Early careerUsher Raymond was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1978 and moved to Atlanta, Georgia when he was 12. He started singing in a church choir and his singing talents soon became obvious. L. A. Reid signed him to La Face records after an audition while still in school.
His self-titled debut record was executive produced by P. Diddy, then known as Puff Daddy and was released in 1994. It made a modest impact on the charts peaking at number 167 on the Billboard 200 Album charts although it did reach number 4 on the Heatseeker charts for prospective stars. There were three singles released in the US from the album namely:
"Think Of You" Number 8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop charts, No 58 Billboard Hot 100; "Can U Get Wit It" Number 13 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Charts, No. 59 Billboard Hot 100; "The Many Ways" Number 42 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Charts. Usher continued to build a national profile by recording jingles for Coca-Cola and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. He also formed a vocal group with other vocalists called Black Men United which recorded a song called "U Will Know" from the Jason's Lyric soundtrack. This song proved to be his most successful to date reaching number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1994 and reaching number 5 of the Hot R&B/hip Hop Charts.
My Way - Topping the ChartsUsher produced his sophomore album My Way after graduating from high school. Usher co-wrote 6 out of the 9 tracks on the album and recruited leading producers Jermaine Dupri, Babyface and P. Diddy to ensure its success. When released in 1997, My Way was the breakthrough album for Usher reaching number 4 on the Billboard 200, number 1 on the R&B album charts, and number 13 on the Canadian charts. The album would eventually go multi-platinum on the back of the hit singles from the album such as:
- "You Make Me Wanna" (1997) Number 2 Billboard Hot 100, number 1 US R&B (11 weeks), Rhythmic Top 40 and Dance charts number 6 Canada;
- "My Way" (1998) Number 2 Billboard Hot 100, number 4 R&B, number 5 Rhythmic Top 40, number 20 Canada;
- "Nice & Slow" (1998) Number 1 Billboard Hot 100, R&B and Rhythmic Top 40, number 2 dance number 6; and
- "Nice" number 12 dance and number 22 Top 40 mainstream.
Usher released a live album that failed to achieve the success of My Way, only reaching number 73 on the Billboard 200 and number 30 on the R&B/Hip Hop Charts. The live album was widely perceived as a stopgap measure while he recorded his follow-up album, scheduled for release in early 2001. However, this album to be called All About U was extensively leaked on Napster, leading to new material being recorded for release later in the year.
The 8701 album so called because of the date of its release proved to be another success. It reached number one in the UK and Canada, number four on the Billboard 200 and number three on the R&B charts. This album started to build a market for Usher outside his traditional markets in Canada and the US. 8701 contained a number of hit singles including:
- "Pop Ya Collar," which reached number two in the UK;
- "U Remind Me" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop charts, number two on the Rhythmic Top 40 chart, number three in Canada;
- "U Got It Bad" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop charts;
- "U Don't Have To Call" reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the US R&B chart;
- "U Turn" reached the top 10 in Australia and top 20 in the UK.
Usher was in a relationship with fellow R&B singer Rozonda Thomas, commonly known as Chilli of TLC but as of 2004 the relationship is over.
Usher released the Confessions album on March 23, 2004. Confessions sold 1.1 million records in its first week of release, the most first-week sales by any R&B artist and the highest sales by any artist in three years. Along with the success of the Norah Jones album Feels Like Home, it was seen as a sign that record sales were slowly recovering after three straight years of decline in the US. The album topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic as well as topping US R&B charts and Internet albums charts and reaching number 2 in Australia. "Yeah" features contributions by Ludacris and Lil Jon and was released as the first single. Confessions has so far spawned the following hits:
- "Yeah" has topped the Billboard Hot 100, European, World, US and World R&B charts, World Adult, Australian, Norwegian and Swiss charts and reached number 2 in Canada;
- "Burn" has so far reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and US R&B/Hip Hop charts as well as number 5 on the Rhythmic Top 40 charts; and
- "Confessions Part II" has so far reached number 41 on the US R&B charts.