 16 years is nothing to turn your nose up at. It’s hard work. But there is a passion we’re igniting, which is why this year I’ve themed it ‘United to Ignite.’ It’s that village, grass-roots approach that we and all the honorees have taken to ignite someone else to be great.”
His salute to black independence: “I don’t know if it was educational or not, but that’s why I wore a Juneteenth T-shirt for my Essence Festival performance. June 19, 1865, is when African-Americans were able to claim our independence. It just so happened to be July 4 when the United States celebrates its independence. But specifically for African-Americans to understand their independence: that was the purpose behind my wearing the shirt. Out of all of the festivals that I’ve been able to attend, this one was special. It’s not about the glitz and glam. And there’s a specific culture that has kind of birthed all of the people who were represented there, whether old or new. I have no issue with anyone celebrating July 4. But I looked at this as an opportunity to inform.”
Latest word on his long-awaited album: “The album is coming. Right now it’s not the topic of discussion because of all the other things I’ve been doing. There’s Yoobi and the product launch at Target, my philanthropy through New Look, appearing on the Nina Simone tribute album [Nina Revisited, out now], coaching and mentoring up-and-coming talent on The Voice and before that playing Sugar Ray Leonard [in the 2016 movie Hands of Stone]. There are so many other things, which is what you have to be in this day and age. It just can’t be one thing; that’s simply just not who I am. I try my hardest to make sure people know every bit of my personality and every bit of what my passions are. Yoobi is one in a series of projects that are coming in the future that will be both philanthropic and creative. But the album will come when it comes.”