Conquering the music world and has setting his sights on loftier goals, Usher talks In the Mix
Usher is at the top of his game. At 26, he's had the best selling album in the world, is a part owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, and has legions of fans that follow his every move. But you wouldn't get that impression from talking to him. Usher is a serious forward thinker. His tenacious attitude and work ethic were evident in everything he said. Usher's primary goal is to diversify his business portfolio, thus ensuring he won't have to dance to pay the bills at forty. He has no illusions whatsoever of future musical success.
You've had an incredibly music career. Are you afraid you won't be taken seriously as an actor?
Usher: To be honest with you, I try to feed off positive energy to push me forward. There was a time that no one knew who Usher was. Nobody was excited about Usher as an artist. It took time to build and work the Chitlin' circuit to be introduced to new fans. You have to work the process the same as an actor, but there's a lot more pressure. But as I said, I thrive off positive energy. Negative energy, I keep it away from me. I use it as motivation.
You were an executive producer on this movie. What did that entail?
Usher: My executive producer responsibility is based off my opinion and to be part of a committee that selected the actors associated with the film. I leave the directing to our director, but also had an opinion about the music and the soundtrack.
How was the soundtrack done?
Usher: It was a process. It was a great opportunity for me to introduce my label, and also my artists through it. It was a great vehicle. Similar to the way I was introduced as an artist. I have a five man group out of Chicago, One Chance. They have two tracks. I did another record with one of my artists, Rico Love. We did a song together called "Sweat," and we did a video with Lil' X, "Settle Down." A video is an opportunity to be seen in a major light. I hope they'll be introduced to the world at the top of the year. It's all contingent on the response we get.
You must have hundreds of scripts thrown at you. What made you choose this one?
Usher: One was the people that were associated with it. Lions Gate stood strongly behind this film. Two was my theatrical agent, Holly Davis Carter, and just the idea that so many years we've been talking about the type of roles I was looking for. They don't make characters like this. When she found this, she brought it to me, and said, "What do you think about this character?" There were a few things we had to work out, but it was a good point to start. I felt the script kind of embodies a new character, different from the urban character you see nowadays as a gangster or an individual with a gun. I felt this shed new light on black characters. And just looking at what Ice Cube did as a director, and my being involved as executive producer, this was my opportunity to touch in that area.
Had you considered doing something like "Rent?" Your name was associated early on?
Usher: Taye Diggs, he's a great actor. That was one of the first things I considered before "In the Mix." I wanted to be associated with what would embody all the elements of entertainment. To be a triple threat is similar to being compared to people like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, or even Elvis Presley, and Sammy Davis Jr. Those artists sang, danced, composed, as well as entertained. They call them triple threats to keep to the tradition, but I looked as this one as an acting piece that was related to entertaining, rather than okay Usher dance. As a matter of fact, I did my best to make my character look like he couldn't dance. That goofy scene at the end when I do this Rerun (dances), I hope people will get a laugh out of it.
"Confessions" (his fifth album, released in 2004) was such a huge hit, when can we expect a follow-up?
Usher: I don't have a record dropping now. That's not my process. Normally, I'll work on an album and then I'll go away and work on a movie or a few movies, or whatever business I have at hand. My responsibilities are beginning to stack up like homework. I have to finish different things. I've become part of an ownership group of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I hope I'll be back by 2006 to release an album in 2007. Don't count me out yet, I might do something with one of my artists. Rico Love has a chance of coming out with a CD in the coming year. So I might give you a little treat there. As a businessman, I think it's important to have a diversified portfolio. As you look at what other entertainers-turned-businessmen have done, it's off the back of who they are as entertainers. I'm looking to go in a different direction and do things that are not normally done.
Talk about being part owner of the Cavaliers. What are your responsibilities?
Usher: There's only a handful of minority sports owners. I'm proud to be in that group. I might say too much sometimes, because my partners will say, "We're a team. We're an ownership group." I'm excited about it; that at such a young age (26), so much could be accomplished (he's 26). As far as responsibility on my part, I don't hire or fire coaches or players, but I am part of a committee that has to make decisions on behalf of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I take meetings. Some of the ideas are way over my head. I understand I'm an entertainer first. As it relates to game time presentation, I have ideas. I sort of like to keep it in the direction of entertainment, everything I do.
Do you hang out with LeBron James?
Usher: We don't hang out, but we've spoken several times at the games. We've talked about doing things together – local charity events, which I thought was very important on his part. What I think is important is that we encourage Cleveland Pride. And the way that you do it is to go into the city and get people excited about what Cleveland is and what Cleveland offers. This is like our great pastime to be able to watch one of the great NBA players, one of the most sought after players in the NBA. I think Cleveland should enjoy that and hopefully, one day, win a championship.
What can you tell us about your new live DVD?
Usher: You should get it. You celebrate because there's so much behind it, that went into it. In reality, anyone that actually saw the tour in person knows how much heart and soul was put into it. The travel or the journey I set out on years ago when I first moved to Atlanta, GA is embodied in this piece. We made it all the way back to Philips Arena. It isn't just a show. I take you behind the scenes. I let you see what happens behind the tour and beyond. I take you on a trip where I started my musical career. What I wanted, what I saw, my family members, my closest friends, people in the industry. There's also a day-to-day documentary behind the tour. I also talk about my plans as a businessman, as a part-owner of the Cavaliers, as a philanthropist, developing a clothing line, just my direction.
Did you always have an aptitude for business?
Usher: It grew out of wanting to be a millionaire. For years, I wanted to do so much, and having a mother to watch my back the way she did; she kind of motivated me to understand the business side of it more. I wanted to get more into it, so I shifted my team and said, "Let's go after these types of deals. I want to know more about this". And for the meetings, I began to wake up a little bit earlier. Artists will wake up two o'clock in the afternoon. I moved that to ten o'clock and finally moved it on down to nine. Business is important, it's more important than all of the creative if you can believe that. If you can find a creative balance between the two, I think that's really being in control of your career.
Do you think the key to longevity is understanding the business side?
Usher: Certainly, you want to make smart business decisions to take care of you when you're forty and fifty years old. You don't have to continue to do back flips. I enjoy dancing, but I don't want to have to do it at fifty or forty. I want to have the leisure of making a choice, rather than be put in a position where I have to go on stage, where my lights are going to be turned off or I'll be bankrupt.
In the Mix is in theaters this Wednesday, November 23rd.