Why Usher's Hit Song Yeah! Almost Didn't Happen

Usher has maintained a seat at R&B's top table ever since he broke into the industry back in 1994 while still just a teenager. Since then, he has sold millions of albums and topped the Billboard charts with some of the biggest singles of the 21st century. But one of these — "Yeah!" the lead single from his 2004 album "Confessions," which was produced by a team including crunk pioneer Lil Jon — stands head and shoulders above the rest of Usher's discography. As Jon himself described it to MTV, the song was a "powerful monster," a commercial, critical, and club smash that went on to become the second-biggest-selling single of the 2000s, helping turn "Confessions" one of the defining albums of the decade.

But while "Confessions" represents the moment that Usher's career went stratospheric, for a long time before its release things threatened to be business as usual, with the singer reluctant to change the formula that had made his last two albums a success. Tellingly, he was initially adamant that he would stick with his usual production team, led by the legendary Jermaine Dupri. For a long time while the album was percolating, it seemed there would be no place for a song like "Yeah!" on "Confessions" — until a decisive meeting with an A&R rep named Kawan "KP" Prather convinced Usher to change his mind.

A Lil Jon mix-up

In the early 2000s, Lil Jon was one of the music industry's most in-demand artists, with countless rappers and singers seeking him out for his singular Atlanta sound. Known for his knack for creating dancefloor fillers, Jon became a symbol of hip-hop's hard-partying side.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that there was a mix-up regarding Jon's production duties that almost put the brakes on him creating a song for Usher. As he told Entertainment Weekly back in 2004, the original beat that he had given to Usher and Arista Records was one he had already submitted to Jive Records to be used by the Southern rap artist Petey Pablo. Pablo used the track, and the label had already started manufacturing the record it was to feature on. Meanwhile, Usher's camp had used the beat to create the first version of "Yeah!"

Arista was reportedly incensed by the mix-up, but Jon was on such a prolific run in the early 2000s that he was able to remedy the error simply by making a fresh beat in the same style for Usher to record to. Though it shares many similarities with the Pablo version, it sounds much fresher, and while both songs charted the same year, "Yeah!" proved to be the bigger and more enduring hit. You can listen to the earlier Peter Pablo track above.

Coming round to a hit

Nevertheless, it seems that Usher wasn't certain that "Yeah!" would be a success. In fact, those present during the making of his classic album "Confessions" have claimed that the singer didn't like the song to begin with. According to Stereogum, he had submitted a grand total of 40 songs to Arista that might form the tracklist of his fourth album, and he already had a lead single for "Confessions" in mind: the downtempo breakup song "Burn." Usher only recorded "Yeah!" after he thought the album was already done.

However, after much convincing, Usher agreed that "Yeah!" should take the lead. With both Lil Jon and fellow Southern Rap megastar Ludacris on the final mix, the song became a worldwide smash and propelled "Confessions" to Diamond status — or the sale of 10 million copies. It remains one of the most memorable and beloved songs of the era, with over 1 billion plays on Spotify to date.