38: Usher Raymond IV – Prioritizing What Really Matters in Life
“Philanthropy is the rent we pay to be on this planet.”
– Usher Raymond IV
Hey everybody, welcome back to ONKEN RADIO, the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey!
Today, I want to talk to you about priorities. Our lives are busy, right? As creatives, we’re constantly hustling to keep making, keep growing, and keep alchemizing our gifts into something beautiful. But sometimes, our true priorities get lost in the chaos of it all, and it can be challenging to find our way back to alignment with ourselves.
I want to ask you some questions: What are your true values? What relationships matter most to you in this life? How are you investing your time?
My guest today has a genuinely passionate heart, so I thought he would be the perfect person to bring on the show and discuss some of those questions. You’ve probably heard of him — his name is Usher.
If you haven’t heard of Usher, you can give him a Google. But seriously, this man is a legend. I met him a couple of years ago on vacation with our mutual friend Scooter Braun, we got to talking and hanging out a little bit, and today I have the pleasure of joining him in his studio in Philly for a little podcast recording.
And our conversation is incredible. Today, Usher and I are going deep on the things that matter most. We’re going to talk about family — both our literal families and our found families — and how the people around us shape our lives and careers. Then we talk about personal passion and how, as creatives, we have to be driven by love for the craft and desire to connect with an audience. And finally, we get into Usher’s philanthropy work and talk about the importance of mentoring the younger generations.
I am so excited to be bringing you this interview today. Usher is a huge inspiration for me personally, and I know his wisdom will inspire you too — let’s dive in.
Who Is Usher Raymond IV?
Usher is an absolute icon. He’s an international pop star who has been turning out hits for over 20 years now. He’s a talented musician, vocalist, dancer, and showman. And I think the most impressive thing about Usher’s artistry is his ability to bring all of his talents and performance elements together to create a live experience that is unlike any other.
It’s no wonder Usher’s gotten so good at what he does — he’s been doing it since he was just 15 years old. Up until that point, he’d sung in the church choir and been part of a little dance group with some friends, but at 15, he moved to New York City to really try to become a professional recording artist.
With the help of some of the all-time great producers like Sean “Puffy” Combs, Usher released his first album, Usher, in 1994. Since then, he’s released six more studio albums and sold over 65 million records.
65 f***ing million.
With staggering numbers like that, you might expect Usher to act like he’s far above the rest of the world. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Usher’s success has driven him to give back. He remembers what it was like to be 15 and have a little bit of talent and a dream, and that’s why he created Usher’s New Look, a non-profit organization that works with under-resourced young people to help them grow into influential world leaders in every field.
But beyond being an insane creative force and a philanthropic giant in this world, Usher is one of the most grounded people I know. Even though his music career has taken him to heights plenty of people only dream of, he remains firmly rooted in his family and work ethic. As a self-professed, “Southern boy,” Usher has a deep respect for his roots, and he knows that his family is the start and end of his career. Let’s jump into the interview and talk about why the people we love should be our first priority.
“It Takes a Village”
One of the truly inspiring pieces of wisdom Usher shared with me was the essential nature of family. Usher speaks so lovingly of his kids, and he fundamentally believes the old adage that “it takes a village” to grow a family.
“Raising family — raising kids, period — is a collaborative effort. It takes a village, and that’s the culture that I come from. That’s the culture that I not only come from, but I endorse it. … I kind of use this mantra: We’re raising future adults, not raising kids. So I try to talk to them and give them the understanding and patience that life necessarily can’t give them so that they’ll make better decisions …”
– Usher Raymond IV
Having a family of his own keeps Usher grounded in the real world. Even when he’s playing a show for a massive audience on the other side of the world, he remembers that he has sons at home who love him and rely on him, and that keeps him grounded.
Who are the people who keep you grounded? They don’t have to be your children, although they can be. Maybe your partner keeps you grounded. Maybe it’s a parent or grandparent or sibling. Whoever those people are for you, make sure you take some time to express your gratitude to them.
And by the way, your “family” doesn’t have to be your literal, biological family. “Found families” are just as important and capable of keeping you grounded as you pursue your creative passions. Usher knows this from experience. His dad was not the supportive presence he needed as a kid, so he learned to look for support in the other people who cared about him and his career.
“The validation of a dad … gives you a certain confidence. I was very eager for that, but I was also too talented, and I was able to recognize what those talents were at a very young age. So I used them to get the attention that I wanted from people … because I think my father wasn’t necessarily there to validate me and give me that. … For the most part, I really found my way because I had such support from everybody else. It goes back kind of to my philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child. I’m a product of it.”
– Usher Raymond IV
Who are the people who have helped you in your career? Have you had a mentor or a particular contact who came along and helped you? Do you have a friend who has helped fuel your creative passion? I want to encourage you to lean into those relationships. Let those people know you appreciate them, and find ways to invest in them too. Maintaining those powerful relationships has incredible power to keep you grounded.
