Listening to the first single, “Because Of You” one can hear a soulful purity that has been absent from R&B for some time. Produced by Ne-Yo’s old friends Stargate, who first broke-out with their work on “So Sick,” the uptempo “Because of You” has already started blazing from stereo speakers. As a testament to how far Ne-Yo has been and where he wants to go, his upcoming album is a masterful excursion through the heart and mind of America’s latest soul boy wonder.
So why can’t we turn off the radio? It’s because of the very talented and huggable, Ne-Yo.
Tell me about your new album, Because Of You.
Ne-Yo: There are a lot more up tempo tracks this time around and it’s a lot more personal. The first album was a little bit mellower, this time it’s me having more fun with it. I really want people to listen to this record with an open mind because it’s definitely R&B but there are some elements of it that are to the left of what R&B is. For example, I did a lot of unofficial tributes to the people I look up to in the business. One of those people is Prince who is not a strictly R&B artist. He had a Rock edge to a lot of his stuff so a couple of my tracks are like that too which might take people by surprise when they first listen to it. Like I said, just open up your mind and gear yourself up for hearing something that you may not be accustomed to.
Does that mean you’ve gone a bit 80’s?
Ne-Yo: Absolutely! That’s what Prince was and what Prince is. I thought about collaborating with him and dreamt about it but it hasn’t happened yet. It probably never will happen! He’s definitely number one on the list of people I want to work with and write for.
You’ve written for countless artists, have you ever thought of stepping back from being an artist yourself?
Ne-Yo: Depending on what this album does I might just take a year off and write for other people. I really like being an artist. There are definitely some perks and quirks that you get being an artist that you don’t get being the guy in the background. It would really depend on my physical wellbeing at the time because as an artist I’m running around 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’ve been doing that for two years now. Who knows?
What’s the difference when you’re writing a song for yourself and writing a song for someone else?
Ne-Yo: When I’m writing for myself, I know my limitations and what I will or won’t say. Writing for someone else you don’t know so you have to be a little careful. When I’m writing for myself I can freestyle or do whatever but when writing for somebody else you have to definitely keep it within a certain realm because you don’t want to overstep any boundaries or make anybody uncomfortable with something that they wouldn’t say.
Did you have Beyonce in mind when you wrote Irreplaceable?
Ne-Yo: No, actually it was a song I wrote from a male’s point of view but with a guy singing it, it comes across as a bit mean and kind of brash. With a woman, it comes across as empowering like, ‘I’m a strong woman’. With a dude it’s more like, ‘He’s a player, he wasn’t loving anybody anyway’.
How do you get into a female’s mind when you’re writing for female artists?
Ne-Yo: It’s kind of easy because I grew up in a house full of females until I was sixteen. It was me, my mother, my grandmother and my aunts all in the same house. I did a lot of writing and waiting for the bathroom during that time.
What was it like growing up with so many females in your life?
Ne-Yo: It gave me more insight to the female mind and every little piece of drama they went through, I went through it with them which made it easier to write songs like Irreplaceable and Unfaithful [Rihanna].
They must have been bitching to you all the time!
Ne-Yo: Oh yeah! I got an earful. It was like ‘What do you think about this? He called me and he said whatever.’ I was like ‘I don’t want to hear this!’ I was there for them the whole time though.
What about Britney? Do you think you will finally get to work with her when her drama is over?
Ne-Yo: I don’t know! What happened is that I was working closely with Britney Spears’ people. I never got to see her or speak with her, we just set up studio sessions and she never turned up. I was writing these songs for Britney and then she goes on her little breakdown and went into rehab so okay cool but when that happened I lost all contact with her people. I’m like, well, these songs ain’t going nowhere and I’m not going to let them collect dust. Nicole Scherzinger approached me to help her with her new album.
I showed her some of the songs and she took one that she really liked, she recorded it and I got my cheque for it. Britney Spears’ people heard about this and got mad. I don’t know why they got mad because I’m a businessman and until the cheque is cut it’s not their song. I don’t care, until y’all pay me for it, it’s not yours, it’s mine to do what I want with it. Out of respect for Britney I put aside two songs that they really liked so they will be waiting for her.
How about Whitney? I heard you’re working with her on her comeback.
Ne-Yo: I’ve done a few songs for her already and still doing more as we speak. I think that the Whitney Houston project is going to be a huge success. I’ve heard her vocally lately and she sounds really good. She’s also looking a lot better. I think that she needed to take some time for herself.
Do you think it will be as big as when Mariah Carey’s album The Emancipation Of Mimi came out?
Ne-Yo: I don’t know! I think it depends on the way they do it. Some of it is her classic, big voice, big ballads. Some of it is a bit up beat. She didn’t take it too far so people are going to say, ‘You’re old, what are you doing?’
Is there anything that you wouldn’t write about?
Ne-Yo: No, I will write about anything. No subject is taboo. I’m an open book from the start to the finish. Anything you want to know about me, just ask the question. That’s the way I am.
Did you write about a lot of your personal experiences for this album?
Ne-Yo: I always write from my personal experiences. It just happens that on this album it’s more making fun of myself and just having fun with the whole concept.
What are your tips for aspiring song writers?
Ne-Yo: Make sure that your melody is catchy, your topic is relatable and your lyrics are simple but not stupid. There is a difference between simplicity and stupidity. A simple lyric is something that a five year old could sing, a stupid lyric is something that a five year old might come up with. Get it right! A simple lyric is, ‘So sick of love songs so tired of tears’ and a stupid lyric is ‘Shake that laffy taffy’.
What do you think of those dance records like D4L’s Laffy Taffy? Do we need them?
Ne-Yo: I think they’re fun but I don’t think they should be taken seriously. Even that Laffy Taffy song is fun, it’s something you do a little dance to in the club. They’re not trying to change the world with Laffy Taffy.
Do you like MIMS – This Is Why I’m Hot?
Ne-Yo: That’s an example of a simple lyric because anybody can say ‘This is why I’m hot, this is why I’m hot.’ I applaud him on that.
Who do you personally think writes the best lyrics?
Ne-Yo: I like the way John Legend writes, I think he has really good lyrical content. In hip hop, I like the way Nas writes. Nas tells stories and I like people who know how to tell good stories. I also like the way Robin Thicke writes, his album is incredible.
Ne-Yo – here are your quick fire questions.
Ne-Yo: Junk food.
Day or night?
Beyonce or Rihanna?
Fabolous or Nas?
Michael Jackson or Prince?
Watching TV or sleeping?
Ne-Yo: None! Okay, I bite my nails. I do it so they look neat.
Most commonly used word?
Worst subject at school?
The new single 'Because Of You' is available for download now and available in the shops from April 16th 2007.