Born into a family of musicians, Ne-Yo was destined to have a place in the music industry. Much more than today’s male singer, Ne-Yo is a rare artist; he infuses pop melodies with touching lyrics to soulful production. He is a key ingredient that will bring back music, that captures experiences and emotions.
Where are you from originally?
Ne-Yo: I was born in Camden Arkansas but I grew up in Las Vegas.
Tell me a little about Las Vegas, the last group to come from Las Vegas was 702. What is the R&B/urban scene out there like?
Ne-Yo: I went to school with 702? Honestly there is lot of talent in Vegas via R&B, via rap, production, whatever. It’s really an untapped market out there but the only problem is there is no outlet for it. There is nowhere to go to do R&B, nowhere to get your beats sent to different people; there is nowhere to do it at. So you almost have to leave Las Vegas, to go to California being the closest place in order to pursue this career. Right after high school I moved to California because I recognized early on that this is what I was trying to do.
How did you get the name Ne-Yo?
Ne-Yo: The name ‘Ne-Yo’ came from a producer friend of mine name Big D, Deon Evans, he did ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ and a bunch of stuff for Digital Underground back in the day. He said to me one day, ‘you see music like Ne-Yo sees the Matrix,’ I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but from that day on he started calling me Ne-Yo.
I understand you were recruited by Jay-z, how did that happen?
Ne-Yo: Well actually, its funny people always say that. Actually Tina Davis who was the A&R person, actually put me in front of L.A. Reid who is the person that signed me. I met Jay later.
How do people get that misconception of Jay-z signing you?
Ne-Yo: Jay is the guy that is out there champing for me, Rihanna, and Teairra Mari. We did the whole teen people tour, well it was three cities I believe. Jay was the guy going on stage like ‘hey this is the future of Def Jam.’ So the automatic assumption was these three people were found by Jay-z.
Did you always wanted to be an artist or were you content with being in the background as a writer?
Ne-Yo: Yes, Yes. I have been singing since before I could talk, music runs through my entire family tree. Everybody in my family does something via singing, rapping, playing an instrument, even the law side of the business. Everybody from nieces to nephews, uncle, aunts, grandmother, mother, father, everybody, sisters, brothers, everybody. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter; I was destined to do something in the business. I just happen to be blessed to sing.
Now that you’re in the limelight, what have been the biggest changes in your lifestyle?
Ne-Yo: Lack of privacy and waking up so damn early. I am a songwriter as well, being a songwriter I wake-up at twelve o’clock in the afternoon, get something to eat, maybe take a shower if I feel like. You don’t have to, you’re a songwriter ain’t nobody got to know. Go to the studio all day, all night. Wake-up the next morning and do it all over again. You can be a regular person as a writer if you want to, you can have a personal life, you can have a private life.
On your debut album, what will your fans learn about you?
Ne-Yo: I don’t know what I want them to learn about me; I just want people to appreciate R&B again. Not that anybody that is doing R&B music right now is doing it wrong, but if you turn on the radio 9 out 10 songs are Hip Hop. Not that I have anything against Hip Hop. I love Hip Hop its one of my first love’s but its like ‘Hello what about R&B people over here.’ So I’m just trying to be one of those people who bring R&B to the forefront. I’m trying to be a part of this movement to bring back R&B, not just kiddy typical regular R&B. R&B music that you feel, R&B music like Jodeci use to do. Remember the first time you heard ‘Feenin’ remember what you felt; you felt that song you didn’t just hear it. That was an experience, you experienced that song; people don’t do that with R&B music no more.
Would you say you hope for people to experience your music verses just listening to it?
Ne-Yo: Exactly. I try to do music that people feel, music that people experience as oppose to music people just listen to.
Are there any songs on your album where you have a stronger connection to?
