Proud Papa Usher Raymond Runs a Disciplined Household
Usher's children: Usher “Cinco” Raymond V, 16, Naviyd Ely Raymond, 15, Sovereign Bo,3, and Sire Castrello, 2. Photo courtesy of Usher Raymond IV.

Proud Papa Usher Raymond Runs a Disciplined Household

The R&B legend wasn’t raised by his father and only got to know him before he passed. He’s making sure his children will never have that experience

Usher answers today’s questions with confidence and transparency. Seated in his man cave—he smokes cigars and reads here—there are no questions about his upcoming world tour, “Confessions Part II” being crowned the best R&B song of the 21st century by Rolling Stone, or the BET Lifetime Achievement Award he’s scheduled to receive later this month. This is not a music conversation. 

Still, his accomplishments are worth noting. Usher Raymond IV was a child—only 15 years old—when he danced his way into the R&B spotlight. His first video, “Can U Get Wit It,” began with the young Atlantan sneaking out of a high school classroom, using the ol’ bloody nose trick. Thirty years later, he’s decimated R&B and pop. He lorded over Las Vegas with his 100-day My Way Residency. Swiped eight Grammys. He headlined the most-viewed Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show of all-time, with nearly 130 million people watching. Today, we push all those numbers aside and have a conversation with Ursh about his four children. 

From his first marriage with Tameka Foster, Usher fathered two teenage sons, Usher “Cinco” Raymond V and Naviyd Ely Raymond—16 and 15, respectively. In February 2024, shortly after ending his Vegas run, Usher married his longtime girlfriend Jenn Goicoechea. They share two children together, Usher’s first daughter, 3 year-old Sovereign Bo, and Sire Castrello, 2. 

As Usher appears on the scheduled video conference, his on-screen handle identifies him as Dr. Raymond. But we won’t talk much about his commencement speech to the Berkeley School of Music’s class of 2023, where he received an honorary doctorate degree, either. Our focus is on his most prestigious title: Dad.

LEVEL: Oh, look at that. You have Dr. Raymond on your screen ID. 

Usher: Yeah, that’s a cool thing that happened.  

For the rest of this interview, do I have to call you Doctor Ursh. Or Usher Raymond, PhD. 

[Laughs] That’s alright. 

As we approach Fathers’ Day, it’s a good time to have a conversation about fatherhood. For you, that started 16 years ago, when Usher Raymond V was born. Do you remember what it felt like to see the fifth Usher Raymond come into this world? 

It was actually a bit of a tragic situation. I did not have a relationship with my father at all. I didn’t know him my entire life, and he was passing around the same time my son was due to be born. So it was bitter sweet. I was very happy to be welcoming my first child who would take my name. I’m the fourth; my son would be the fifth. You have this lineage and also this almost-reincarnation thing. It was a very difficult and pleasant moment at the same time. But life is that. Up and down. Good and bad. Tumultuous and triumphant at the same time, ya know. 

You’ve said Nelly helped convince you to meet with your father before he passed. What was that conversation like? 

They say it’s very important to watch the people you have around you. Those people begin to inform and maybe support you making decisions that will be helpful for the rest of your life. And that was one. I was going through some personal issues. My father was at a place where he was declining. And I had to make a decision if I was going to be a part of that decline after I had spent my entire life not knowing him. The conversation [with Nelly] was like, “Man, you know, not having the relationship with your father is bad enough up to this point. You’ll regret It if you don’t go see your dad if he passes.” I think had I not gone to see my father and spent that time, I would not have been able to close that chapter in which I was just seeking answers. 

What specific answers were you looking for? 

Why is it that you didn’t love me? Why didn’t you spend time to get to know me? Meanwhile, everybody else is celebrating what I made of what you gave me. You gave me a name. But you just never showed up to anything. I was looking for some connection. Is there a real connection? What about your traits did I inherit? Why do I do certain things? Why do I respond to certain things? Are there things I should know about myself that you have that I should look forward to?

"Fatherless Black men are trying to figure out how to heal. Sometimes they will find it in destructive ways and become the worst versions of themselves because they are trying to find definition." 

Sounds like you were looking for the owner’s guide.

Yeah. It’s bad enough that we are kinda nomadic in this country. I can’t say everybody feels a loss for identity but there is not much of a bridge for Black men, especially fatherless Black men. They are trying to figure out how to heal certain things in their lives. Sometimes they will find it in destructive ways and become the worst versions of themselves because they are trying to find definition. 

