Ne-Yo: Unplugged

Singer/songwriter Ne-Yo is entering the entertainment industry strongly – slowly perfecting each angle of the game. Although he is only 22, Ne-Yo is not a newcomer to the scene. Growing up in a musical household in Las Vegas, his talents were engrained in him from birth, and he began honing his crafts in his teens. He co-wrote Mario’s hit single “Let Me Love You” in 2004 alongside producer Scott Storch and songwriter Kam Houf, and his heartfelt words have been on countless songs for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Musiq, and B2K.

After a few years of creating for others, the time has come for Ne-Yo to focus on his own project, In My Own Words. His first single and video for “Stay” featuring fellow Def Jam artist Peedi Peedi, aka Peedi Crakk, is creating a huge buzz.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives had a chance to speak with Ne-Yo before he sets out on a month-long tour with John Legend. In an exclusive interview, Ne-Yo discusses his transition from a song writer into an artist, and his new home at Island Def Jam Records.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Being that you’re from Las Vegas, what challenges have you faced as an R&B artist coming from there?

Ne-Yo: I live in California now, but I grew up in Las Vegas. I’ve been trying to do music like forever. You’ll find that there’s a lot of talent in Vegas, Vegas is actually an untapped source—there’s a whole bunch of talented people out there, but there’s really no outlet to get into the business in any way. The furthest you can go as far as R&B is singing in some lounge in some casino somewhere. It was just a matter of me getting out of Vegas as soon as I could, to move to California to really get stuff popping.

AHHA: Being that Vegas is an entertainment-oriented city, and although it is limited music-wise, did you use your surroundings while you were there to help you start your career? What show did you star in?

Ne-Yo: Yea, when I was in the 11th grade I was an extra in one of the big Vegas shows over at the MGM. That helped me get comfortable with the stage and performing in front of a bunch of people, because if one of the main actors in a specific part was out then I had to fill in. And there was a point in time when I was up on stage like every night for a month. It was EFX at the MGM Grand Hotel. I’m not sure if it’s still running there, but at the time David Cassidy was headlining the show.

AHHA: Did the local Las Vegas stations help your career? Did you get ample radio play?

Ne-Yo: I am now. [laughs] Well, once they found out that I was from there then, yeah, it was all love. The opened the front gates for me.

AHHA: When did you begin to seriously pursue your musical career? Was it when you were still in school or afterward?

Ne-Yo: Yeah, it was when I was still in school. I was in a group with three cats that I went to high school with. We were in a singing group called ENVY. We did local talent shows all around Vegas and everything, but then again there weren’t any outlets to do the music thing. So when I moved out to California, we all moved out there together hoping to try and lock down some kind of record deal.

AHHA: What happened with ENVY?

Ne-Yo: To make a long story short, after we moved we went through creative differences and wind up splitting up. We’re still close, two of the guys from the group are writers signed to my production company. We basically just grew apart; I mean they were trying to go in a direction that I wasn’t try to go in. So I had to move on and met with a production company, Real Time Entertainment, where I got my first record deal with Columbia Records.

AHHA: Did your album ever drop on Columbia?

Ne-Yo: Nah, when we went over there we shopped a finished album, but this was during that period in time when they couldn’t keep their urban division together. They just sat on my project and weren’t doing anything with me. So the production company that I was with asked them to release me, and of course they didn’t want to do that. So it was a long drawn out thing with lawyers and stuff, and then they finally decided that they would let me go but they kept the album.

AHHA: How was it transitioning from a songwriter into an artist?

Ne-Yo: I mean I’m still transitioning. Well it’s definitely something that takes some time getting used to. Especially coming from being in the background, as a songwriter; it’s like to be a songwriter you don’t have to worry about the things you have to worry about as an artist. As a songwriter you don’t have to worry about how you look everyday or saying the right things in interviews. It’s just get up, get something to eat and go in the studio and stay there until you make a hit. But this whole artist thing, it’s like I gotta make sure that my body is right, I gotta make sure that I look like a million dollars every time I walk out of the house just because I’m an artist. And there’s a reputation and an image to uphold with that, and that’s taking some getting used to ‘cause I’m very much just a t-shirt and jeans and go… and I can’t do that now. So that’s definitely taking some time to get used to, but I’m getting that hang of it.

AHHA: What would you say makes you any different from other songwriters?

Ne-Yo: I don’t really know. And I’ve been asked that question a bunch of times, but I never have an answer for it just because I don’t really try to be different from other songwriters. I feel that there’s room for good music regardless of who writes it, be it me, R. Kelly or whoever—a hot song is a hot song. If I feel I can write a hot song just like any other writer, then I feel I have as much of a right to be here as they do. So I don’t really try to separate myself from other writers, I just do what I do and hope that it’s hot.

AHHA: How did you link up with Def Jam?

Ne-Yo: The whole Def Jam situation, my whole deal was an accident. A little while after I got released from Columbia, I was in a depression and I was like, ‘To hell with this whole artist thing, I’m just going to be a writer—forget it’. The people that I was working with, one of the writer cats named Sauce, remember that group Somethin’ For The People? Anyway, one of the producers from that group – his name is Sauce – he’s a good friend of mine. We was in New York trying to shop songs to other artists, other labels and what not, and he remembered that a friend of his, Tina Davis who was an A&R over here at Def Jam at that time, they grew up together in the Bay in California.

