Ne-Yo has been successfully delivering fans R&B and Pop hits for the past 10 years! He recently released a new album entitled, Non Fiction [available in stores and online now]. We recently had a chance to chat with the soulful crooner about his new album, the misogyny in today’s R&B, and how he feels about those who say he’s abandoned the genre.
ESSENCE: Congratulations on the release of your new album!
Ne-Yo: Thank you!. I’m happy, man. I’m not going to lie; I was a little nervous initially. I mean, everybody wants people to like what it is you are doing. I’m 10 years and six albums in. It wouldn’t be unrealistic for people to be like, “We’re cool on Ne-Yo. He had his time, on to the next.” But, people are actually digging the music and I’m relieved. I’m happy about that. It feels good. It feels good to be important to somebody.
ESSENCE: Why did you choose to name your album, Non-Fiction?
Ne-Yo: I’ve always told people that if you wanted to know anything important about me, take it to the music. Don’t go to your blog sites or people who are going to sensationalize bits and pieces of the story just to get it the way they want it to sound. Or [to a source that would] just flat out lie. I can’t tell people that my music is a viable source of information about me if I’m not keeping it all the way 100 [percent] in the music. With that being said, I decided to go ahead and put the magnifying glass on something that was kind of already there.
I’ve always written from true to life happenings and situations—be it mine, or a friend or family member close enough to tell me their stories. But this time, I wanted to do something kind of special. We live in a climate where cats might have a [hit] song and be gone next summer. The fact that I’m still here, I owe that entirely to my fans. So, I kind of wanted to allow them to be a part of the creative process this time. Fifty percent of this album is based off of stories involving myself and [my] personal life [over the past] couple of years. Plus, what it is to just be me at this point in my life and this point in my career. Then, the other fifty percent are true stories given to me by my fans. I actually reached out via my social media, asking questions about life, love, relationships and all that stuff. The stories that I really dug turned into songs for this album.
ESSENCE: You’ve been in the game 10 years. To what do you attribute your staying power?
Ne-Yo: I attribute my staying power to one: having a very open fan base. It’s not easy for an artist to jump genre, that’s something that’s definitely going to be determined by the fans and how it is that they rock with you. My initial album was R&B. That’s my initial genre but through the foundation that R&B has laid, I’ve been able to move through this EDM stuff. I’ve been able to reach out and explore other genres and that’s because of my fans and it’s because of the fact that you can find a melody in any genre of music. I think the melody is the common denominator in all of this. It’s the way that you’re saying [what you’re saying], the melody that you put behind it. I feel like that’s why all of the rappers are trying to sing now and all of the singers are trying to rap. It’s the power of that melody. You get the right one and it gets stuck in somebody’s head and you just can’t get it out of there. That’s the definition of a hit. It’s that song you just can’t stop singing whether you want to or not.
ESSENCE: Do you feel like it’s been difficult to stay in touch with your core R&B audience as you’ve evolved?
Ne-Yo: To a degree—I just applauded my fans for being open minded but on the other side of the same card, once they realize that you do one thing well, they kind of want you to stick to doing that one thing. Change is difficult. Be it music or otherwise. Doing something other than the way that you normally do, it takes some getting used to and that’s what’s going on with my fans. That initial difficulty turned into something negative. I was hearing people saying things like, “Ne-Yo has abandoned R&B music. Ne-Yo don’t do R&B no more.” I normally don’t let things that I hear about myself from blog sites or comments get to me. Haters exist and they are going to do what they do. But for people to start saying that, that really got under my skin. So, I kind of let this album serve as a reminder to my core R&B fans that R&B is my home. That’s where I come from. Mind you, I’m going to jump off the porch from time to time. I’m going to explore the neighborhood. I’m going to explore other neighborhoods. I might [even] leave the country but I’ll always come back home.
ESSENCE: It’s been 10 years since your debut album, In My Words was released. How do you feel R&B has changed, as a genre since then?
Ne-Yo: I feel like R&B is in the process of trying to evolve which I think is a good thing. With artists like The Weekend and Jhene Aiko, kind of adding this vibe-y, emo thing to the genre of R&B…it’s dope. Even with what Taylor Swift is doing with her new music. It’s a lot more soulful than her regular stuff. I feel like that’s helping the genre as well. It’s introducing those more soulful melodies to another audience and that’s just going to help the genre grow.
I do feel like R&B is a little misogynistic right now. I’ve been quoted as saying that and that’s true. I never thought I would see the day when cats were singing about dissing a woman. But, that’s the time we live in right now and it is what it is. I can’t sit up here and act holier than thou like I don’t be rocking out to [Chris Brown’s] Loyal when that joint comes on. On the other side of the same card, for every Loyal, we need a joint celebrating the women that actually are loyal. For every “do me” song out there, we need a “make love” song. For every “these broads ain’t nothing” [song], we need an “I love these women” [song]. We need both. That’s what the genre needs in order for it to continue to flourish.
ESSENCE: Do you think it’s possible for love to make a comeback in R&B?