What do you mean by nomadic? 

We’re nomadic from the perspective of Black men in America. This colonized idea of who we are, being brought here to America and now having to find some definition in their mind instead of there being a bridge of unity where we help each other and lift each other up. Or even having an identity where you compare to Italians or Koreans or other people who migrated here. So I was trying to figure out who the hell I was and where did I come from? My dad gave me the name but where did it come from? What is this Raymond name? And I think as a teenager, I decided I was going to define it for myself. I would redefine it.

After all those questions, what did you learn about him, about yourself? 

He was a very charming person. Any person who came in contact with him, he could put a smile on their face. 

Ohhh, so that’s a genetic trait? The charming gene. 

I don’t know about that [laugh]. I learned that he was quick on his feet. He had tons of personality. Likely to succeed, but chose a different path. Probably had a lot of opportunities to get it right, but sometimes environment breeds contempt. Maybe you are only as grand as your options. If you don’t have the opportunity to move around and move out, you don’t know what lies there before you. And if you get into bad habits at a young age, you can get stuck in the suffering. And you don’t maximize the time you’re given. We are given an affixed amount of time. But the idea of having to live this life and trying to figure it out without a guide, wrong or right, can leave you stuck. 

In the absence of your father, how did you learn to be one? 

A lot of the men have been mentors and father-like figures to me. [Renowned actor] Ben Vereen is one of them. [Entertainment lawyer] Virgil Roberts is another one. And friends also have been father-like figures, to help me understand certain morals and principles. I wasn’t lacking, but to not have it from the person I was born from is a game that can end up playing with your mind. But life is full of many options. I could have been disruptive, a maniac, a madman just suffering everywhere I went. I was able to find some meaningful mentors and people who motivate me to be a better father to my boys and my girl. 

Cinco and Naviyd are effortless cool like their father. Photo courtesy of Usher Raymond IV.

I love that you had Ben Vereen in your life as one of your father figures. How did he fill those gaps for you?

Spirituality. And being able to live in this industry with purpose, guide a legacy that would be remembered forever. Being about the craft and wanting to be great and challenging the standard. And becoming the standard of his time. Men like Harry Belafonte became father figures to me. Men like Quincy Jones. Guys who would give me references. 

Your name is the fourth in the Usher Raymond lineage. You don’t get to be the fourth without a legacy. What do you know about Usher Raymond the first?

I don’t know much about Usher Raymond, the first. I know fragments of my history. Based on my grandmom telling me about my name Raymond. There is a thought that there is Haitian or Creole influence within our family, because Raymond is a kind of a French, Creole, or Haitian name. Nonetheless, we are defined by our experiences and we make them as we grow. And what I chose to do is to make this name mean something. Also, God has a plan. My father and his father and his father chose to move in a direction that was working towards what God has set for us. What they felt was best for the moment and got distracted in life. But God has a plan that would live out and it lived out in his time. There are certain things I can’t explain. There is certain covering and spirituality and grace that has been given over my life; I’m certain my father had something to do with it. Maybe he wasn’t there for me but he did tell me he prayed for me every day. I guess it serves some purpose. But I didn’t have the luxury of passing the baton and looking at it in the way that you might see the firsts, seconds, and thirds. If you manage to make it to a fourth, maybe there is a restart. 

You named your son Usher Raymond V. What made you decide to continue the legacy of this name given the fact that you have made that name so famous?

I think my father’s passing probably really cemented it. I felt like, you know what, I’m going to carry this name on. I’m resolved. My dad, hopefully he’s in a better place. I forgave him. The grace of forgiving him will allow his soul to rest. I gave my son that name because I wanted to have a namesake. I didn’t think about the pressures that would come with that for him, which is part of the reason why he named himself Cinco. He goes by Cinco because he doesn’t want to carry the Usher name around all the time. It’s like, I’m not my dad. I am who I am. I am not the legacy you think. I am defining my life and myself in this moment. I respect that. You don’t think about that when you are just trying to just be a father. Just trying to do what you think is right. I wanted to be all the things I wanted my dad to be for me, for my son. I didn’t want him to ever feel how I felt as a kid.

“Words matter. What you say is a spell that you are casting on yourself and in life.”

