8701 is the third studio album by American singer Usher; it was first released on August 7, 2001, by Arista Records. Recording was handled by several producers including The Neptunes, Jermaine Dupri, Babyface, Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Mike City, Bryan Michael Cox, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. It was intended for an October 31, 2000 release under the title All About U, the album was delayed numerous times, following the leak of several tracks onto the online music store Napster. Usher subsequently recorded new tracks and released the album under the new title, 8701, which is derived from Usher singing for the first time in his local church in 1987 and the album's release date of 2001.
8701 takes inspiration from multiple artists, including Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson. It follows the theme of Usher's relationship experience, along with the emotions of love and heartache. Usher promoted the album by embarking on the supporting tour, Evolution 8701 Tour in 2002, to which it he performed in forty-four shows across North America. He also made appearances in television shows, including Live! with Kelly and Total Request Live. 8701 produced two Billboard Hot 100 number one singles – "U Remind Me" and "U Got It Bad" stayed on top for four and five weeks, respectively.
The album debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200 chart, with 210,000 copies sold in its first week. It has sold over 4.7 million copies in the United States, receiving a 4× platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); worldwide sales stand at over eight million. 8701 received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised Usher's vocals and development as an artist, but were ambivalent towards some of the album's material. The album earned Usher numerous awards, including two Grammy Awards, three Billboard Music Awards and a BET Award.
Usher had initially planned to release the album entitled All About U, as his third studio album on October 31, 2000. The album was to follow his successful My Way (1997) which to date, has sold over seven million copies. On March 13, 2000, multiple tracks from the album had leaked on to online music store Napster several months prior to its release, including "T.T.P.", "U R the One" and "Pop Ya Collar". Following the event, the album's release was delayed twice, on December 5, 2000 to July 17, 2001. During the taping of MTV Icon Janet Jackson special, Usher explained that he returned to the studios to record new songs, stating "I didn't want that to be the way my record was remembered or the way I would present that to my fans [...] It turned out a lot better" while adding that tracks that were available for download on the site were not going to be included on the new album. With new tracks produced, Usher's publicist announced a new name for the album, under the title 8701, who claims that it is "practically a new album". The origin of its new name was initially unknown, with speculation that it subsides with its US release of August 7, 2001 (8/7/01), though Usher's publicist claimed that this was purely coincidental, and was not the reasoning for the title. Usher hinted that it was derived after something significant to him, and he would disclose it in the upcoming months. Eventually, his spokesperson revealed that the '87' segment of the title refers to the year 1987, when Usher sang in public for the first time at his church in Atlanta, with the '01' referring to the year 2001.
8701 was recorded in the United States, in the cities of Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis and Atlanta. The album's production was handled by several producers including The Neptunes, Jermaine Dupri, P. Diddy—who had produced the majority of Usher's previous album, My Way—Babyface, Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Mike City, Bryan Michael Cox and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Both Jam and Lewis were asked by Usher's mother, and then manager, to contribute to 8701's production, during the 2000 MTV Music Awards. According to Jam, his mother had said "Oh my God, Usher's got this track and we thought you guys would be perfect to produce it". Several months later, Jam and Lewis produced the song "Separated", along with multi-platinum producers Ric Atari & Daron Jones (who also wrote the record) to which the producers then turned in to L.A. Reid, who liked the track, and asked them to produce more. Following this, Usher asked both producers to create a song similar to their 1985 "Tender Love", performed by R&B vocal group Force MDs. Though he wanted it to be his own unique record, which contains a small similarity, to which Jam and Lewis created "Can U Help Me". Following the completion of 8701, Jam and Lewis were sent back to the studio by Reid to revamp the album's second single "U Remind Me", explaining "we already know he can dance, and he's got the style and that whole thing. But I want people to just go, he can sing.
