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Published: Sunday, 11/20/2005

Usher, Inc.

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Usher Raymond IV has the business of his life mapped out in such airtight fashion, it's as if he was presented with his very own guidebook at birth.

"I'm a jack of many trades, a Renaissance young man," the 27-year-old entertainer said in a recent phone interview from his hometown of Atlanta.

Usher chuckled after the statement as if uncomfortable with the bold proclamation, but his nervous laughter quickly gave way to a confidence so smooth it was reminiscent of the way he glides on stage and in music videos in sleek Michael Jackson-like fashion.

"Acting was, is, and always will be a major priority in my life. I'm the part-owner of a basketball team [the Cleveland Cavaliers], the executive of a record company - these are all new territories for me. But what drives me is to do things I've never tried before, that drives me as an artist," he said.

The superstar, who nabbed 15 Grammy nominations for his chart-busting single Yeah! and fourth album "Confessions" last year, selling more than 2.8 million copies, is set to debut in his first lead acting role in the Wednesday release of In The Mix, a Lions Gate romantic comedy/action film that has Usher playing a popular New York disc jockey named Darrell.

Usher's former acting credits include The Faculty, Light It Up, She's All That, Moesha, and Texas Rangers.

When asked why he didn't pick a more serious genre than romantic comedy for his first lead role, Usher was quick to defend the film's story line.

"We initially aimed for a Thanksgiving release and we got it. I felt like this is the perfect type of film during this time of the season. It's a natural fit, and I wanted to pick a film that caters toward the demographic that I've obtained as a music artist. I didn't want to go for something too serious for my fans who are 3 years old to in their 50s. I wanted to get my feet wet and to keep that interest with my fan base. I think this movie does it," he said.

In the film, directed by Ron Underwood (City Slickers), Usher plays a DJ who takes a bullet for the mafia king (Chazz Palminteri) and later becomes a bodyguard for the mobster's daughter (Emmanuelle Chriqui), which naturally creates some romantic chemistry as well as mob action.

In addition to the film, Usher's new record label, US Records, will launch the film's soundtrack and a roster of new artists.

Usher said the In The Mix soundtrack, for which he serves as writer and producer, is scheduled to hit stores Tuesday. It includes artists such as Chris Brown, Christina Milian, Juelz Santana, Anthony Hamilton, Paul Wall, and Young Bloodz. It will debut US Records' rapper Rico Love, R&B group One Chance, and solo singer Rayan. Usher appears on only one track.

The seasoned celebrity, who entered the entertainment industry at age 14, is articulate, poised, and as smooth with his responses to questions as he is in every ripped-abs-exposed album cover, mini-movie music video, and Armani-clad photo shoot.

Usher was born in Dallas and moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., where he lived until moving to Atlanta at age 12. His musical roots, like those of so many African-American performers, started in the church where at the age of 6 he sang in a choir led by his mother. His first taste of professional success came at 14, when a record executive with LaFace Records spotted him performing in a talent show.

Since then Usher has routinely mixed with the best in the recording industry. In 1994, his self-titled "Usher" album was released, co-produced by Diddy (fomerly known as P. Diddy, Sean Puffy Combs, and Puff Daddy). Coca-Cola then asked the new kid on the block to do a jingle for the holidays. He teamed up with R&B singer Monica on her album for an old-school remake of the classic song Let's Straighten It Out, which had critics likening him to a young Marvin Gaye.

High school graduation came in 1997, and then the release of his second album, "My Way." Janet Jackson snagged him as the opening act for her Velvet Rope Tour, and in 2001, Usher released the album "8701," which was the beginning of the more grown-up, hip-hop, and edgier Usher that fans know today.

His latest album, "Confessions" released in March, 2004, catapulted him to superstardom, helping him win five Grammys and numerous other music awards and paving the way for him to enter the business world.

Usher, who Rolling Stone magazine said made $25.8 million last year, said ownership of the Cavs is just one part of his overall business plan.

When asked why he didn't affiliate himself with his hometown Atlanta Hawks, Usher admitted that Cavs star LeBron James, whom he said he met several times before becoming part-owner, was an obvious factor.

"I also wanted to be associated with winners and I'm willing to dare to be different, and to also brand myself as someone associated with youth. You have LeBron, who is the most sought-after individual in the NBA. I wanted to build a team alongside with him and Coach [Mike] Brown," said Usher, who joins other hip-hop recording artists who double as part-owners of NBA teams, including Jay-Z and the New Jersey Nets, and Nelly with the Charlotte Bobcats.

"It's another tier for me as a businessman. Cleveland is now my home away from home. I'm totally there to promote Cleveland pride and to rally our players and meet and sign autographs for the fans," said Usher, who adds that he also sits at the table when business decisions are made regarding the team's roster.

A future metamorphosis of the music icon is not beyond his "business plan."

"My goal two years ago was to become a businessman. I wanted to look for a very diverse portfolio. People like LA Reid and Berry Gordy set their standards of entertainment for the industry, and I'm in this position to be groomed to be creative," he said.

While Usher's mother, Jonnetta Patton, played a huge role in his early years, acting as his manager, the artist, who sometimes refers to his mother by her first name, said she still is involved in his work.

"I don't have 100 percent ownership in my career and what I've become. This is not just something I single-handedly did. But now I'm in a position to be a businessman, but my mother still acts as my manager. In every aspect of my life, I want to have those people in place that always should be there that have my best interest at heart."

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.



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