I think people did a lot of reflecting during the pandemic when their kids were always around. How did you deal with that time as a father? 

It brought everybody closer. Probably made us a little lazy and complacent. We all wanted to get back to normal. I know I did, because I like to do physical things. I would take them on hikes and we would run. I bought an RV during the pandemic and we drove across the country. But the pandemic brought us closer and simplified life. They were able to try to get to know me a little bit better. We lived intentionally in a two-bedroom apartment. We lived in big-ass houses their entire lives. I just wanted to live in a two-bedroom apartment with my kids and get to know them. I wanted to get on each other’s nerves. Like, “You’re eating my s**t. You’re touching my clothes, You’re wearing my stuff, Clean up after yourself.” I loved it.

Cinco is 16. Naviyd is 15. Teenage boys tend to want to challenge the alpha. Is that a thing in your household?

Nah. I don’t give them too much space to feel that way. Respect and honor. I enforce code of conduct. See, I don’t care if my kids don’t like me. I want them to love me. Most of the time, I’m not giving them what they want. They‘re angry because I might be a little bit harder than my mom or my wife. Or even their mom would be like, “Why are you being so hard?” and I’m like, “Because I have to be.” This is the standard that men set for men sometimes. While I can give them love, I should also be able to give them discipline. I tell them you have to be just as alright with no as you are with yes. Also, no matter how big they get they are never going to be stronger than me. 

Ha! How do you know that? 

Because of my mind power. I’m never going to let them be stronger than me here [Pointing to his head]. I will outsmart them always. Watching them lifting weights—and Naviyd is taller than me now—I’m pretty sure they feel they could try it. I would love for them to, because I would definitely let them know they are not stronger than me. It’s instilling that respect at a young age. To the point where my voice alone can change their attitude. As opposed to me having to always be physical with them or yank them up or really let them know I’m serious. I try to instill respect, not fear. When it’s something they’re supposed to do and they don’t get it done, I’m a fan of wall sits. I don’t know if you heard of it. 

 “I enforce code of conduct. See, I don’t care if my kids don’t like me. I want them to love me.”

Wall sits? 

You literally sit with your back against the wall for a certain amount of time. They get to the age where you want to build strength in them and you also want to instill discipline. You want them to understand I’m not going to keep yelling and arguing with you. Give me my sits. And they know what it means. Okay, up against the wall and we count it out. Okay, two minutes—and if you’re in big trouble, we’re going five. It’s not easy. Sometimes I do it with them. We started off doing push-ups. Then pull-ups. I was like, “Nah, let’s get these legs strong.”

Did you have to do wall sits when you were young?

Nah, I started doing it with my sons around the time when I started seeing the effect of me being aggressive with them and how they would react to other people. I was like, Okay, that aggression is not good. I don’t need to be as physical with them. And taking things away, they don’t care. They gonna go to their mom’s house or their grandmom’s house and she’s gonna give it right back to them. So I was like, how do I manage this?

As they get bigger and stronger and start presenting more like adult Black men, they have to consider how society sees them. How has that idea changed or influenced your parenting of Black boys in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death? 

Fortunately, my sons have had the luxury of being able to watch this reality. It’s one thing to talk about it, but to see these acts happen in real time, you can point to it and say this is an example of the kinds of injustice we have in this culture. A person can wear a hoodie and be misinterpreted. A person can also be dressed “appropriate[ly]” and speak with dignity and respect and other people can react a certain way out of their fear. So don’t leave space for misinterpretation. Be respectful. You can be intimidating and you don’t even know that you are, given the tone of your voice. We are all dealing with our own shit every day. A person can get up on the wrong side of the bed and may have had something happen to them or a loved one and they react a different way to you. Don’t take it personal. When someone is talking to you, they are dealing with what they are dealing with. So the approach should not be aggressive for aggressive. Sometimes trying to be more sensible in your approach can be helpful. 

Princess Sovereign having playtime with papa. Photo courtesy of Usher Raymond IV.

You’re clearly a veteran boy dad these days. But you now have a daughter, Sovereign Bo. She’s only two years old. But so far, what have you learned about being a girl dad?

I’m learning as I go. Trying to figure out how to cope with what I see my brother has to go through. His daughter, my niece, is much older. It’s tough. I now know what I have to look forward to. Girls are expressive; they express themselves in different ways. Not just girls—all of your children are different and you cannot parent your kids in the same ways. You have to make time specifically individually for all of them. You can’t compare them. 

