Scour the R&B section of any record store and you’re bound to find Sharrif “Ne-Yo” Smith’s blueprint for chart-topping hits on one of your favorite albums. In fact, the platinum-selling artist and prolific songwriter is such a hot commodity that veterans (Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Usher, Celine Dione, Beyoncé,) and new jacks (Rihanna, Chris Brown, Mario, Jennifer Hudson) alike are vying for his Midas touch. Last year, the Las Vegas wunderkind somehow found enough time to put down his pen and pad to infiltrate Tinseltown with a silver screen debut in the blockbuster, Stomp The Yard. ESSENCE.com caught up with the prince of R&B to discuss his real beef with R. Kelly, losing a son and grown-folks business.
Essence.com: Happy New Year! What are you up to?
Ne-Yo: I’m in Washington, D.C., rehearsing for a performance for a Michael Jackson tribute. I’ll be singing “Lady of My Life.”
Essence.com: You’re always working! And I hear you never complain. Is that true?
N.Y.: Complain for what? I am blessed to be doing what I do. So if I have to be at a photo shoot, do an interview, or make a TV appearance I am not going to sit around whining and complaining about how I don’t want to get up early or I don’t feel like talking. It’s part of the job. I don’t understand when artists are complaining about doing their job. It’s like, Are you serious? All you have to do is get on the phone and have a conversation, or show up and have your photo taken. I’m never going to complain about doing my job. I love what I do!
Essence.com: That’s a great attitude and work ethic. When we last spoke you expressed your hope that your sophomore album, Because of You, would allow your fans to get to know you better. Do you think you succeeded?
N.Y.: To a certain degree, but maybe not as much as I wanted to. I would even say this album was a bit schizophrenic because I did so many different kinds of songs. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the whole process—I just think I could have taken a little more time before I sprung all that I did on them.
Essence.com: So you’re saying your extreme diversity with various genres might have been premature?
N.Y.: Yeah, it might have been a little bit premature. I mean, the album went platinum, but just as far as my fans getting to know me better, I don’t think I accomplished that.
Essence.com: So did you draw that conclusion on your own, or based on the feedback from friends, family and fans?
N.Y.: A little bit of both and then my own feelings after I listened to it again. My friends and family told me that they liked the album, but it didn’t put them to the point where I was hoping to be. I want to connect with my fans the way Mary J. Blige’s fans connect with her. I hope to do that with my third album, which I plan to release toward the middle of this year. I’m going to take my time to figure out what it is I want the world to know about me.
Essence.com: Well as long as you don’t stay away too long. In this industry out of sight often means out of mind, but I don’t think that will ever be the case for you.
N.Y.: A lot of times when artists are rushing to put out projects it’s on some financial tip because they want to make money. But for me I’m not in any rush.
Essence.com: Of course not because you write for everyone so your cash is always steady!
N.Y.: (Laughs) Right, well, there you go, but as an artist my main goal is longevity. I’m not trying to be some fly-by-night dude, I want to be around for years to come.
Essence.com: Not with everyone requesting a Ne-Yo hit you won’t. What’s next for you in film and music?
N.Y.: I’m looking at other films, but the [writer’s] strike hit real hard so whatever might have been on the table was thrown back on the back burner. I’m definitely still looking for my next film. As far as artists, I’m working with Michael Jackson, Jennifer Hudson, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and then my company, Compound Entertainment, is putting out three new artists that I’ll be introducing—including two female R&B artists, Jovie and Chanells and then one male, D-Brown.
Essence.com: You’re a busy man. Let’s switch gears to address some of the rumors, like your beef with R. Kelly. I understand you are suing him?
N.Y.: As of right now, things are pending legally so I’m not at liberty to talk about the case. You know, I never have a problem talking about anything, but I’ve been advised not to discuss the case.
Essence.com: That’s understandable. Well, can you explain how your dismissal from the tour came about?
N.Y.: Well, it wasn’t even told to me directly by [R. Kelly]; he sent his people to tell me.
Essence.com: So do you think your affiliation with Jay-Z and Def Jam had anything to do with it, considering that they once toured together and didn’t complete the tour together?
N.Y.: I don’t think so, because if that were the case I wouldn’t have been on the tour to begin with. It’s no secret that I’m a Def Jam artist so I don’t think that had anything to do with it.
Essence.com: It’s been reported that you were asked to leave the tour because you upstaged him. Is that simply speculation?
N.Y.: Well, I’m the one who made that statement. I only did two shows in Columbus and Georgia. It was only the next day after the first two reviews came out and they gave me great reviews and his were not so positive.
