Under the tutelage of Sean “Diddy” Combs, USHER entered public consciousness in the early ’90s as a smooth, baby-faced teenager whose lack of vocal bass didn’t quite match up with the sexual undertones of his music. His 1994 self-titled debut was foundational in furthering Combs’ development of a new R&B sound that took production cues from hip-hop, but much of the album felt like an artist figuring out his sound in real time. When he returned three years later in 1997 with a deeper voice, a jawline that was no longer boyishly round, and musical direction from Atlanta producer extraordinaire Jermaine Dupri, the Usher Raymond we’ve grown to know and adore was introduced to the world. His sophomore album, My Way, traded those overtly hip-hop beats from The Hitmen for more fitting silky arrangements from Dupri and R&B maestro Babyface, which made a world of difference. On the album’s single “You Make Me Wanna…” USHER convincingly built on the soul music tradition of bellowing out to a prospective lover who makes you reconsider the lackluster relationship you’re currently enduring. A sweet falsetto, guitar strums that acted as ad libs, and dramatic heavy breathing helped “Nice & Slow” effectively melt the hearts of teenage girls through Walkman headphones and radio speakers. “Slow Jam,” a cover of a song that Babyface wrote for Midnight Star in the ’80s, recruited another teenage R&B phenom in Monica for a sultry ballad. And a Lil’ Kim appearance on “Just Like Me” provided USHER with useful grit. All throughout My Way, it became clear that he was more than the potential that was teased a few years prior. Now with proven juggernauts in his corner, USHER was becoming the model for a young star in the genre—clean cut, a big smile, designer goggles cocked to the side of his head, and a voice that resonated with Black youth.