As cries of racial injustice continue to reverberate throughout America, Usher is hoping to provoke change in a myriad of ways. After protesting alongside Trey Songz earlier this month and penning an op-ed for The Washington Post highlighting the importance of Juneteenth, on Friday (June 26), Usher skated back to his domain — the studio — and doled out his gripping new track, “I Cry.”
His latest record is a riveting display of vulnerability and compassion for those harboring pain at the expense of prejudice and inequality, especially under police brutality. The song’s hook is poignant, relaying a message of empathy to the sons without fathers and mothers entrenched in heartache.
Usher will perform his new record this coming Saturday (June 27) during Global Citizen’s TV Special Global Goal: Unite For Our Future. Along with his performance, proceeds from “I Cry” will go toward the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a non-profit organization designed to help Black and minority small business owners affected by the economic spiral caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read Billboard‘s exclusive interview with Usher as he provides a deep dive into his powerful new song.
The opening lines for “I Cry” goes as follows: “I can’t keep it together / I usually don’t show my emotions/ But it ain’t getting better / ‘Cause you can’t be blind with eyes wide open.” When did you reach your breaking point emotionally during this fight for change?
Hmm. I think it started before we were here. I think as you grow older, you become more empathetic and understanding of the world’s problems. Maybe it is the fact that you do have the ability to be able to give some perspective, right? When you have managed to have been successful or have some idea of success. I don’t know if it was more of a philanthropic thing that started it because I mentor the youth through New Look Foundation, but all of those things sparked some idea of empathy that led to becoming more conscious of what’s going on in the world around me.
If you take a bird’s eye view of it all, you look at the most visible part, which is the peak of the mountain. But then, when you go deeper and you understand that all of these things are systemic, you begin to think, ‘ How can I begin to influence that change? Should I mentor youth? Should I talk about it on the platform that I have? I think all of it together is just thinking about what it is to be able to say I can reap the benefits of the hard work that advocates far before I even was born were doing.
If you go back to Paul Roberson and the beginning of how he began to advocate for African Americans in America, or you fast forward and you go up to Malcolm X or you go to Martin Luther King Jr., the advocacy runs deeper than any one person can even convey, but the most important part is to educate yourself. I think the more I educated myself about my history, the more I began to become empathetic, and I found ways to begin to talk about it in my music.
I did this song called “Chains” a long time ago in wake of what was going on in our system, and just the nature of how police officers were not being accountable for their acts behind their badges, as well as vigilantes that took liberty into their own hands to take the lives of innocent people. Later on, we would find that the system was kind of working against us. So I began to write songs in that way many years ago with a song called “Chains.”
Fast forwarding to today, the awakening came as a result of me being able to say, “Life is a little bit easier for me as a result of hard work and the tenacity of people who wanted to change and really see equality in America.” I began to think, and I said, “Let me educate myself on where it came from. What is the source of this change and its ability to be able to have some influence on how people perceive what the African American experience is?”
No matter how successful you are, you still have to understand that someone, somewhere, is still experiencing this unjust reality, and it became more vivid when we all had a moment to be home. I think the pandemic gave us an awakening that we needed, because we were able to bring all of those emotions. All of those emotions began to surface as a result of being able to look at what’s going on in the world.
I think the vivid video of an officer taking the life of George Floyd made everybody feel something. It didn’t matter what color you were. On Zoom conversations, I could feel it. I could feel the tension. I could feel white people saying, “Man, what can I do to adjust this reality that I know is there, but maybe I didn’t have to look at it before. Now I can see it and it’s very loud.” At that moment, that’s when I began to understand, “Man, I can’t literally do no more than actually feel and the emotion of just feeling, is more important than anything because that means I want to see something change. I want to use what I can to bring about the change that needs to happen in America and in the world.”