Essence.com: Wow—so did you ever speak to R. Kelly about your dismissal?
N.Y.: Nope. That was another thing—as a man he showed me blatant disrespect. He never tried to come and speak to me, but he wouldn’t even have to come to me, I would have been willing to talk to him about it, but that never happened.
Essence.com: Had you met him prior to this tour?
N.Y.: No, I was on tour and I didn’t get to speak to that man. I didn’t see his face. He didn’t make an attempt to speak to me; it was as if it didn’t matter that I was there.
Essence.com: Well, what about during rehearsals?
Essence.com: Wow. So would you be willing to sit down and talk if he ever reached out to you?
N.Y.: Absolutely, I don’t hate R. Kelly. There won’t be no diss records—we don’t do that in R&B. Seriously, I looked up to R. Kelly as an artist, and still do, but I don’t have respect for him as a man. I was happy to join the tour. I’m a man, so I don’t disrespect other men. I would still be open to talk to him. But his not coming to me directly was blatant disrespect, because he didn’t even view me as someone important enough to show respect to by talking to me man-to-man. If you have issues with me, then be man enough to come to me personally, but instead he had his people do it and then they said it wasn’t him but that the promoters asked me to be removed from the tour and that’s b---sh--.
Essence.com: You’ve been the target of many rumors, but I love that you keep it moving. Let’s address the rumor regarding your financial dispute with your son’s mom, who was supposedly getting evicted due to your refusing to pay child support. Is that true?
N.Y.: There is truth to some of it. She was being evicted because I refused to pay her rent any longer once I found out her child was not my biological son. But I’ve been his father since the day he came on his earth so I told her anything he needs I got him, but you are a grown a-- woman with working arms and legs—ain’t nothing wrong with you so go get yourself a job.
Essence.com: Why in the world would she try to take you to court after you agreed to give financial support in raising her son?
N.Y.: She wasn’t happy with the amount I offered to give her and said, ‘No, I need more.’ So she decided to take me to court. I asked her why and told her she wouldn’t win because he was not my biological son. So I said, ‘Fine, you get nothing. Let’s go to court.’
Essence.com: Whoa! So why did you wait to get a blood test?
N.Y.: Well, she told me when she got pregnant that it could be between me and another guy, so I knew that from the beginning. When the baby was born everyone assumed that he was mine because he looked so much like me so no one really questioned it except my mother because she never trusted her and urged me to get a blood test.
Essence.com: How did that discovery affect you?
N.Y.: It hurt me for a minute, but you know....
Essence.com: Do you still see him?
N.Y.: No, because she doesn’t allow me to, so what can I do? As a mother she has the right, I don’t.
Essence.com: Fortunately, your mom encouraged you to get a blood test done. You’ve said that your mom always looks out and was even ready to knuckle up when rumors first surfaced about you being gay.
N.Y.: (Laughs) Yeah, my mom is my dawg. When she heard the rumors that I was gay she was like, ‘Who do I have to pay a visit? Who’s a-- do I have to kick?’
Essence.com: And your initial reaction to folks questioning your sexuality?
N.Y.: Honestly, when I first heard that there were rumors out there about me being gay I thought, Wow someone must really hate me. There’s nothing wrong with being gay, but I just couldn’t understand why someone would make up lies like that. I remember speaking to Jay-Z about it and he was like, ‘Look, man you haven’t made it until someone says you’re gay.”
Essence.com: And what about now?
N.Y.: Nah, I don’t even think about that mess anymore. Once it’s said, it ain’t nothing you can do but ignore it.
Essence.com: Once you addressed the rumor that you and Hayden Panettiere (the cheerleader from Heroes) were dating and offered an explanation as to why there were photos of the two of you hand-in-hand—you were helping her out of her car so she wouldn’t mess up her shoes—they really continued with the gay comments.
N.Y.: (Laughs) Okay, so because I can respect a woman’s shoe game, and not to mention that I’ve bought a few pairs of shoes in the past for the women in my life, that makes me gay? That’s hilarious.
Essence.com: Well, before you go, I have to go in the crate and dust off an old scandal regarding the photo, which shows you and a young lady being graphically intimate.
N.Y.: Oh yeah, that’s really old. Someone hacked into a phone and retrieved that photo and put it on the Internet.
Essence.com: So did the young lady freak out because she was caught in an uncompromising position?
N.Y.: Nah, I’m grown, she grown. I just need to be more careful where I put my personal things. Besides it’s grown-folks business. It ain’t the first photo and it sure won’t be the last.