So she asked him what he had been up to, and he was like, ‘Well you know just working, I got this kid Ne-Yo, he’s an incredible writer, and singer, etc.’ She popped a CD in, and stopped it in the middle and asked ‘Can you perform?’ I was like, ‘Ahhhh, yeah.’ She said, ‘Ok, perform.’ I said, ‘Right here, right now here in your office?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ So I did a little impromptu performance for her right there in her office, and to make a long story short she was impressed so much that she put me in front of LA Reid that day, and we got the deal that day. That was not even a year ago. I haven’t been at Def Jam for a year yet.

AHHA: How is it working closely with Jay-Z?

Ne-Yo: It’s cool, like Jay, as far as my project, he didn’t really have a whole lot of input. You know he would listen to songs and tell me either this song is hot because of this, or that song isn’t hot because of that. He was basically just throwing his little critiques on it here and there. He basically let me do me – I mean being that he is who he is, and he has the swagger that he has, you know he knows what’s hot and what’s not. But for the most part he just let me do what I do, and I got the utmost respect for him and LA Reid for that, because… going back to the whole Columbia situation, I was just so hungry and happy to have a deal that I basically let them turn me into whatever they wanted me to be. Which is probably the reason why the deal didn’t go anywhere, because it wasn’t me—it was them trying to create the next Usher or the next whoever; where as over here at Def Jam, they’re trying to create the first Ne-Yo.

AHHA: With the new structure of the Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Label, how do you feel your album is going to fit in?

Ne-Yo: On the R&B side, Def Jam is doing big things. They got Bobby Valentino, came out strong. Teairra Mari is doing her thing on the Roc-A-Fella side, Rhianna’s doing her thing, Mariah Carey came out and just murdered the game doing her thing. I mean it’s all good music. Like I said before, I feel that there’s always room for good music. I feel that my album is quality R&B music, and I feel that the world is going to agree with me when it comes out.

AHHA: Can you talk to me a little bit about your album?

Ne-Yo: The album is entitled In My Own Words. I called it that because I wrote every song on the record. I touched on earlier that I have my own production company called Compound Entertainment, and we did a good half of the record as far as the production side. On the other half of the record we used a lot of up and coming producers, a guy named Shay Taylor, who’s this new kid out of Philly; this guy Nefew, who actually did the first single for me. He did a bunch of stuff for 50 [Cent]’s album, on the low, you know how that goes. And the main reason why I used a lot of up-and-coming producers and my own in-house producers is mainly because I wanted to create a project that people are going to go and get because they dug it, not so much because Scott Storch produced it or Timbaland produced it or Dr. Dre produced it. I wanted to stay away from and avoid the whole name game thing, and have people go get it because they actually heard the music and they liked it.

It’s slated for a release sometime in December. I’m not sure exactly of the date because they keep changing it, but they’re trying to figure it out. The first single off the album in entitled “Stay.” It’s me featuring Peedi Peedi, who’s a rising star over on the Roc-A-Fella side. That was Jay’s call to put him on their. You know the song was already done, and then Jay heard it and was like, ‘You know what? This song would be perfect if it had this.’ So he threw Peedi on there and it was like the perfect marriage, and it worked out perfect.

AHHA: Do you have any other features on the album?

Ne-Yo: There are no other features on the album other than Peedi. The main reason for that is, again, because I want people to go and get the album because they dig the music, they dig me. I want people it because they dig Ne-Yo.

AHHA: What’s the significance behind your name?

Ne-Yo: The name Ne-Yo came from another producer friend of mine, his name is Big D Evans. He did “Brenda’s Got a Baby” [for Tupac], “Kiss You Back” [Digital Underground]. He’s a good friend of mine and we work a lot, and one day he said to me, ‘Man it’s like you see music the way Neo sees the Matrix,’ and from that day forward he just started calling me Ne-Yo and it just stuck. To this day I don’t really know exactly what he meant by that, [laughs] but it is what it is—I’m Ne-Yo now.

AHHA: Who would you like to work with as far as cameos and production on the next project? Do you do any production?

Ne-Yo: Me and Scott [Storch]… you know I wrote “Let Me Love You” for Mario, me and Scott did that, and we had meant to do some stuff for me but with his schedule and my schedule we just haven’t gotten around to do it, so I really want to get in and do some stuff with him for me. I was talking to [Dr.] Dre about doing some stuff, I really want to do some stuff with him. And as far as artists, I’ve had the pleasure with so many great people that it would be an honor and a pleasure for any of them to bless me with anything. I’ve worked with Mary J. Blige, Faith Evan, Christina Milian. I’m about to go in with Beyonce, I’m doing some stuff for Tyrese right now. If any of these people would be willing to do any cameos on my next joint, that would be an honor.

I’m heading the production company right now, you know I got producers under me and they’re showing me how to push buttons and stuff. So in the very near future you’ll have Ne-Yo joints written and produced by Ne-Yo, but for now I let them handle that part of it.

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