Ne-Yo: There are quite a few because I wrote every song on the album, a good majority of them are actual experiences that I went through. For example my second single ‘So Sick’, is a true to life song about me and this girl in a relationship. Through the course of the relationship she had this favorite song; I can’t tell what the song is because I honestly don’t remember. I don’t know why I don’t remember, I guess traumatic experience you block it out of your mine. But she used to play this song 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 times a day, everyday. Wake up in the morning hearing this song; go to bed every night hearing this song. By the end of it I hated this song. We wound up breaking up because that’s what happens sometimes. After we spilt up, be it the grocery store, be it the library, be it the public rest room, wherever I went I couldn’t escape this song. My song is basically saying I am so tried of this song, but at the same time I can’t turn it off because it reminds me of her, it reminds me of good times that we might have had. It is bitter sweet. It is one of my favorites on the record.
Another song that is actually kinda of funny, is produced my boy Six John, who is one of my producers under Compound Entertainment, my production company. The name of the song is ‘Girlfriend’. It is a true story that happen to me in L.A., I was at a restaurant and she was sitting at one of the benches across the way. So I’m like ok; so I’m looking at her. She looks at me with a little smile; she is giving me a little rhythm. So I walk over there; I’m like can I get your number and we spend some time, whatever, whatever. She hits me with sorry your not my type. I am a persistent dude, so I’m like what’s your type. And she said about my height with breast. (laughter) She told me she had a girlfriend, now me being the persistent dude I am like hey ain’t nothing wrong with you can bring her along come on it’s all love. That’s a song about my attempt at getting a girl who had a girlfriend, the name of the song is ‘Girlfriend.’ Stuff like that don’t happen to everybody, I had to write a song about that.
Now that you’re a performing artist do you still find time to write songs for other artist?
Ne-Yo: Oh sure. I am still writing for other people as we speak. After I’m done with this I am going in the studio with Ghostface to do some hooks for his new album. As soon as Beyonce get ready I am bout to go in with her on her new project. Doing stuff for Ruben Studdard right now, for Tyrese, for Jamie Foxx.
You’re with Jay-z now, so do you see yourself eventually moving to the business affairs position in the future?
Ne-Yo: Yes, Yes, Yes! Starting with my production company (Compound Entertainment), we just got a call the other day to do the entire soundtrack for ‘Save the Last Dance’ part two as well as they might want me to be in the movie. We are starting here with music and then compound films, compound real estate, compound bed sheets. This is my brand and as time progress I am trying to slowly but surely takeover the world.
You’re coming home from the club, going back to your crib with a young lady, what CD do y’all pop in to get the mood going?
Ne-Yo: If it’s one of my songs I would play ‘Mirror’, the song is basically explaining how I personally love making love in front of the mirror. It is a very sexy song. If you put this song on and nothing happens you did something wrong. Something went wrong on your end, it wasn’t the song. All the pieces were there the bread, meat, cheese for whatever reason you didn’t make a sandwich.
Outside of me anything Jodeci ever done, anything Luther (Vandross) has ever done; those are the typical ones. I would put on some classical, I will put on Bach. Not everybody can getaway with turning on some Bach, trying to make that happen. It’s a certain type of individual you have to be in order to get from point A to point B traveling on Bach. You have a certain kind of mentality to get there because as soon as she get in the car she gone go what is this. I aint gonna giveaway my secrets but thats one of the things I would do.
A lot of people feel R&B is starting a new movement, what ingredient are you going to add to the mix?
Ne-Yo: Well I am a lyric and melody person. This is not a stab at anybody doing R&B today but if I hear another R&B song with one damn note going through the entire song. I can’t do it turn it off, that is not what R&B is. That is the easy way out. I am trying to bring back the actual melody, a melody that sticks in your head and not because it is being jammed into your head. A catchy melody that sticks with you that makes you want to sing the song, I am trying to bring that back. I am trying to bring back lyrics that actually touch something, I am trying to bring back songs that trigger an emotion, via happiness, sadness, anger, whatever. I am trying to bring back those type of songs because people don’t do that anymore. All people are concern with nowadays is getting somebody in the bed or getting somebody in club. There is more to life…there is other stuff to sing about. I am trying to write a song that makes you smile every time you hear it, a song that make you cry when you hear it, a song that makes you want to punch somebody when you hear it. —— By: Interview by: Tiffanie Simone