Ne-Yo doesn’t feel he’s getting the appreciation he deserves.
But he’s not about to change who he is just to get it.
Year of the Gentleman
(Def Jam; US: 16 Sep 2008; UK: 15 Sep 2008)
Ne-Yo has platinum CDs; a list of hits including “Closer,” “Miss Independent” and “Because of You”; songwriting credits for Beyonce, Rihanna and Celine Dion; and a Grammy nomination for album of the year.
Still, there are times when he feels “a little underappreciated,” he says.
Despite his many accolades, including winning two Grammys this month, Ne-Yo feels that his name isn’t as big as it should be.
“There’s certain aspects of me and this business that don’t necessarily mix,” he says.
“I’m a fully functional, 100 percent regular person. I ain’t on drugs, I don’t drink too tough, I don’t get arrested every three weeks and I’m not having sex with a lot of celebrities.
“I’m a boring, regular person, other than what I do with this music and on stage, and it’s not fair. I’ve never been on the cover of Vibe magazine because I’m not an idiot, not to dis anyone who has been on the cover. But you almost have to smack somebody upside the head with a champagne bottle to get that.”
Ne-Yo’s Grammy acclaim was for his third CD “Year of the Gentleman,” the most mature showing so far of his style of throwback R&B.
The diversity of “Year of the Gentleman” led to its success, along with his assertion that it doesn’t sound like today’s typical R&B.
“There’s no gratuitous sex songs. There’s a level of class on there that’s a little bit rare right now,” he says of the CD, which carries Michael Jackson influences.
There was a concern that Ne-Yo was going for too much diversity for fans. The first single, the dance song “Closer,” was slow out of the gate and led to the delay of the CD’s release. (The song would later take off, climbing to the Top 10 and earning a Grammy nomination.)
“People thought I was walking away from R&B, but R&B is where I came from,” he says. “I could never abandon R&B.
“But ‘Closer’ was a complete step to the left, and I expected people to be surprised. But I had to put faith in my fans that they would understand that at the end of the day I’m an artist, and I can’t give you the same thing over and over. You gotta push the envelope, because if I’m bored, you’re bored.”
Ne-Yo is headlining his first tour after several gigs opening for other artists including Alicia Keys and Chris Brown. He admits he’s a bit nervous.
“I’m basically the one,” he says. “I’m not saying no one is coming to see Jazmine Sullivan or Musiq Soulchild. They’re definitely bringing in folks. But people are looking for me to bring the house down. The only one they’ll have something to say about is me, so yeah I’m a little nervous.”
Soulchild and Sullivan have it easier because, “when you’re supporting, you’re the underdog. Even if your show is not great, people aren’t expecting it to be because you’re not the headliner.”
But in his favor, he says, is the fact the audience is stacked with Ne-Yo fans who are “going to give me love right off the top.”
Headlining seems like a natural move for Ne-Yo. He has three hit-filled CDs and has consistently revealed himself as an old-school-flavored soul man. In addition to Jackson, he has drawn inspiration from the Rat Pack. During the Grammys, he performed a tribute to the Four Tops.
His competence may have led to his getting booted from R. Kelly’s tour in 2007. Reports suggested he was let go for upstaging Kelly. (Ne-Yo sued for breach of contract and won.)
“I was blown away by how that went down,” he says. “The negativity with that was unnecessary. You’re a man, I’m a man, and we’re both talented. Why should there be any animosity?”
Ne-Yo promises fans a show that’s about the music first and how the music makes concertgoers feel.
“If you want to sit and stare, then fine,” he says. “If you want to stand up and dance, then do that. It if makes you kiss the person next to you, then fine, do that. Do whatever it makes you do. Just have fun.”