Looking 4 Myself
Listeners have spent so much time trying to guess who the next Michael Jackson might be (Bieber? Chris Brown?) they've ignored the obvious: Usher Raymond. Making soul-inflected pop since childhood, Usher has matured into a challenging, provocative crooner (when the moment requires, a la "Lessons for the Lover") on "Looking 4 Myself," with a hip-hopping hiccup in his throat, a cool, high vibrato for punctuation, and enough nuanced passion to turn robotic Auto-Tuned trickery into something deeply human. He can also do the traditional, finger-snapping R&B thing, albeit with his own weird spin on the torrid "Twisted." Usher works with future-forward, dance-centric producers like David Guetta in collaborations that bring out the most adventurous sides of both parties. It's commercial stuff, too: Check out the contagiously searing "Climax" with Philly's Diplo. Plus, Usher shakes a mean tail feather, baby. For all of this album's urgent inventiveness, Usher sounds casual within the maelstrom. "Scream" has a peculiarly poppy feel – a ringing melody; a sprightly, rocking groove – through which Usher just riffs, a scat vibe with a sensual message. Against Rick Ross' rough rap on "Lemme See," Usher's so relaxed it's as if he's on Xanax and Drambuie. Now that's smooth.