Ne-Yo: In My Own Words

Dan Nishimoto

It will blow up if it flirts with pop. Poppa Jay-Z smiles as singer and songwriter Ne-Yo proves a worthy investment.


In My Own Words

Label: Def Jam
US Release Date: 2006-02-28
UK Release Date: 2006-02-27
iTunes affiliate

A couple of months ago, Jay-Z paid a rare visit to BET's 106 & Park. Instead of announcing a retirement from retirement, or promoting pivotal personal business, he kept mum and sat alongside a new Def Jam draft pick. The V.I.P. of the day was a singer; a handsome young man that appeared no different from the parade of chart-toppers that regularly pass through the soundstage. And, like so many before him, the singer dressed the part, charmed the audience, and invited one special (i.e., teenage) someone up for her fifteen minutes (with him). In this manner, the script practically wrote itself, until the singer asked the jubilant fan to cite why everyone had to purchase three copies of his album. Without hesitation, she replied: One for her father's home, one for her mother's home, and one for driving. In that moment, it became clear why President S. Carter paid the kids a visit that afternoon: to co-sign on the success of pop's latest star.

Such is the appeal of Shaffer "Ne-Yo" (pronounced "Nee-Yoh") Smith's music: neo soul with that teenage feeling. Captivating aesthetically and marketable as commodity, he has proven savvy at selling soul by the line. He showed pop potential before showing his face when he penned Mario's effective hit "Let Me Love You", in addition to songs for bona fide stars like Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, and Musiq. When he stepped out on his own late last year, listeners responded again. Last fall's radio staple "So Sick" hardly challenged the annual deluge of prom fluff with its breezy melody and lean arrangement, but its angst-ridden concept -- post-breakup trauma exacerbated by excessive FM love lines -- gave Ne-Yo the needed veneer of a gritty exterior and soulful interior to set himself apart from the pack.

In this sense his major label debut, In My Own Words, is a notable success. With spare but clean, rounded yet consistent production, the album has an appealing azure quality fit for those down-in-the-Calgary-dumps times. Ne-Yo takes a cue from the late great Marvin and implores listeners to dance (and fuck) away the blues: tumbling floor toms, Zapp-ish tweets, and medieval scratches lend "Stay" a fresh-grown'n sexy flavor, while swallowing bass tongues hiccup through the strut-worthy "It Just Ain't Right". Admittedly, Ne-Yo's lyric-writing is hardly the stuff of legends -- choice moments include: "It Just Ain't Right"'s "Ever reminisce on us on the bathroom floor"; "When You're Mad"'s rhyme of "Could it be the little wrinkle over your nose" and "That makes me want to take off all your clothes"; and the requisite volcano cliché within the first 30 seconds of "Sexy Love". However, his robust man-child voice tempers the redundancy of heartache and makes the album a plausible listen.

While sound backs much of the album's content, its marketing campaign admittedly sinks the coveted clutch shot. From the fist-shaking independence of its title, to the poster-ready quality of its cover (a soft focus close-up of a boy-on-the-verge-of-becoming-a-man, as identified by the pencil-thin moustache, superimposed over lines of his own lyrics... because he is a writer... who writes his own songs), the album begs to be kept underneath the pillow alongside the diary/journal of an achy-breaky teen. In this sense, Ne-Yo works his angles sharp and precise, dilating the pupils of his fanbase with images of "sexing you all over the floor" -- ideas as preposterous, yet telling, as a barely legal (to drive; and from New York City, no less) talking about buying CDs for her "ride". In My Own Words captures these grandiose dreams, oversimplified generalizations, and lascivious fantasies with surprising clarity. And Jigga and the cats at Def Jam know it. But don't worry: the kid redeems himself on one track, the righteous Ghostface collabo "Get Down Like That". Maybe there'll be time for a Version 2.0.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.