Interview: Ne-Yo Talks Giving Back, Pleasing R&B and Pop Audience, Origins as Artist
It’s a beautiful thing when you see an artist like Ne-Yo continuing to give back to the community even after achieving global super stardom over the past few years. We recently had a chance to sit down with him at the Boys and Girls Club in Newark, NJ while on day three of his 6th annual giving tour. In addition to talking about his Compound Foundation, we also discussed his latest album “R.E.D.” and how he was able to please both his pop & r&b audiences on the same record. Finally, we took it back to his origins as an artist, touching on his classic debut “In My Own Words” and why it took him so long to get on as an artist after writing hit after hit for others. Enjoy!
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’re here at the Boys & Girls Club in Newark for your 6th annual giving tour. Talk about this and what you do as part of the Compound Foundation.
Ne-Yo: This is the 6th year running of the giving tour with the Compound Foundation. We do four cities in four days, we started in Las Vegas, we always do Las Vegas because that’s where I grew up, then to L.A. to here and tomorrow to Atlanta. We team up with Boys and Girls Club and a bunch of sponsors and bring the whole positive holiday experience to kids who might not get it otherwise. It’s roughly 500 kids per city and we give away toys and bikes and games and give autographs and take pictures with everybody. Just doing something positive for the holidays.
YouKnowIGotSoul: In addition, you’ve got the new album “R.E.D.” out. I know you tried to cater to both your pop and r&b audiences on this one. Based on the reaction from fans, do you think you’ve been successful?
Ne-Yo: I think so. I feel like the responses that I’ve read have all been very positive on both sides of the slate and that’s all I can really ask for. As far as record sales and all of that stuff, it’s not really my concern, I don’t concern myself with that. I concern myself with what the people think. Of course you have your die hard r&b fans that wish the whole album is that, but then you have the diehard pop fans who wish the whole album could be that. I’m not completely r&b, I’m not completely pop, I’m music. I do music and I’m going to do it for different genres.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Something I noticed about the album is that even on the pop songs, if you were to change the production around to be more r&b based, they could be straight r&b songs. Is that something you were going for?
Ne-Yo: Kind of. I told myself that if I was going to do pop stuff, it would have to have a little soul to it, it would have to have a little depth and meaning to it. That’s why those songs play out that way. Again, at the end of the day, with me it’s just music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: This is your first album with Motown being the senior VP of A&R over there. Has that given you more control and freedom to do what you want on your album?
Ne-Yo: Not necessarily in that I’ve never really had anybody telling me that I could or couldn’t do anything, even over at Def Jam. That was one of the things that attracted me to the deal, they know I could write a hit, so they wanted me to write some for myself. The thing with Motown is more on the A&R side of things. I’m trying to make sure that the roster full of new artists we have over there come out the right way.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Tell us about this great single you wrote for Luke James “Make Love to Me”. That’s an amazing song, how did it all come together?
Ne-Yo: When I first heard about Luke James, the song that was playing was called “I Want You”. The dude’s voice is out of this world so I’m thinking “What am I going to write for this dude that’s going to show off his vocal abilities.” I just decided a voice like that a voice like that, the ladies have to appreciate that, so I wanted to do a song that’s going to speak directly to the ladies.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s take it back a little bit. Your first album “In My Own Words” is a classic album. With the way r&b is evolving so much, do you feel like a young Ne-Yo coming out for the first time in 2013 could release that same album and be successful?
Ne-Yo: It would be the exact same album. I don’t have any regrets and I would never go back and change anything just because I feel like everything that has happened up until this point has led me this point, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You had a ton of success as a writer in the early 2000’s making hits for everyone. It took you a few years to get on as an artist yourself following that. Take me back to that whole era, do you feel like people didn’t believe in you or did you feel like you had to pay your dues first as a writer?
Ne-Yo: A little bit of both to be honest with you. Initially, when you are trying to explain to somebody who you are, it’s going to take them a minute to get it. It’s hard to take who you are or who you think you are and put it in a box with a pretty little bow. Of course there is going to be confusion and in that confusion just not be certain. That was a lot of what it was. Then the natural comparisons to Usher or stuff like that. Again, until you fully explain to people who you are or show them who you are, it’s going to be confusing. I wasn’t unrealistic about it, I knew that it was just a matter of time before people realize who I am and what it is that I do and that once they get it they would appreciate it. Sure enough, here I am!
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Ne-Yo: I appreciate your time. “R.E.D.” is in stores now, make sure you go and pick it up. As long as you keep cheering me on, I’ll keep trying to make quality music as well.