Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Ne-Yo: Starry Starry Knight

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In R&B music over the decades, the number of chart-topping singers who have separate world-class songwriting careers that genuinely match the success of their own recordings is few and far between.

Nevertheless, the past seven years will unquestionably go down in the history books for introducing to the world one Arkansas-born, Las Vegas-raised Shaffer Chimere Smith - aka Ne-Yo. Whose own artist career not only already includes three multi-Platinum albums (2006âs âIn My Own Wordsâ; 2007âs Grammy-winning âBecause Of Youâ; 2008âs double-Grammy-winning âYear Of The Gentlemanâ) plus two internationally-chart-topping singles (his 2006 debut âSo Sickâ and his 2008 Euro-dance-flavoured âCloserâ)⦠But has also seen him write successfully for artists ranging from global R&B chart-toppers Rihanna (âTake A Bowâ), Beyonce (âIrreplaceableâ) and Mario (âLet Me Love Youâ), to such latter-day mainstream pop divas as Celine Dion and Leona Lewis.

Meanwhile, on a straight-up artist level, November 2012 will see the eagerly-anticipated release of Ne-Yoâs fifth studio album âR.E.D.â.

Born to musician parents in October 1978 and raised by his African-American/Chinese mother after his father left, a young Shaffer (rechristened Ne-Yo by a producer-friend who likened him to the âMatrixâ saviour!) first went public as a singer in the 11th Grade, after joining local Las Vegas R&B group Envy and moving with them to LA. With his initial writing having been limited - during his school years - to private journal entries and poetry, Ne-Yo would nevertheless also soon emerge as talented upcoming songwriter.

All of which ultimately led to his first solo record deal with Columbia Records in 2000. However, with changes in said labelâs structure disappointingly leading to the album he recorded for them being shelved, it wasnât until 2006 - after penning one of Americaâs longest-running Number Ones of 2005 (Marioâs aforementioned âLet Me Love Youâ) - that a new deal with Def Jam would find Ne-Yo teaming up for the first time with New York-based Norwegian urban music producers StarGate to deliver a world-conquering debut LP âIn My Own Wordsâ.

Meanwhile with the multi-million-selling chart-topping global success he has since consistently attained as both a singer and a songwriter having been well-documented, Ne-Yo (who has publicly confessed to having slept with every girl in his High School class!) has also simultaneously generated considerable gossip column-inches. With innuendos and rumours regarding his sex-life and sexuality over the years running rife alongside stories of alleged legal battles with fellow artists - and February 2008 even finding him being arrested for reckless driving!

Nevertheless, itâs a charismatic, upbeat and charming 32-year-old Ne-Yo who today welcomes âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis into his luxury suite at Central Londonâs Sanderson Hotel to discuss such far-ranging topics as his aforementioned new LP âR.E.D.â and becoming a father for the first time...

PETE: While you originally wanted to call your new album âThe Cracks In Mr. Perfectâ, you later changed your mind and are now actually titling it âR.E.D."

NE-YO: âYeah, âThe Cracks In Mr. Perfectâ was initially gonna be a full album project about just the kinda unfair perception of an artist. You know, as an artist youâre kinda expected to be, in a manner of speaking, PERFECT. Youâre not allowed to wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day and just not wanna deal with anybody - not sign an autograph, not take a picture⦠Thatâs completely TABOO. And the day you decide thatâs what you wanna do, youâre an asshole for the rest of your CAREER. Nobody knows that you just had an argument with your girlfriend or you just got some bad news about whatever... They just know that you didnât wanna take a picture at that MOMENT - so youâre a JERK! You know, people lose sight of the fact that we artists are still PEOPLE⦠But then, in the process of putting this album together, I realised that calling the album âThe Cracks In Mr. Perfectâ was honestly just a means to COMPLAIN. And in the grand scheme of things, Iâve absolutely nothing to complain ABOUT! Because I get to do what I love as my PROFESSION! Iâm not waking up every day going to some office job that I hate, or whatever the case may BE. Instead I get to do MUSIC, and I can feed my family DOING it - and thatâs a BELSSING! So as a title, âR.E.D.â - as in âRealising Every Dreamâ - is more a celebration of my first love - which is music - and the fact that from age nine to now pretty much every dream that Iâve ever dreamt, every goal that Iâve ever set out to achieve, Iâve accomplished through MUSIC! And if I HAVENâT accomplished it, Iâm pretty damn close to DOING so.â

PETE: So what did you want to achieve musically with this new album?

NE-YO: âWell, primarily I decided to just keep it about what Iâve ALWAYS done - which is just to make the music GOOD. Plus because, while I am essentially R&B I am also aware of my pop and dance audience, I wanted to make sure this album had more of a balance of the two styles. You know, because the only thing I felt that was wrong with the âYear Of The Gentlemanâ album was that there was only one song on the album like âCloserâ, that was a mistake that I decided not to MAKE with this album. Which is why, even if I do say so myself, I feel this is the most well-rounded album that Iâve DONE. In that there is an equal amount of material on there for all my R&B fans AND for all of my pop fans... And so itâs basically an attempt to please my entire fanbase.â

PETE: And lyrically?