Back in 2012, Tameka lost her son Kile in a boating accident when he was just 11 year-old. He was not your biological child, but you did have a hand in raising him. How does that affect your parenting today? How has it affected your kids’ outlook on life?

You have fears every time your child is away from you. But one thing we know about life is there is a beginning and an end. What we do in between determines the emotional experience that other people have when thinking of you. There’s not a day we don’t miss Kile. I have art on the wall [from] when he was a kid. Tameka celebrates in other ways and I let the kids be there to be supportive of her and the things she’s done in Kile’s name. Every year, there’s a conversation between me and his father and Tameka. I try my hardest to be sensitive and understand that that trauma to [Kile’s siblings] at a young age can affect how they look at life. I tend to be a lot more optimistic and count the days in a positive manner. Yeah, we go through hard times and unfortunate things will happen but we have to try to live the rest of our days, until it’s your time, as well as you possibly can. 

You’re managing a blended family. Two different mothers. How do you keep the children together as a tight-knit family when they don’t share mothers?

There is no disconnect when it comes to our children. They are all brothers and sisters. No steps or halves. And they love each other and protect each other to the best of their abilities. You have to be impeccable with your words. Ever read The Four Agreements? There are these mantras and ideas. It works in many different spaces. I try to be impeccable with my word with the mothers. My wife is my wife; me and my ex-wife have children together. And though we have different homes, I try to implement and do whatever I possibly can in mine and I don’t worry about what I can’t control. I deal with what I can. I’m impeccable with my word, I don’t take things personal, I make no assumptions and I do my best. That’s it. 

Those are the four agreements? 

Yeah. That’s it.

Which one of your children shows an interest in following in your footsteps in the entertainment business? 

They all could in some form, because they’ve been around this industry and following my footsteps as an entrepreneur. All my kids have a sense of style and entrepreneurship. I feel it. Maybe it’s just this time period that makes them that way. Naviyd and Usher specifically. Because they have access to it. When I was a kid, we would collect bottles and cans to make money. Sell mixtapes in the street. Now my kids are naturally entrepreneurs because there are so many options. You can be a gamer to make money. You can be a streamer and make money. You can be an influencer, resell things, create things. They could be following me in that sense. Entertainment, I don’t know. Naviyd enjoys dancing, performing more than anything. Usher loves hip-hop more than anything. But he does have a liking of R&B.

What are some things you’ve introduced to them from your childhood? 

I don’t let my kids watch a lot of TV, but they have seen a lot of movies. They love reading books, old-school tales. Rumpelstiltskin. The girl with the long hair, Rapunzel. They love for me to read those old books. What I really enjoy is going back to my childhood. I’ll introduce certain cartoons and things I saw when I was a kid with hopes that the fundamental [lessons will translate]. I want my kids to play with Care Bears and see things like Monchhichi and Voltron. One of my kids is like [X-Men villain] Juggernaut: He wants to run through every wall in the house, head-first. And I have a daughter who is like Punky Brewster. If I get a chance, I’ll show them Pee Wee's Playhouse where Laurence Fishburne was Cowboy [Curtis]. 

Who was your favorite TV dad when you were coming up? 

Bill Cosby as Cliff Huxtable. He was the modern ideal. The reason why I even wanna be a doctor [laughs]. This concept of having a family that understood each other and had a way of talking to each other, communicating and having time for each other. Sitting down having dinner. All the things you wanna implement into life. They showed such valuable assets about what family is ultimately about.

Sire's interests? Black-and-white films. Photo courtesy of Usher Raymond IV.

You said the song “I Cry” was inspired by the first time your kids saw you cry from watching an animated movie. In what other ways have your kids inspired your art? 

I’m inspired to make and do things I think they’re going to like. I have a real-time gauge of a young perspective right in my house. And they want me to get it right. I think it makes them look cool that their dad is in the know and not a frickin’ dinosaur. That’s the cool part. But it is equally important for my kids to be expressive. Words matter. What you say is a spell that you are casting on yourself and in life. How you see yourself and what you tell yourself will determine your outcome. I’m always trying to figure out this process. Man, I’m doing my best. The best that I possibly can and given the fact that they sometimes give me hell for getting it wrong. I love it. To impress them is important to me, but being a parent is more important.