Ne-Yo - The One Gentleman
Prolific performer and producer Ne-Yo is the hottest thing in hip hop right now; 3D’s Sasha Perera talked to the man in demand about how he maintains his breakneck schedule and keeps looking good doing it.
Ne-Yo is unquestionably one the industry’s biggest stars right now. As a songwriter he’s probably the most in-demand talent in the RNB and pop industry, having already penned a string of hits for the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Chris Brown. As a solo artist – in the short space of less than three years - he’s racked up hit after hit around the globe, and with his new album Year Of The Gentleman he notches up his third studio album. It would be near impossible to find an artist who is as prolific as Ne-Yo, and equally as successful.
In between his ridiculously busy writing and recording sessions, Ne-Yo is also currently on tour to support the release of the new record, and we caught up with him in the UK last week to chat about his brand new album and current smash hit Closer. The single Closer has been a huge success for the 28 year-old artist; it’s also been a brave release, proving that Ne-Yo is far from being just the new version of ‘90s singer/producer R. Kelly. The single is savvy fusion of RNB and dance, with a tempo unlike most other RNB songs in the marketplace. Whilst RNB these days has been so heavily influenced by laidback hip hop elements, Closer picks up the pace, and a UK dance influence, and takes Ne-Yo into new territory; opening up his international audience in the process.
“I was a little worried in the very beginning, mainly in the US because change is kinda difficult there – they see you do one thing, they usually want you to do that one thing,” says the polite and amiable smooth-operator, as we chat in his hotel room. “It doesn’t matter that you do four other things, if they like the one thing, that’s where they want you to stay. When we dropped Closer it took my US crowd a little bit of time to grasp what it was I was trying to do. The UK picked it up instantly, which I expected since the song was inspired by the UK. Now that the album is out and people are understanding what it is I’m trying to do, things are going really well, and so I’m happy about that.”
Only hours before our chat, Ne-Yo was flying high over the Atlantic to get to London to play a show, before returning to the US the very next day. There’s no doubt his career is flying high right now, which means he’s working back-to-back on a series of projects, including his own. In essence, he’s the definition of a workaholic. “I’ve been called a workaholic before – guilty as charged,” he concedes with an unashamed smile. “It’s mainly because I don’t view what I do as work. This music thing is fun for me – this is something that I do in my spare time even when I’m not working. You normally find me at the studio just because I enjoy this. I always reference it to being like taking a bunch of kids and paying them to play video games – that’s pretty much what it’s like with me and music. I have enough material to do two albums a year if I wanted to; of course I wouldn’t do that because I don’t want people to get tired of me. I enjoy what I do so it’s hard to view it like work.”
“Year Of The Gentleman is a collection of melodic and soulful songs – most of them pleasant and pretty enough in design. Whilst some of the tracks tend to get lost in a sameness that has become synonymous with the Ne-Yo brand of music, there are some certain highlights that showcase that he has the ability to standout from the generic RNB field. Highlights on the album include the dance-soaked first single Closer, the Ne-Yo-branded beat-ballad soul of Single and Miss Independent, and the Michael Jackson-esque (circa 1979) funky floorfiller Nobody. “On every album I try to do one song to pay homage to one of the men who is responsible for the reason why I do this – and that is Michael Jackson. That song is basically me paying homage to Michael Jackson.”
Speaking of Michael Jackson, it’s interesting to note that Ne-Yo has actually been working with Jackson on material for the singer’s forthcoming new album. I asked Ne-Yo whether he felt he was going to be able to truly control Jackson on the new material and push him in the direction he needs to go, as opposed to the direction Jackson wants to go. “I don’t know… as far as the control issue is concerned I really don’t think there will be one because he’s pretty much in the same place that I am, in so far as what I would like to hear from Michael Jackson. It’s been a while for him, so he’s more likely to listen to somebody who’s currently in the scene and is doing relatively well at it, than to say, ‘I’m Michael Jackson, and I’m gonna do it the way I wanna do it.’ I don’t think there should be problem with any of that. He’s cool.”
Another huge comeback project that Ne-Yo has been working on is the anticipated new studio album from Whitney Houston. “That one is another one that they’re definitely taking their time on – I think that in both those cases it’s a case of making sure that everything is as right as it could possibly be because in all honesty these are going to be two very, very important albums when they come out. It’s either going to be the return of two music industry powerhouses, or two, really, really sad attempts at rekindling something… and we definitely don’t want that, so I can understand why they’re taking their time.”
What with the songwriting for his new album, and material for Jackson and Houston, one would imagine that Ne-Yo couldn’t possibly be working on too much else- Think again. “I’ve been busy working on songs for Lindsay Lohan, Anastasia, Ciara, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Pussycat Dolls, Michael Bolton, LeToya Luckett, Monica, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lionel Richie, Mario, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson…. that’s pretty much the long and short of it, although I think I’m forgetting somebody,” he tells me in one big breath. “Basically I’m not doing anything with my life but sitting on the couch, writing songs, and eating chips!”
WHAT: Year Of The Gentlemen through Universal
WHEN: Out now