I appreciate the subtleties of traditional R&B, and Usher brings all of that and more with this new album.
First things first: I hate this cover art. It’s really alienating and makes me wonder, “What is that?” It made me do a double take…so it’s effective marketing to that point, but if I didn’t know it was Usher Raymond IV’s latest album, I would not have picked it up. But enough about the album cover: Let’s get into the temperament of Hard II Love, which I briefly heard the artist discuss on The Breakfast Club.
“That transition in life when you look at yourself in the mirror,” Usher said, “and you say, ‘Man, I’m a bit hard to love, and I ain’t been the best.’” And that’s the insight that I had going in to this review. Well, that along with one of the hottest and my most favorite song to dance to, “No Limit” featuring Young Thug.
Introducing Hard II Love, is “Bump,” which is reminiscent of Usher’s Confessions era (and I would argue that this album is the grown man, who’s lived a little more version of Confessions) hearing Lil’ Jon (the man who gave us “Yeah!” and all the 2000s Atlanta crunk & B music), and this intertwining with a new journey. He’s apprehensive, but ready to dive head first.
It’s hard to listen to a song like “Champions” when there is so much going on in our country, and to try and sing about fighting for a country that won’t fight for you. I call malarkey (thank you, Vice President Biden). But the next track, “Crash,” an EDM feeling, bass-pumping track, is laced with living in the moment, and the questions that plague your mind when you come across a person who catches your interest. Will it last? How long? This song is a tremendous showcase of Usher’s falsetto, which I have always loved hearing when he’s not waxing poetic with those intoxicating tenor vocals, as on tracks like “Downtime,” the title track, “Let Me,” and ”Missin’ U,” to name a few.
The latter is such a wonderful reminder of the intensity that can be felt when we stop letting fear paralyze us. “I miss you already,” Usher belts. “I just want to kiss you already so come on, come on, come on.” I especially love it when the beat drops, and while it’s so sultry, the song is something you can vibe to too.
What’s most refreshing is that Hard II Love, while laced with grown-folks music and sexy songs, isn’t vulgar like some of songs in the mainstream over the last year—like Chris Brown’s “Sex You Back to Sleep,” and, really, all of his latest releases about “love.” I appreciate the subtleties of traditional R&B, and Usher brings all of that and more with this new album.
Hard II Love is about transformation: when men go through this process and they finally get it. Love and close relationships aren’t anything to be scared of, but you have to be ready to accept them and do right by them when they come. This includes owning your mistakes, like those mentioned in “Need U,” and forging all those downs and outs into power to be “Stronger” than ever.
Usher ending such an emotional, yet exciting album with “Tell Me” lets me peek into exactly where the artist is in his journey: “hold[ing] you ’til I can;t feel again until your soul lets me in.” While closely resembling Confessions, Hard II Love brings back all the storytelling and authenticity of emotions that made that album so great. It makes us feel everything from having the time of your life to discovering your mistakes, owning them, and deciding to love yourself as you let love from others in. It’s about ultimate growth into adulthood and partnership, and there’s so much power in that. I’m glad he finally got it. B | Ashley White