Three years ago, EW spoke to Usher about his grander ambitions. ''I'm really interested in acting,'' he proclaimed. ''I would love to have an opportunity to segue dance and acting, in the way Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire did, but in a more modern setting.'' This didn't seem like a terribly realistic goal at the time: For one thing, Usher already appeared to be stuck at a midlevel star plateau. For another, the screen breakthrough he was promoting at the time was a cameo on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. But in 2004, the phrase ''Usher movie'' trips off the studio-exec tongue much more readily. His Confessions is far and away 2004's best-selling CD (5.7 million to date, more than 2 mil ahead of nearest competitor Norah Jones). ''Yeah!'' remains its most ubiquitous single. And during one week in June, Usher held down three of the top 10 spots on Billboard's Hot 100, a feat unmatched since the Bee Gees in '78. Little surprise, then, that Dimension Films has signed Usher for his first film lead, playing surprise a kid dreaming of immodest stardom.
He rewrote the rule book, getting an allowance for CDs given away at concerts to be counted as Billboard/SoundScan sales. Mind you, that power play bred so much resentment that the rule book was rewritten again, so no other artist can pull that stunt in the future. Still, Prince reaped the PR benefits of having a top 10 album for months his first such reign in over a decade on top of one of the year's most consistently sold-out (and entertaining) tours.
Look up party in the dictionary the Crunk & Wagnall's version, that is and you'll find a picture of this not-so-lil entrepreneur. Hip-hop meets the Red Bull-fueled dance floor in his smash productions for Ciara, Petey Pablo, and, of course, Usher (''Yeah!,'' the year's signature dance hit). He's no slouch making his own music, either; his November release on TVT could make him the next Kanye West-size double threat.
In West's world, ''Jesus Walks,'' but money definitely talks, too. The dough he brought in as a wildly successful producer (Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Twista, Britney) serves as mere backstory to his '04 triumph as a solo artist: College Dropout (2.3 million so far) is the year's fifth-bestselling CD, and the biggest by a debuting artist. Hip-hop's King Midas finally turned himself multiplatinum.
They've sold 5.4 million of their CD set of conjoined solo albums. They're in preproduction on their Prohibition-set HBO musical. Andre 3000 is interviewing the Bush and Kerry daughters for a political documentary, while Big Boi cameoed on Omarion's first single. They won a Best Album Grammy, cleaned up at MTV's VMAs and the World Music Awards, and should do the same at next month's AMAs. Imagine what these two guys could accomplish if you got them in the same room.