Ne-Yo: Absolutely. Love is a force that could never die. It’s like any [other] energy on the face of the planet—you can’t destroy it. You can move it from vessel to vessel but you could never destroy it. Love is the most powerful force on the face of the planet. So, even if people lose sight of it from time to time, it’s never going to go anywhere. All it takes is one or two people with the right melody and the right lyrics to remind folks that love is a necessity. All this other stuff is trivial. Love is air and water. Everything else is fluff.
ESSENCE: When working on a new album, what is your favorite part of the creative process? Is it actually creating in the studio? Is it the promotion of the album or is it touring?
Ne-Yo: I will say that they all have their pros and cons. With touring, I love touching these different cities and finding fan bases that I didn’t even know I had in different countries and all of that. But after a while, it gets tiring, you know what I’m saying. You want to go home and sleep in your bed, on your pillow, but it’s all good. It’s a part of the job.
With putting the album together, the only part of that for me that becomes a little tedious is you have to consider and factor in to a degree what’s going on today. You can’t do an album completely ignoring what people like right now. Especially, if this is an album you are trying to get to the people. You have to give them what they want but at the same time, you can’t step outside of who you are. There would be times when I was in the studio doing whatever I wanted to do and then I would have to pull back and go, ‘but this is what my fans want, let me do a little bit of this, too.’ Again, it’s that balance thing. 50% of it’s got to be for me and 50% of it’s got to be for y’all. The 50% for me, that’s the easy part but the 50% for y’all, not all the time. There will be times where I don’t want to do a dance record but I know I have a fan base—a loyal fan base— that’s been there for me through the tough times. How could I not give them what they’re asking for?
ESSENCE: How many songs would you say you recorded for this album?
Ne-Yo: Somewhere between 60 and 100. Over time, you will hear them [songs that didn’t make the album]. They might not all come out on [my projects] but that’s the beautiful thing about music. Nothing is trash. Everything can be used for something. You know, it could become the hook on a feature for this person or I could give a whole song to this person.
ESSENCE: Your single, She Knows with Juicy J was such an unexpected pairing. How did that collaboration come about?
Ne-Yo: I have to accredit Dr. Luke, who produced the record. Of course you know Dr. Luke from countless hits on the pop side of things. The Katy Perry’s, the Kesha’s and I could go on and on and on. This is me and Dr. Luke’s first time successfully working together. The first time I heard the track I just instantly thought this sounds like something that’s going to play in your favorite strip club [with] that horn and just how heavy that 808 is. When I came to that realization, I figured the only person who can really nail that point all the way home would be a Juicy J. Plus, I’m a fan of Juicy J. He’s like the ‘Comeback King’, if you ask me. A lot of cats don’t realize, Juicy J was rapping in the ‘80’s and that dude is still here. You want to talk about staying power? Much respect and shout out to that dude. Dr. Luke helped me put all that together. I told him it would be dope to get [Juicy] J on a verse and he was like, “I already know the dude, I can give him a call.” I said, “Cool, call him.”
ESSENCE: We recently published an online article on your best album tracks of all time. What song do you think was your best album track?
Ne-Yo: I could put together a whole album of my personal favorite album tracks. My favorites normally are the album tracks. I love the singles and I love the stuff that fans love. But, when I get to just do me with the songs that I know are supposed to be for the album, like they might not become singles, I feel like that’s when I shine. That’s my moment. On In My Own Words, there’s a joint called Sign Me Up. If not that, then we can go with the cult classic, which is Mirror.
From Because of You, there’s a couple of them there. There’s Angel, there’s Say It, those two definitely stand out for me right now. From The Year of the Gentleman, we’ve got Single, we got Back to What You Know, Why Does She Stay. We could go on and on. Oh, and Fade Into the Background! How could I forget that one?
On Libra Scale, we had some gems on it, man. I feel like people let the fact that they didn’t really understand the story take them away from [the fact] that there were some real gems on that album. Me and Fabolous have one on that joint called, Crazy Love that I feel like is an absolute classic. There’s also a song on there called Telekinesis.
From Red, I did a joint with Tim McGraw. I pulled him out of his comfort zone a little bit with a song called, She Is. It’s Tim McGraw like y’all ain’t heard him before so if you didn’t get a chance to check that out I definitely recommend it. There’s another one on Red called, Set It Off.
ESSENCE: Are there any tracks on your new album [Non-Fiction] that you think should be on that list?
Ne-Yo: Oh, all day long. Honestly, you know what. It’s kind of unfair because I personally feel like this was some of my best work ever. So, every song on the album definitely has it’s thing. Each song is a force, individually. All the joints together, that’s definitely a movement. I recommend everybody get the deluxe edition and check it out from start to finish, so you can get the full brunt of the storyline. You can see how every song interacts with the song after it and before it. You can really see where it is I went with this thing. Songs that come to my mind right off top are Run featuring SchoolBoy Q, Integrity featuring my girl Charisse Mills, She Said I’m the Hood Tho featuring Candace, Make It Easy, Good Morning, Take You There. Man, I could keep going. Story Time! Story Time is a joint that I personally want everybody to check out. It’s a light-hearted take on what could become a rather serious situation if [you go about it] the wrong way.