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A love letter to Atlanta’s new generation from one of the city’s pioneers

In 2012, USHER released Looking 4 Myself, an album that largely took influence from the EDM and dubstep trends of the early 2010s. Around that same time, a regime change was happening within hip-hop, in which the stars of the 2000s weren’t directly informing youth culture in the ways they’d grown accustomed to. Instead, a new crop of artists were popping up from the streets of various regions around the country. In Chicago it was the Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame-inspired drill scene that introduced Chief Keef, Lil Reese and Lil Durk to the world. Meanwhile, A$AP Mob and collectives like the Joey Bada$$-led Pro Era were breathing new life into New York City rap after an extended dry spell.

Down in Atlanta, some soon-to-be generation-defining artists were starting to make their voices heard, moulding the sound that would go on to change how people all over the world approach the genre. In 2012, artists like Young Thug, Future and Migos were in the infancy of their eventual reigns. By 2016, they were already rap titans and influencing how chart-topping pop was being made, even outside of hip-hop culture. So when USHER made his return that year to drop Looking 4 Myself’s follow-up, he was at the perfect time in history to reach back to his home base while still being able to make smash hits. And that’s exactly what he does with Hard II Love, his eighth studio album.

The album places USHER in the middle of Atlanta’s new mainstream takeover, but unlike the mid-2000s when he was working with artists from the city who were his peers (Lil Jon, Ludacris, Jermaine Dupri, etc.), he was now taking on more of an OG role. A prime example of that relationship dynamic came with “No Limit”, which featured contributions from Young Thug, who shined on his verse but also added his signature wailing ad libs to fly under USHER’s crooning. “Rivals” with Future—whose R&B pen has been proven elite time after time—is an even better pairing. Then on “Make U a Believer”, USHER recruits production from Metro Boomin, one of the most crucial figures in Atlanta’s sound over the past decade. All throughout Hard II Love, USHER is constructing a love letter to his home.

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