Usher‘s career stats are astounding. He’s sold close to 24 million records in the United States and taken home eight Grammys. His 2004 album Confessions sold more than any other album in the ’00s. His recent single “Good Kisser” was his 13th No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart — putting him in front of Jay-Z, R. Kelly, and Lil’ Wayne.
But past success doesn’t guarantee relevancy in the fast-moving world of pop. Usher has always proved adept at changing his sound and finding new collaborators and new sources of motivation and creativity. In his new Billboard cover story, the star reveals five things that keep him inspired.
Usher lived with Puff Daddy for a while as a teenager. “I’d say I earned my stripes in New York City,” says Usher. “My time with Puff, it gave me chutzpah.” And he lived out a teen’s hip-hop dreams: “I got to perform onstage with The Notorious B.I.G., be in sessions with him and Craig Mack. I got to be part of the driving force that was Bad Boy, that was Puff.”
“There’s something magical about the Dave Matthews Band,” Usher says. “Even though [Dave Matthews is] playing for a huge audience, he’s bringing them into his own private space.”
Usher recently got a private tour of a Koons exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The singer was especially excited by a period when Koons was at odds with the art world. These situations lead to a special sort of inspiration. “Out of adversity comes something that creates not only strength but perspective,” Usher explains.
Usher’s mom, Jonetta Patton always tells him, “You talk to everybody like they’re your kids,” whether it’s Justin Bieber or dancers on his tour. The singer agrees: “I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I was born to be a dad.'”
Koons isn’t the only artist Usher feels strongly about. In his conversation with Billboard, he likened his music to Picasso’s Blue Period, when the famous painter spent several years creating work with only a limited number of colors.
Read Billboard’s full Usher cover story when it’s out Friday, Oct. 24.