Note: despite the headline, the anecdote in this article will be very wholesome. The rest of it cannot be spoken for. Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris’ new single “SexBeat” is a vintage performance by the proven trio that feels appropriate for this day and age. Think Back To The Future but what T-Pain would understandably refer to as a “fuck record,” he so eloquently coined in his April 4th Instagram Live Battle with the Eastside Boyz leader. Its effect now is a result of what those three have provided the game before. To fully elaborate on the connection to the past, please allow this quick story.
A nine-year-old boy is riding in the backseat of his father’s white 2001 Mercedes-Benz ML-320 to Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. If you are from the Garden State, specifically the northeast region, a knowledgable sports fan, or simply aware of random things, you know that Continental was the New Jersey Nets’ home court from 1981 until 2009. If you are none of those things then this probably just sounds like a random, somewhat recent history lesson. The Nets went on to do a three-year stint in Newark’s Prudential Center from 2009 to 2012 before moving to their current, more popular home, Brooklyn Barclays Center across the bridge.
The year is 2005. The day is Saturday. The young boy had done this trip a few times before to see Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, and Nenad Krstić lead the Nets to some thrilling victories and disappointing losses. This drive, in particular, was special. His father, in his first year as a basketball coach, earned the opportunity to lead the all-star team in the same place that the Nets played. In addition to that excitement, even in trying to pump himself up with rap music, his father sprinkled in some songs from his favorite genre: R&B.
The memory of this day that has stuck with him the most is how he felt when the next song from his dad’s bootleg mixtape played. The “Lovers and Friends’” piano keys hit and the volume immediately went up. In that second, he and his father were united in their enjoyment of this record and the overall day. It is a feeling that lives on. Great music has a way of holding your full attention within a moment, and transporting you back there every time you encounter the song or album. You remember the people who made it special too. Ursher, Jon, and Luda had done it again, in 2005 and now in 2020.
Surely this was not an experience exclusive to the now 24-year-old who had this memory when playing “SexBeat.” Arguably, the three artists involved were the most excited about it. Lil Jon did say they had this song done since 2018. Nostalgia is a force. It is why the aforementioned duel between Lil Jon and T-Pain was such a thriller, and the new song a huge bonus. It went beyond reminding the world that they are part of the elite who helped define the 2000’s, but also displayed their transcendent styles have DNA embedded in today’s Hip-Hop and R&B, likely to last forever. Most importantly, it took us somewhere.
Usher, who is said to have the Confessions 2 album coming soon, and Ludacris, who has been relatively inactive since 2017’s “Vices” and “Vitamin D”, both fall into that mold. You could tell how excited the dreadlocked grilled-up enigma was to give us the next edition of their work together, playing back the soft piano intro several times before getting into Luda’s verse. Surely, Ludacris and Usher felt the same way. The viewers grew incensed by the suspense and absolutely wanted to lose this game of cat and mouse; word to Jerry.
There is something so pleasing about artists calling out the different musical elements of a track in the lyrics. Mr. Disturbing Tha Peace follows the keys, likening the beat to coitus when he recites “808, kick, drum, check, check, check, check, hi-hat, make it clap, kinda sound like sex” twice. The King of Crunk sprinkles some of his lovable “yeah’s!” and “okay’s!” in this portion as well as throughout Ludacris’ slick-talking, pocket-bouncing first verse.
The man who was once “Pimpin’ All Over The World” refreshes our memory as to why he is one of the best at rhyming words through unique pronunciation. Ludacris purposely alters the way he says Godiva in the line “My diva, eat you up like you my gourmet chocolate Godiva.” It immediately triggers memories of the way he got that nine-year-old to buy-in to his “Lovers & Friends” verse, specifically “Sometimes I wanna be yo lover, sometimes I wanna be your friend/Sometimes I wanna hug ya/Hold hands, slow dance while the record spin.” The man always made the rhyme work and make sense.
He makes promises made based upon equal sexual responsibility throughout the sixteen bars, like “Make it last and I’ll make you first/And if you make it splash, then I’ll make you squirt.” One could say that was a clever nod to his 2003 smash “Splash Waterfalls.” If anyone questioned whether Luda may have lost his touch or not, this shows he can do it just as well with an iPhone 11 Pro Max as he could in the Moto Razr days.
In this time period of leaks and Instagram Live previews, they made the right move showing it to the people this way. It was over for the people before the My Way balladeer could even get into the sticky chorus. Usher sounds confident, singing “Sex beat, sex beat/Put this on and watch, I’ll take it as far as you let me/Sex beat, sex beat/When we get in that room and the bass go boom/Something about the way you make me move, move.” His spinto tenor moves mountains across the smooth bass guitar. You’ll catch that one later.
He taps into a higher place in the ensuing verse, commanding each octave he enters and creating multiple highlights in a short offering. The nostalgia grab here is his mention of patience in both this song and “Lovers and Friends.” In that 8-year-old’s car ride, Usher tried to cover his ground and not appear impatient. In this record, as the 24-year-old listened at his bedroom desk, Usher appears fully ready to get down to business as soon as possible. People change. The run at the end of “I painted pictures in my mind” is bone-chilling. Similar to Ludacris, Usher’s gift is everlasting.
These days people complain about R&B songs not having bridges, but these veterans came up in a different time. Without a bridge, you were in troubled water. Sir Raymond delivers prominent harmonies, matching up breathy vocals with impassioned belts. Not to mention notable lines “On the star, you oughta wish no regular wish/’Cause we making love and you taking all of it, uh/This ain’t no regular/I’ll make you better with this/I’m the best in it.” It bears some parallels to…you guessed it, “Lovers and Friends.”
Though this piece has tied both songs together, this is no way an attempt to box “SexBeat” in. Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris cracked open the time capsule, grabbed a few items, and brought them into this current era. They will never be able to replicate the magic they have made music lovers feel for almost 16 years now, nor did they try to.
Instead, they reunited the band and reminded the industry just how talented they were, but also switched things up a bit. Lil Jon did not drop a verse this time. He chose to fully lock in on the production side and give this record a harder knock seeing as the kids sure do love drums these days. It is respectable for a legend to step back and allow the other two to lead the performance. The ego does not always allow for that, but Lil Jon is about the art and the people.
A now 24-year-old can listen to this and smile. Many of those who graced our CD players and radio stations in 2004–2005, unfortunately, did not last up to the current streaming phase. New music is not always promised, but you do have the old. Yet Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris remain artists that people will always want to hear new things from, no matter how much time they take off. Their music brings back thoughts of AOL Instant Messenger, three-way calls on the house phone, and 106&Park. That is the power of being legendary and stopping time.
They gave a little piece of the past with a rich salient taste for the present. It is as if they exist in multiple dimensions, which feels like an appropriate explanation for the term “timeless” when it comes to music. Thoughtful collaborations like this are what make a 24-year-old feel nine again. Thank you for the refreshing trip back to the flip phone days, legends. Please tell your lovers and friends, that Usher, Jon, and Luda had to do it again.