’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Nice & Slow”
The one hundred fifteenth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Nice & Slow” by Usher. This track was the Atlanta entertainer’s first chart-topper, appropriately ascending to the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 in the magazine’s Valentine’s Day issue. Usher had gained minor attention earlier in the ’90s with modestly successful R&B singles from his eponymous debut CD, but it was his sophomore effort, My Way, that elevated his star. “Nice & Slow” was the second single off that disc, following his seven-week stay at No. 2 with his debut single, “You Make Me Wanna…,” and preceding a three-week stay at No. 2 with his third single, “My Way.”
Over the two decades since “Nice & Slow,” Usher has accumulated hit after hit after hit, as well numerous critical accolades including eight Grammys, eventually becoming, in America, the most successful solo male artist since Michael Jackson. Usher has, as of this writing, racked up 50 Hot 100 entries, including 18 Top 10s and nine No. 1s. He was particularly unstoppable in 2004, with four No. 1 hits off Confessions, the best-selling album of that year with 20 million worldwide sales to date.
Usher is immensely talented, as a singer, songwriter and dancer. He has matured noticeably during his career, releasing what we consider his best music in the 2010s, with songs like “Climax,” “Scream” and “Crash.” As an early work, “Nice & Slow” is underwhelming when stacked against what he’d eventually release. It’s a textbook bedroom torch song during which the protagonist picks up a woman and drives around considering where they should copulate, while assuring her that he’s not pressed for time. In keeping with the title, the instrumental is nice — i.e., mellow, and not very innovative — and the tempo is slow.
Let’s listen again to “Nice & Slow”:
This recording attempts to arouse, but the only thing it arouses in us is a need to yawn. Even at the time, “Nice & Slow” sounded so much like any randomly chosen R&B ballad that we didn’t understand its breakout appeal. Who bought this single? Why? What “Nice & Slow” does succeed at doing, however, is further establishing Usher’s lascivious persona. The track was produced by prolific and influential R&B mogul Jermaine Dupri, but by 1998, this type of music was getting particularly tired. Or maybe we were just tired of it. Soon after, Timbaland, Irv Gotti and even Dupri would bring updated sonic influences to this genre, and relegate this type of music to the ’90s.
Does it hold up? It doesn’t. The instrumental is dated, and the syrupy psuedo-seduction angle is supremely corny in retrospect, especially when accompanied by this video, which languishes as only the 22nd most viewed clip on Usher’s Vevo channel as of this writing.
Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?