Roots Picnic 2016 was full of priceless moments, some joyful, some poignant. Headliner Usher‘s set with The Roots was marked by surprise Lil Jon collabos (“Yeah!”) on the one hand and by the sadness captured in Usher Raymond rocking his Muhammad Ali t-shirt, the day we lost The Greatest. The most goosebumps-inducing, lighters-up, hold-back-tears moment of the whole gloriously long day and night, however, was surely the Prince tribute Usher and The Legendary created by weaving the purple one’s all-time classic “Adore” into an already ecstatic, slow-swaying spirit catching rendition of the Ursher chestnut “You Got It Bad.” When they hit that unexpected but oh-so-right chord change, though? And the first notes of “Adore” make themselves known with the immortal phrase “until…the…end of time,” spirit catching tipped over into falling out. Panties on the verge of dropping simply melted. Sung-along lyrics became shrieks of transportation to another plane. Though never for an instant ceasing to sing or play in their own style, Usher and The Roots were filled with spirit of Prince for the brief, magical not quite a minute duration of the “Adore” interpolation, temporarily becoming the song in a striking, ego-less rendition that is beyond style, beyond clever musical conventions. Whether you are spiritual or not, this is devotional music.
“Adore” is one of those songs that, much like Roberta Flack once expressed best, everybody feels is sung directly to they themselves. Watching Usher “become” Prince for a fleeting moment is a bit like watching Denzel become Malcolm onscreen–not an imitation so much as a personal transformation unfolding in front of our eyes. Prince after all, inhabited the r&b tradition fully, and yet somehow stepped outside or above it into something more ethereal, genderless, ambiguous–almost bodiless. Usher and The Roots’ fervent rendition not only reconnects Prince to soulful water he swam in–taking a whole community of bodies along to church with them–it seems to suggest that within all soul music lies that possibility of at least temporary transcendence. At least that’s what I got from it–perhaps you’d prefer to say “Adore” is simply the slow jam to end all slow jams. Watch The Roots and Usher’s interpretation of “Adore” below…and Happy Birthday, Prince.