Sean Garrett has always been nice with the pen, and his latest slice of seductive songwriting sees him reunite with Usher for the R&B legend’s latest single, “GLU” — check it out below.
Released earlier this month, “GLU” is a sexually-charged slow jam that hears Usher show off the range of his falsetto in a way he’s never done before. In addition to writing the song, Garrett also co-produced it with Lil Jon — who he previously collaborated with on Usher’s earth-shattering 2004 hit “Yeah!” and Ciara‘s “Goodies” — and Bobby Avila of the Avila Brothers.
Creating what sounds like a musical cocktail containing elements of Prince and D’Angelo with a dash of Miguel, Sean Garrett spoke with HipHopDX about the song’s inception, how he helped Usher “get back to business” and silence his doubters, and why he feels R&B needed a wake-up call.
“We wanted to touch on giving Usher something that he had never done before,” Garrett told DX, explaining the thinking behind “GLU.” “It had also been a long time since we heard Usher make love on a record. It’s very sensual, it’s very sexy, but at the same time, it ain’t something that’s kinda like an old vibe, it was just mixing emotions. And of course, you’re definitely gonna hear the soul of, you know, Prince is someone that’s just in us.”
The music for “GLU” was recorded earlier this year in Las Vegas. But while some might assume this was because Usher has been spending a lot of his time in Sin City due to his hugely popular residency at the Park MGM, it was actually because Lil Jon is a hard man to pin down.
“We didn’t even let Usher hear the record until we were finished. We didn’t collaborate [in Vegas],” Garrett explained. “We actually just went out there because me and Jon were trying to figure out a place for us to work ’cause Jon be on the road doing shows, as well as doing DJ sets and stuff like that. So Vegas was a good meeting ground for us to go out and get down.”
Originally it was just Sean Garrett and Lil Jon who were set to work on the record until the King of Crunk suggested they bring on Bobby Avila — an idea Garrett loved. “My man Bobby plays every instrument you could think of,” he said. “I just love collaborating with him. He’s such an incredible musician.” Bobby’s brother, Iz Avila, wasn’t as involved as he usually would be, but he did give the trio “a few little thoughts and feelings” on the bridge.
Going into a bit more detail about the idea behind the creation of “GLU,” Garrett said they wanted “to create something from scratch, we wanted to create something very emotional, something that could definitely cut through in a way that it would touch people in their soul again.”
“I think we got into a place where it felt like music was just kind of, I don’t know, it just wasn’t — it didn’t feel like we were doing music that was really touching us in the soul anymore,” he added. “For me, it felt like it was becoming a little bit mundane.”
If the comments on the song’s official lyric video are anything to go by, it looks like they achieved what they set out to do. “R&B is still living,” one fan wrote, while another added: “One thing Usher is going to do is make a masterpiece that he stuck his whole foot in. Instant R&B song of year contender.”
The song, which is the first official single from Usher’s long-awaited ninth studio album, almost didn’t happen. According to Garrett, because Usher had cut so many records for the album — tentatively known as Confessions 2 — he didn’t want to record any more.
“L.A. [Reid] was like, ‘Sean, he done cut so many damn records, he don’t wanna cut no more,'” Garrett recalled. “And I was like, ‘Oh shit, so he’s not gonna cut this one?'” After playing the demo and hearing Garrett’s vocal reference, Usher liked the record and agreed to record it, laying down his vocals at Tricky Stewart‘s studio in Atlanta. “It came about really thorough,” Garrett said, also giving props to engineer Manny Marroquin for the “impeccable mix.”
It was actually L.A. Reid who sparked the idea for the record. “I was talking to L.A. and he was basically saying that Usher never had, or hadn’t in a long time, had a sex record, a really sexy-ass record,” Garrett explained. “So I was like, ‘Hold on a minute, we’re gonna go get something together.'”
“It was just time for Usher to get back to business,” he continued. “The idea was to push him to the next level, to his fullest potential of being able to have one of the best vocal performances we’ve heard in a long time.
“At first he didn’t want me to come in the studio. He didn’t want me to come in because I think he was wanting to work the shit out for himself … I’m always trying to push the envelope when it comes to music, so I really wanted to push him out of his comfort zone. And to be honest with you, there were a couple of times where he was like, ‘Sean, I don’t know about this falsetto the entire time.'”