NE-YO: âWell, I have been saying that lyrically this album is a lot more HONEST. But then, at the same time, that would actually imply that my other albums WERENâT honest, and thatâs not the CASE. So what I do mean by âhonestâ when speaking about âR.E.D.â is that thereâs a level of honesty that Iâve gone through on this album that is almost honest to a FAULT. In that Iâm telling truths about things that I probably shouldnât, and Iâm doing it against the advice of certain PEOPLE in my life! But you know, at the end of the day itâs about being as real as humanly possible with my FANS. I want my fans to feel they know me through my music, and the best way to do that is to be no-holds-barred and just put it all OUT there! To where any question that you have about me can easily be answered by one of the songs on this ALBUM.â

PETE: So how do you now look back on your last LP, 2010âs âLibra Scaleâ - a highly ambitious project concept-wise that didnât sell anywhere near as well as your three previous albums?

NE-YO: âWell, I canât speak for the record label side of it all because I donât wanna point my fingers or throw any EXCUSES at anybody. But I will say on MY side of things that, on that specific project, I didnât pay as much attention to the actual MUSIC as I normally would - simply because I spent more time trying to get the visuals and the STORYLINE right. Basically I was trying to take all the things that Iâd learnt in the movies Iâd just been doing and incorporate all that into my MUSIC career. And the lesson Iâve since learnt from that is that thereâs a REASON why movies take as long as they do to be produced. And that is because thereâs a lot of very painstaking, small detail that goes INTO it all. Whereas the time it takes to put together an album is much SHORTER⦠So what ended up happening with âLibra Scaleâ is that, instead of doing it THIS way we did it THAT way, instead of working with THIS person we worked with THAT person... And it just became a lotta corner-cutting and half-assing - and I think the people could feel that when they came to HEAR it.

PETE: With hindsight you releasing âCloserâ (Ne-Yoâs dance-flavoured second UK Number One) back in summer 2008 can now very much be seen as you pioneering the current trend of US R&B vocalists going the Euro-dance route to attain international success. How did you come to record it?

NE-YO: âWell, I was definitely not trying to set a trend with it or anything LIKE that. To be 100% honest, âCloserâ was a science project - it really WAS. It basically came out of me spending so much time out here in London at that time, and going to these clubs where youâd continually be hearing the DANCE music - the house, the techno... You know, it basically impacted on me to the point where, when I got back to The States, I found myself sitting in a room with (internationally-chart-topping Norwegian urban producers) StarGate going âLetâs see how IâD sound on something like thatâ... So we did the record; I was like âOK, we could probably sell this to somebody in that worldâ - and they were like âWait, wait, WAIT! Why donât YOU keep it?â. You know, because I didnât think my fans - especially the hardcore R&B ones - would understand me on that type of track, they like literally had to talk me in to KEEPING that record!... And of course I now thank God that they DID, and I also thank God that I LISTENED!â

PETE: And so what are your views now on the undisputed impact âCloserâ has since had on todayâs music scene?

NE-YO: âWell, while it certainly feels good to be part of a pioneering group of people that started a movement and Iâm happy to be seen as a trend-setter not a follower, at the same time I donât so much like what that movement in itself has since done to the world of R&B! I mean, Iâm not sure whether itâs down to the current dance music craze or whether the genre as a WHOLE needs an overhaul, but I do feel that R&B is SUFFERING right now. To the point where people are now actually saying to me âWhy donât you just do an all-dance ALBUM - because thatâs where you sell the most records and you get the most RECOGNITION today?â... Which is something I could never DO! Because I could never turn my back on the fanbase that put me where I AM - which is my R&B fanbase - and, while I do have a love and an appreciation for dance music and pop music, the fact is my heart and my foundation are both still very much IN R&B!... So, even if I have to do it the way Iâve done it on this new album for the remainder of my CAREER - blurring the lines by mixing R&B records in with the pop and dance records - to me thatâs COOL.â

PETE: With your role as Tuskegee Airman Andrew âSmokyâ Salem in the recently-released America war film âRed Tailsâ being well-received (Ne-Yo featured alongside Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard), how do you now look back on that experience, and whatâs the situation right now in terms of your acting career?

NE-YO: âWell, the âRed Tailsâ experience was honestly INCREDIBLE. You know, I definitely learned a lot about myself THROUGH that experience... Which is probably why at the time I was so excited to try to bring some of that stuff into this MUSIC world with the âLibra Scaleâ album... But while I do dig the acting thing and I definitely have love and appreciation for the craft, itâs just not to me what MUSIC is. I mean, a very, very incredible opportunity just came across the plate (he was recently offered a starring role playing iconic Sixties civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King) that I had to turn down, because of the fact that they were trying to shoot around the same time my ALBUM came out. And I just couldnât give priority to that over properly promoting and getting this album OUT there... So yeah, as I say, I do have a love and appreciation of the craft and you will definitely see me in some more acting projects - but only if theyâre spaced out to where I can do my music as WELL. Because while I love acting, for me it will never take the place of MUSIC.â

The single âLet Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)â is released September 2. The album âR.E.D.â follows November 5, both through Def Jam


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