In an interview with MTV, Usher commented that lyrically, 8701 represents his "soul", and elaborated by explaining that he was inspired by love and heartache; "I listen to a lot of Donny Hathaway's, Stevie Wonder's, Marvin Gaye's and Michael Jackson's earlier records, those Motown greats. There's a little bit of all of that in the album. I really appreciate what music was back then as well as in the early '90s when you had artists like Troop and Jodeci, and Michael Jackson was in his prime." Usher explained that the album's lyrics also reflect on what has been going on with his relationship; 8701 is predominantly an R&B album. "Can U Help Me", is about a deep relationship to which Usher experienced. "U Don't Have to Call" is a hip-hop song inspired by Jackson, while "U Got It Bad" is an R&B slow-jam. About "U Got It Bad", Kyle Anderson of MTV wrote that it makes use of the acoustic guitar and a "slow-burning bassline" throughout. The album's lead single "U Remind Me" is also an R&B track, and its lyrics is based on meeting a woman who reminds Usher of an ex-girlfriend, and therefore cannot date her.
"Pop Ya Collar" was released from Usher's previously intended third studio album All About U as the first single. Following the song's leak on online music store Napster, along with several other tracks, it was added to some editions of 8701. It entered and peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart, but achieved less success in the United States, with a peak of number sixty on the Billboard Hot 100 and number twenty-five on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. 8701's first official single was "U Remind Me", released on June 19, 2001. The song sold nearly 100,000 copies in its opening week; it received positive reviews from most critics, who cited it as a highlight from the album. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100, for four consecutive weeks. "U Remind Me" also reached the top five in several countries, including France, Belgium (Wallonia), New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia. It has been certified platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) and gold by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ). "I Don't Know", featuring rapper-producer P. Diddy, was planned as the album's second single. It was receiving radio play prior to the release of "U Remind Me" peaking at #68 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and a video was to be produced in Los Angeles, directed by the latter artist.
The album's second single was instead "U Got It Bad", released on September 4, 2001. The song, like its predecessor, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, for five weeks. It remained number one for one week, before being replaced by Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" for four weeks. The song then returned to the top, replacing the latter for four more weeks. "U Got It Bad" also achieved chart success in other territories, reaching the top five in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. The song has been certified gold by both the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ). "U Don't Have to Call" was released as the third single, on January 12, 2002. It impacted the Hot 100, peaking at number three, and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, at number two. It was released with P. Diddy's "I Need a Girl (Part One)" in the UK as a B-side single, and reached number four. "U-Turn" was released as the album's 4th single, on April 30, 2002 as an international single. It reached the top-ten in Belgium and Australia. "Can U Help Me" was released as the album's final single, on August 20, 2002. It peaked at #57 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and #30 on the Rhythmic Top 40 chart.
Usher initially planned to release his third studio album on October 31, 2000 under the title All About U, but due to the leak of multiple tracks several months prior to the date, it was delayed. First to December 5, 2000 it was delayed again to July 17, 2001. In regards to this, Usher commented that "Pushing the record back was a risk, but I thought it would build anticipation". 8701's final release date was August 7, 2001, on Arista Records, in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. On the day of release of the album in the United States, to which Arista labelled as "Usher day", Usher performed the album's lead single "U Remind Me" on the show Live! with Regis and Kelly. He also performed the single during the 2001 BET Awards and the United We Stand: What More Can I Give concert at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., which was held in tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Usher appeared on Total Request Live, attended an auto-graph signing session in a Virgin mega store, and a listening session for the album in the Planet Hollywood restaurant. Usher performed "U Got It Bad" at the 2001 American Music Awards, and again on June 16, 2002 at the Tweeter Center along with "U Don't Have to Call" during his concert.
8701 received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 67, based on 11 reviews. NME's Lucy O'Brien commended Usher for producing a more mature album, that "reflects his emotional experience" writing "Versatility is the key here: staccato beats with mellifluous melody, rich slow-jams and edgy harmonies – but woven through with Usher's own perspective. A winner." BBC Online's Christian Hopwood also favoured the album, commenting on how Usher has developed "his producing, singing and song writing skills to a new level" noting his contribution to twelve of the seventeen tracks. Dan Leroy of Yahoo! Music declared the album an improvement "over Usher's "old" new album"—All About You—and depicted it as his best work to-date. Leroy credited the production groups The Neptunes and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, depicting that they have done "some of their best work" on the album. J. D. Considine of Blender commented that the album "does what it's supposed to, giving Usher a grown-up R&B sound without reducing his boyish charm". Kathryn McGuire of Rolling Stone described Usher's vocals as "velvety" and further wrote that "Amid all the playboy pouting and preening, Usher's vocals are impressively adaptable [...]. McGuire noted the album's primary fault is that "Usher never surrenders his meticulously groomed veneer", with every track being formulaic, or "radio-safe".
Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine noted the distinction between several of the album's songs with Janet Jackson's, while comparing Usher's vocals to that of another Jackson member, Michael Jackson "[...] bring out the other Jackson in Usher, bolstering falsetto vocal bridges on "I Don't Know" and "U Don't Have to Call" that are undeniably Pop Royalty." Vibe's Jason King complimented some of the material on the album, but was disappointed with the "heavyweight producers" not producing any "masterpieces". Stephen Erlewine of Allmusic gave a positive opinion on Usher's development, writing "He looks good, his material is smooth and seductive, and he has a nice voice, even if he tends to favor melisma". Erlewine also labelled the album as "a classy, seductive affair" but was ambivalent towards its material, due to the lack of memorable tracks. Entertainment Weekly's Josh Tyrangiel said that the tracks "blend harmlessly together", but was ambivalent towards the quality of the songs produced after Usher's four-year hiatus.
The album earned Usher numerous accolades. At the 44th Grammy Awards he won his first Grammy, for Best R&B Vocal Performance Male (for "U Remind Me"). The following year, at the 45th Grammy Awards, he won the award again, for "U Don't Have to Call". As an act Usher won several awards, including three Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards in 2002, for Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Artist, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Male Artist and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Artist, and a BET Award for Best R&B Artist. At the 2002 Soul Train Music Awards, the album earned him an award for Male R&B/Soul Album. In December 2009, the album and its single, "U Got It Bad", were ranked as some of the best records of the 2000–2009 decade. The former was positioned at number sixty-three and the latter at number fifteen, respectively, on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 Decade-End Charts. In 2008, "U Got It Bad" was ranked as one of the all-time Hot 100 songs, positioned at number ninety-nine.
The album debuted at number-four on the US Billboard 200 Chart selling 210,000 copies in its first week; it was the second highest debut of the week, behind Isley Brothers' Eternal. The album exceeded its predecessor's sales, My Way (1997), which debuted at number fifteen selling 66,000 copies in its opening week. Eighteen weeks after the release of 8701, it had sold 1.94 million copies, and was predicted to be on pace to out-sell My Way, which sold 1.32 million units during the same period. On the week of February 25, 2002 8701's total sales stood at 3.2 million and it was charted at number eleven on the Billboard 200. By March 9, 2010 the album had sold 4.7 million copies in the United States, and had received a 4× platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
The album debuted atop the Canadian Albums Chart, and spent three weeks on the chart. It topped the UK Albums Chart on the week ending August 21, 2001, and remained on it for forty-seven weeks before dropping out. The album was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). On the Australian Albums Chart, 8701 peaked at number seven, and remained on the chart for forty-three weeks. It was certified 2× platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). The album debuted in the top five on the Danish Albums Chart and Belgium Albums Chart (Wallonia). It debuted in the top ten in several countries, including New Zealand, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway. By November 2010, the album had sold over 8 million copies worldwide.
(*) Denotes co-producer
Credits for 8701 adapted from Allmusic.David Ashton – assistant engineer
Babyface – guest artist
Dave Barry – guest artist
Bryan-Michael Cox – instrumentation, producer
Jermaine Dupri – guest artist
Kevon Edmonds – guest artist
Brian Garten – engineer
Kevin Guarnieri – assistant engineer, engineer
Jimmy Jam – guest artist
Kelis – guest artist
Terry Lewis – guest artist
Puff Daddy – performer, primary artist, featured artist, guest artist
David Rideau – engineer
Usher – primary artist, vocals