We’ve got used to seeing R&B singers in command of their tracks – the beats and music arranging themselves around a star’s performance, discreetly ensuring the best possible setting for their voice. That’s especially been the case for male R&B performers, whose silky confidence or swagger generally gets a performance-enhancing shot from the producers.

“Yeah!” gives us something different. The production here dominates and intoxicates – that repeating pair of 4-note figures played on synths loud enough to be bullhorns; the slow hammer of the beat and whomp of the bass; the shouts of Lil Jon in his hypeman role. This is crunk’n’B, a hard, deep, minimal sound built for the club and built to turn any space where it’s played loud enough into the club. And on the floor of the club, stardom always has to be earned.

It’s not that Usher sounds overwhelmed or even vulnerable in this setting, but he’s not in charge of it. His light, boyish singing style has to prove it works here, which makes “Yeah!” an instant standout in a catalogue so far marked by a sort of effortless presumption of heat. Here he sounds sexier than ever because we’re hearing him work a little, adapt to the production and manage to create a throughline of smoothness in this arena of beats and sweat.

Even so he can only manage half the song. The last verse is taken care of by Ludacris, who at this point seemed to be guesting on a song a week, and why not? He provided excellent value. Ludacris’ rubbery, rapid-paced drawl was a perfect voice for guest verses, like Nicki Minaj later on: someone weird and skilful enough to add spice to a track even if you only gave them a few bars to play with.

But here Lil Jon’s beat makes Luda seem less like a weirdo popping his head round the studio door and more like an old hand, a native of the booming, bumping environment who’s showing his country cousin around. He fits “Yeah!”’s beat better than its actual star, which paradoxically makes his verse less memorable – the joy of this song is the way its smooth frontman and dirty backing don’t quite mesh, and the way we get to hear the negotiations between them play out on record.

Score: 8

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