“I Found My Way … Through Passion”
If you’re listening to this podcast, chances are you could be a creative entrepreneur of some kind, and that means you know what it is to have passion. You know what it is to love a craft.
But it’s not enough just to love it. You have to let your passion drive you. You have to be willing to hustle and work hard if you’re going to build a career and a lifestyle around your creative work.
“I just found my way to it through passion. … I moved to New York City at the age of 15 and kind of began to make my way … I put out my first album; it didn’t do as well as anybody expected. … This is when the most important part of who I am was developed. … I had to work for the audience’s attention and approval because it wasn’t a hit record.”
– Usher Raymond IV
Usher is a living testament to the power of a strong work ethic. I mean, it seems hard to believe because he is so big and so talented today, but there really was a time when he had to hustle to earn an audience.
And during that time, he could have given up. He could have thrown in the towel, gone back home to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and settled into a very different life. But he was too passionate about the art of singing and dancing to do that. He kept working and kept trying, and eventually, he found the audience who would respond to his work.
“It was great, man. I mean it. Hey, they say [if] you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere in the world. So I had to figure a lot of shit out. I had to figure out how to take care of myself, figure out how to stay connected to my purpose, but also to learn and absorb the environment. It was about hustle. … I didn’t want to go to New York for the experience, I wanted a career. … I had a plan. I had a passion and a focus, and I wanted to get it done.”
– Usher Raymond IV
Usher worked hard to make it to where he is, and he continues to work hard to this day. He knows that to be truly successful, you have to keep putting in the work and growing as a creative person.
Are you letting your passion drive you? Are you prioritizing your creative work? What creative pursuits do you need to work on in your life right now?
“The Rent You Pay to Be On This Planet”
Usher has had an epic career, and he’s still on the rise. But as we’ve established, he’s really good at staying grounded. By remaining plugged into his core relationships and letting his passion continue to drive him, he’s only become more successful. But Usher realizes that his own personal success isn’t the only thing that matters — he knows it’s essential to give back, too.
“[Philanthropy is] kind of the rent you pay to be on this planet — I think Muhammad Ali said that. … You got to do something positive for someone else.”
– Usher Raymond IV
Usher knows that to stay grounded and make sure he’s truly making a difference, he has to give back. That’s why he started Usher’s New Look. He believes so strongly in the power that young people can have to build beautiful and influential lives, so he does his best to provide a space for young people to thrive.
It reminds me of what Usher was saying earlier — it takes a village to raise a child. Growing up, it took a village to raise Usher. It’s taken a village to elevate his career to the level it’s at. Now, Usher’s turning that around — he’s building a new village to help raise other lives and careers with the expectation that the people he helps will turn around and do the same for those who come up after them.
Be a Creative Alchemist with Usher Raymond IV
Usher is an incredible inspiration to me, not only because of his successful artistic career but because he has his priorities straight. He loves his family, he has a passion for his art, and he gives back to his community. Those three things keep him centered and grounded, and they’re the reasons behind his success.
Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.
With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens of which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes, but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemic processes, and Usher is one of these incredible Creative Alchemists.
If I could leave you with one piece of advice from Usher today, it would be this:
“Find something you love and do it and be unwavering. Be fearless because [there’s] going to be a lot of … obstacles that are going to come your way. But if you really do love it — if you know that this is something that you have a deep passion for — don’t quit. Don’t give up.”
– Usher Raymond IV
To all you creative entrepreneurs out there — don’t give up. Keep your priorities straight, and keep working. If you take care of your relationships, work hard, and remember to give back, you’ll find the success you’re dreaming of.
Thanks so much for joining me today, guys! I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did, please leave me a good review over on Apple Podcasts. And, if you’re so inclined, screenshot the episode and post it to Instagram. And don’t forget to tag me, @nickonken. I’d love to hear how this episode inspired you.
Until next time —
“Evolve or evaporate.”
– Usher Raymond IV
Some things we learn in this podcast:
- What’s going on in Usher’s world [1:00]
- The role of family in entertainment. Handpicked and blood [2:45]
- How to keep the family together while living on the road [5:00]
- What it’s like growing up without a father [10:10]
- When and how Usher decided he was going to be a singer [11:45]
- What’s it’s like moving to New York as a 15 year old kid [17:00]
- Lessons in integrity [19:00]
- Usher’s creative vision when starting out in the industry [22:15]
- How the need to maintain effected Usher’s creative authenticity [26:20]
- On evolving philosophy of music and how it’s done [30:15]
- How to stay authentic to yourself while managing label/audience expectations [36:00]
- Where the latest inspiration comes from [37:20]
- Philanthropy and where it started from [41:40]
- Other artists Usher mentions:
- Reinterpreting A Clockwork Orange with My Way
- Check out Hands of Stone when it comes out where Usher plays Roberto Duran
- Learn more about the New Look Foundation
- Music Credit: Climax & Yeah by Usher