Music

Usher & Victoria Monét Lauded at 2024 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards: ‘We Shoot, Not Eye Level, But for the Stars’

Between a world-stopping Super Bowl performance, an upcoming arena tour, and a very special honor from ASCAP, Usher just keeps finding ways to make 2024 “Good Good.”

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On Thursday (June 27) at The London West Hollywood in Beverly Hills, Billboard 200 and Hot 100 chart-topper Usher, decked out in an all-black ensemble and shades, received the Voice of the Culture Award in front of an adoring crowd of peers and press. Victoria Monét, who took home the best new artist Grammy at the top of the year, accepted the prestigious Vanguard Award in a stunning midriff-baring blue dress.

The Voice of the Culture Award is presented to ASCAP members who have had a major influence on music and culture, recognizing their success as creators and changemakers. Past recipients of the award include Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, D-Nice and T.I.

The Vanguard Award is presented in recognition of ASCAP members whose innovative work is helping to shape the future of music. Janelle Monáe, Kendrick Lamar, The Strokes, and Billie Eilish are past recipients.

The night kicked off with a red carpet on the hotel’s rooftop, which included appearances from Erica Campbell, T.I., Omarion, Ernest Isley, Alex Isley, Deputy, Nascent, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Johntá Austin, The Avila Brothers, and more. Several stars took a moment to speak with Billboard, including Campbell, who revealed her favorite gospel song from a songwriting standpoint. “What comes to my mind first is ‘Trust In God’ by The Winans,” she said. “The way the song is crafted, the emotions in the song, the lyrics — it’s hopeful but it’s God-centered. Even if it’s a gospel song, it still needs to be well-written and that song is a perfect example.”

Acclaimed father-daughter unit Ernie and Alex Isley also posed for pictures together, with Alex revealing her “holy grail” of R&B songwriting — which included her father, Mariah Carey, Dianne Warren, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones — and Ernie reflected on working with Lamar on 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly in light of his recent beef with Drake. “They’re both great,” he said. “It was fun working with [Kendrick,] and I imagine we’re gonna do some more stuff with him not too long from now.”

In that vein, T.I. also reflected on his own diss track legacy, reacting to his No. 15 (“What Up, What’s Haapnin’”) on Billboard’s 15 Most Scathing Hip-Hop Diss Songs of All Time list. “This is a spectator sport, that’s what the spectators said! As a contributor to the culture, I’m just happy to be on people’s minds,” he said, before naming Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up,” Nas’ “Ether,” Jay-Z’s “Takeover,” Dr. Dre’s “F–k Wit Dre Day” and Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” as his picks for the best-written diss tracks in hip-hop history.

Lil Baby — whose “Forever,” “Freestyle,” “Heyy” and “Hurricane” were all cited as winning songs — received the first honor of the night, taking home songwriter of the year for a third non-consecutive year. He previously won in 2021 and 2022. In a speech that lasted under 30 seconds, the chart-topping rapper thanked his team and the ASCAP organization.

Monét offered a lengthier — and notably melodic — acceptance speech when she received her Vanguard Award. After recounting how she looked up the meaning of “vanguard” once her team notified her of the honor, Monét said, “Although I do view myself as a leader… my brilliant team stands right beside me, never behind me. We all have been on the very frontlines together on this road to success meticulously, converting every non-believer into a believer with hard work and consistency. We shoot, not eye level, but for the stars — and it truly takes a strong team to go from underdog to vanguard.”

The Vanguard Award is just the latest in a string of recent honors for Monét. She won three Grammys on Feb. 4 – best new artist, best R&B album for Jaguar II and best engineered album, non-classical, for that same LP. “On My Mama,” a Grammy nominee for record of the year, hit No. 33 on the Hot 100, marking her highest-ranking unaccompanied entry on the chart. On March 6, Monét received the rising star award at the Billboard Women in Music Awards. The “Alright” signer capped off her acceptance speech by promising her daughter (and fellow Grammy nominee) Hazel that she would continue to show up as her best self every day.

Parenthood also served as a key talking point for Usher, who delivered a rousing twelve-minute speech to accept his Voice of the Culture Award. After a pair of touching introductions from ASCAP president Paul Williams and Dupri — who’s currently cooking up new music with Ari Lennox and Young Dylan — Usher took the stage, doling out infinite thanks to the many friends, family members, team members, and mentors who have helped him navigate his groundbreaking 30-year career. “I have a lot of people that I want to thank, but I did want to say something that I felt would be meaningful, and that is the importance of collaboration,” he said. “No one man is an island. We have to work with each other. Sometimes, the vision that we have can be carried all the way across to its full potential if you’re able to share.”

In addition to shouting out his fellow honorees and paying tribute to key players such as L.A. Reid and Mark Pitts, Usher dedicated half of his speech to his two eldest sons, Usher “Cinco” V and Naviyd Ely. Shortly after the “Burn” singer revealed that one of his sons is “really adamant” about being an artist, he reflected on his own experience having an absentee father in the context of helping his son achieve his dreams.

“While we can stand on these stages and say, ‘Mom, I made it,’ it’s not often that we get the opportunity to say ‘Look, dad! I did it!” That s— was hard,” Usher said. “You don’t understand how hard it was to say because the reality is, I was saying it to a father who wasn’t there…. I’m very happy to say to you, continue to love on your kids. Continue to take the time to listen to them, encourage them, and make them a part — if you listen to them, they have very valuable things to say.”

With the Past Present Future Tour fast approaching (Aug. 14) and new music possibly on the horizon — “We got new s— that we makin’ too!” he quipped — Usher’s banner year is showing no signs of slowing down.

The ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards recognize the songwriters and publishers of the most-performed songs of the past year based on Luminate data for terrestrial and satellite radio and streaming services, as specified by ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards rules.

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