Friday, January 10th, 2020

Usher ft. Ella Mai – Don’t Waste My Time

Of course we can, Jibril!


Thomas Inskeep: Reunited and it feels so damn good: not only does “Don’t Waste My Time” mark Usher Raymond IV’s return to straight-up R&B, but it’s co-written and produced by his former collaborators Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox. It very smartly, slyly samples Hi-Five’s 1991 #1 “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game),” and even more smartly, features vocals from new R&B star Ella Mai, who matches Usher quite nicely. Her voice is so unique you immediately know who it is — just like Usher’s. Everything about this comes together so smoothly to make the first great single of 2020. (Here’s hoping this starts a commercial comeback for Usher, too.)

Alfred Soto: I’m conservative with the score because I don’t want what is intended as a Return to Form snookering me, but, really, the presence of Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox on production and songwriting, combined with a genuine frisson between Ella Mai and Usher, produces a 2004 throwback whose resonance depends on pleasure trumping familiarity.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Despite the new jack swing styling that Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Fox (and the lingering presence of Teddy Riley) provide, Usher seems almost determined to use “Don’t Waste My Time” as a demonstration of his continued relevance. In contrast to his last album (2018’s Zaytoven-produced “A”), he’s not trying to chase trap stardom — but he’s not in legacy act mode, as he was on his appearance on the Summer Walker album. Here, he just sounds like a really good R&B singer, with a clear ear for sophisticated phrasing (“my body gives notice” is artfully horny) and chemistry with his duet partner. Even more so than Summer Walker, who’s obviously inclined towards early 2000s nostalgia, Ella Mai is a perfect companion to Usher. She’s got a voice that sounds like it should be from some other era, and a certain poise that comes with it. It’s the kind of song that bypasses retro entirely and just sounds like it’s been around forever, the kind of well-made song that cranks say isn’t made anymore.

Katherine St Asaph: The danger of an uneven couple of years is that you can be Usher, release multiple astonishingly great R&B songs plus a straight-ahead banger or two, and yet still, somehow, end the decade underrated. “Don’t Waste My Time” has Jermaine Dupri channeling Teddy Riley via sample, lush strings, a corkscrewing chord progression, an actual sense of urgency and frisson, Usher sounding like his voice hasn’t aged in 20+ years, and Ella Mai sounding robust and assured as if she, too, has been around for 20+ years, as opposed to about two. Will it right the balance? I hope, but no. But it should.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: The drum programming gets right to business. It sets the tone — flirty, lively, mischievous even — and Usher throws down a marvelous set of vocal melodies to match its energy. Ella Mai knows how to reciprocate, her vocals a bit more subdued but nonetheless seductive. This could’ve been a steamy slow jam, but the decision to keep things upbeat keeps you on your toes: you get swept in the rhythm, feeling the rush of sudden-forming flings, of swelling emotions and spur-of-the-moment decisions. “Don’t Waste My Time” is a song for the jaded, for when the pussyfooting and procedural games in finding sex become tedious. Its vibrancy captures a rare thrill: when everything goes right, right away.

Kylo Nocom: I’ve forgotten how effortless a delight Ella Mai’s voice is, and a reminder like this came at just the right time. Between this and “Don’t Play It Safe,” I’m convinced we need more sultry R&B anthems about what not to do.

Brad Shoup: Usher’s mannerisms are starting to sound like Stevie Wonder’s, but you could do worse. He’s still a pop pleaser at heart: this song is the latest example of him wrapping up before, well, someones thinks their time is being wasted. (I still wish “Caught Up” was seven minutes long.) He sounds effortless as usual; his smoothness (and those keys) cover up whatever retro pleasure was intended by the sampled 808. So Ella Mai goes harder, maybe by necessity, and gets stuck in the chorus running up on her host.

Alex Clifton: Not a second in here is wasted. Usher’s voice is ageless, Ella Mai’s a perfect fit, and together they’ve made an absolute groove. I’m a little bit in love.

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2 Responses to “Usher ft. Ella Mai – Don’t Waste My Time”

  1. Ugh — I WAS too conservative. An 8 if not 9.

  2. holy shit this subhead. also this song is a [9] thanks to the production alone.