A week before the release of “GLU,” Usher took to TikTok to announce that he was about to “wake up R&B.” The My Way hitmaker shared a video of himself strutting through the halls of what appeared to be his home in a white bathrobe and black slippers, captioning the post: “Me on my way to wake up R&B…”
Usher says he's about to "wake up R&B"https://t.co/52WCdDsvQrpic.twitter.com/6G0lxznXKX
— HipHopDX (@HipHopDX) March 11, 2023
Asked whether “GLU” is that wake-up call, Sean Garrett said he believes it is and that the track has also silenced those who may have doubted Usher’s star power and vocal capabilities.
“I don’t want to be facetious and give my opinion about what I think this record is going to do for R&B; I’ll let the fans tell us,” he told DX. “But in my opinion, yeah, I think this is a wake-up call. Because I felt like Usher heard everyone loud and clear — the doubters.
“Not to speak for him, but I feel like he’s been through a lot, man. I think it’s a blessing when you have the opportunity to become an icon, right? Or to become someone of a legend. And for some odd, strange reason people like to question you, question your values sometimes, or shit, for lack of better words, second-guess you. And I think the things that happen to us in life can somehow play into the doubters hands. So sometimes you gotta check a muthafucka.”
“That’s where we at, we back at it,” Garrett added. “It’s about pushing the envelope and not doing shit that’s predictable. I think that’s another thing too that is really important for someone like Usher, being unapologetic by being amazingly surprising.”
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years surrounding R&B’s popularity and relevance in today’s mainstream market. Once one of the most popular genres in the world, it has seemingly been swept to the side over time, with some blaming its downturn on the number of rappers opting to sing their own tracks instead of recruiting a singer to do it, and the consumer not being bothered by this apparent decline in quality.
In August last year, Diddy — who recently launched his own R&B label, Love Records — sparked a spirited debate when he proclaimed that the genre was “dead.” Usher was among the many people who responded to the Bad Boy mogul’s claim.
“When I do hear people, even like Puff saying, you know, R&B is dead, he sounds nuts to me,” Usher said during an interview on SiriusXMa week after Diddy’s comments. “It sounds crazy. You know, especially knowing he was a pioneer in understanding and [being a] beneficiary of it.
“You know, the source that is R&B created the breath of life that was breathed into Hip Hop. It wouldn’t be — there would be no Hip Hop if there were not R&B, so it’s blasphemous to hear me say, to hear people say anything, especially Hip Hop cats, to say anything about R&B.”
Sean Garrett agrees Hip Hop played a part in the decline of R&B, but not because rappers started to sing. Instead he thinks it has more to do with them having their finger on the pulse more and how “real” they are.
“I feel like there’s a piece of R&B that’s about being real, too,” he explained. “You got Hip Hop artists like Lil Baby or Lil Durk, or Drake, 21 Savage. Love ’em or hate ‘em, they tend to have had their finger on the pulse of women. Girls like what they’re offering, and I feel like the R&B artists hadn’t stepped up to the plate in a real-ass way. You can’t just be no subpar-ass artist trying to compete with those guys. You’ve got to really slap a muthafucka’s head off.”
He continued: “So I think what happened was, yeah, to a certain extent, Hip Hop had started to influence the culture in a way that was putting pressure on R&B. It just didn’t seem like the R&B artists that was out, they just wasn’t bringing that culture. Like, if you want to do something, no matter what it is, you got to do that shit like Ma$e would say: like you doing it for TV.”
As far as his own music, Sean Garrett hasn’t released a full-length album since 2008’s Turbo 919, which features collaborations with Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams and more. However, he’s now working on a follow-up which is “probably like halfway done.”
“I miss performing on stage. I miss sharing my music and my ideas with the world,” Garret told DX of his reason to step back into artist mode. “I feel like people love me. You either love me for the music that I create as an artist, or you either love me as a hitmaker. Or some people just love me as a songwriter. Some people love me as a super producer. But I love the love however I get it. It’s always beautiful.
“And being that I grew up abroad as well, just having fans all around the world, they appreciate you for the different things you do or admire you for, sometimes I would probably say the smallest things. That shit is just rewarding.”
Circling back to “GLU,” Garrett concluded: “Like a moment like this. We went through a lot of shit to get this song done, and so this is one of those records to be very honest with you, it means a lot. It really does. To have people appreciate it, to have people love it, that shit means a lot.”