Ne-Yo: Mr. Nice Guy

The slew of new R&B artists that are hitting the airwaves is no coincidence. The record labels have picked up the change in urban music consumers, and the teen market is ready to embrace something other than Hip-Hop. Chances are that when Def Jam recording artist Ne-Yo dropped his first single “Stay” in Fall 2005, you weren’t too sure what category to put him in. Was this another label attempt to create a star, or did Ne-Yo really have a rare musical talent to offer us?

If anything will convince you of this it will be Ne-Yo’s second single “So Sick”. The makings of an R&B classic, the song has already been critically acclaimed on all sides of the globe. But let’s not paint any sort of pretty picture here. Despite having a hit song firmly placed on single charts, Ne-Yo is known more for his writing ability (he wrote “Let Me Love You” for Mario) than his solo album In My Own Words. With the industry buzzing, and everyone from Remy Ma to Beyonce enlisting him for his musical talents, why is the public taking so long to get to know Ne-Yo? Do nice guys always finish last?

Upon his return from Japan, we went one-on-one with Ne-Yo to talk about the new single, his bubbling career and those rumors about being in the studio with Jay-Z.

AHHA: Where do all these love songs come from?

Ne-Yo: Ideas for love songs come from everywhere. I’ve gotten inspiration from the back of a cereal box.

AHHA: Are any of them based on real life experience?

Ne-Yo: “So Sick” is a true story. It was the first girl I ever said ‘I love you’ to and really meant it, you know. I had just turned 18, and for whatever reason I actually let my friends convince me to cheat on her. To prove a point to them, I cheated on her. I have a conscience so I confessed to the cheating – and she left me. That was the most pain I had felt in my 18 years of living. It was horrible. Writing this song was actually very therapeutic for me.

AHHA: Did you ever speak to her again?

Ne-Yo: No. I haven’t spoken to her since the day we split up.

AHHA: Does she know the song is about her?

Ne-Yo: Absolutely. She knows the song is about her. I put a lot of very specific details in the lyrics like July 15th and the answering machine- that’s all real stuff.

AHHA: Do you have a remix planned?

Ne-Yo: We got one coming real soon. I don’t know how much I should talk about it. But we definitely have one coming. As far as unofficial remixes, there are a million of those floating around…

AHHA: Come on now, we want to know about the official one.

Ne-Yo: The official…mmm…I might have to make you sweat a little on that one!

AHHA: Why didn’t you sign to J Records considering your deal with Columbia had soured and you had written a number one song [“Let Me Love You”] for them?

Ne-Yo: At the time I didn’t want to be an artist. Columbia shelved my project for a year and half because they couldn’t get their urban division together. It was so bad that I went over asked if I could be released from my contract, and of course they didn’t want to do that. It was dragged out and they finally let me go – but they kept my whole album. I had done a full album over there and they kept it. After that I figured God didn’t want me to be an artist, so any conversations we had with J Records were just about writing for other people.

AHHA: You were signed to Def Jam by Tina Davis, who is now over at Jive and managing Chris Brown. When she left were you nervous about your situation at Def Jam?

Ne-Yo: Yes. The way I got the deal was I performed for Tina Davis. She was so impressed that she put me in front of LA Reid that same day. After Tina left they were skeptical on whether they wanted to keep me so I actually had to perform again for LA Reid, Jay Z, and a bunch of their people so they could figure out if they wanted to keep me at all.

AHHA: Do you still speak to Tina Davis? And do you see her artist Chris Brown as competition?

Ne-Yo: I do keep up with Tina Davis. Chris Brown and I are actually good friends. That question seems to be coming up a lot lately: ‘Do I have any rivals in the business? How do I feel about other R&B cats in the game?’ As far as I know there is no animosity between any of us – I don’t have beef with anybody. The analogy that I give to everybody is- let’s say I’m a boxer. Chris Brown is boxer. Trey Songz is a boxer. Bobby Valentino is a boxer. Now, outside of the ring everybody is cool, we’re all friends, we’re all good. But everyone knows in the back of there can only be one heavyweight champion of the world. So that means even though we’re all cool, at one point you may have to go up against a friend. It’s just friendly competition.

AHHA: You’re on Heather Headley’s album and Remy Ma’s album. The industry is buzzing about you right now, but it seems as if the public is taking its time. Would you agree?

Ne-Yo: Yes, I would agree. I haven’t done a whole lot of TV, that’s one thing. I haven’t been on 106 & Park yet. This industry is small. Remy Ma was recording in the same studio as me. I went and said hello and we got cool real fast. Her people asked me if I mind doing a joint on Remy’s album. I was like ‘Yeah sure!’ Heather is signed to J Records and so is Mario. So when we went over there they already knew what I could do.

AHHA: You’re extremely versatile. Would you do any other genres?

Ne-Yo: Oh sure! What people don’t understand about me is that I have a very multi-faceted personality. I’m the same cat that can do a joint with Ghostface Killah and then turn around and do a song with Coldplay. That’s who I am, because it’s all music.

AHHA: Besides Coldplay, who would you want to work with that you haven’t already yet?

Ne-Yo: I would do a joint with Marilyn Manson if you let me. For real, I could do it. These are facets of my personality that the world is not ready for yet. The world is not ready for the Ne-Yo / Marilyn Manson collaboration, so we’re going to wait on that. This first album is very traditional R&B, its thick-rich melodies and harmonies. But as time goes on and people get to know me a little better, you’ll see other parts of personality come out. I guarantee it.

AHHA: You’re dabbling in acting too right now. Tell us about it.

Ne-Yo: Yes, in Save The Last Dance 2. It’s coming out later this year. I play Mick, and he’s the club owner. It’s a small part. I got the chance to see a rough draft of my scene, and it’s actually pretty good.

AHHA: Did you have to audition?

Ne-Yo: The crazy thing is the meetings that I was having with the director and producer were for the soundtrack of the film, because I’m going to be doing a good majority, if not all of, the entire soundtrack. So I got a call from the director and he wanted to meet me. I walk into the room thinking we were going to have another conversation about the soundtrack and they throw a camera in my face and say read this. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ [Laughs] And I guess I did pretty well because I got the part.

AHHA: I read somewhere that you were in the studio with Jay-Z?

Ne-Yo: No. When did I say that? It’s people putting words in my mouth.

AHHA: Are you in studio with Beyonce?

Ne-Yo: Beyonce and I have done about two songs together, because her main focus is movies right now. So as soon she gets a minute to breathe and focus, I’m going to help her with her new project.

AHHA: In another interview you had an email address that your fans could get in touch with you. If that was real, why would you give out your email address?

Ne-Yo: Oh man that was another situation. I didn’t do that. The way it happened was the girl that was interviewing me was kind of cute and she asked me, ‘How can I get in contact with you, off the record?’ So I gave her my phone number and my email address. And then I read the interview and it said, ‘If my fans want to reach me they can email me at…’ I gave it to her off the record and she put it in the interview! Now I get 25 random emails a day! But I might keep it because it is a direct link to my fans.

AHHA: What is the romantic thing that you’ve done or had done for you on Valentines Day?

Ne-Yo: Last year on Valentines Day the mother of my son told me that she wasn’t going to be around. So I had mentally prepared myself for her not being in town. She is not my girlfriend; she’s like my best friend. She’s one of the people I know for a fact that’s not kicking it with me because I’m Ne-Yo. She doesn’t care about none of that. She surprised me! I came home and she had a little picnic type situation on the floor of the living room with candles and everything. It was just so dope because I had already thought she wasn’t going to be there. She had chocolate strawberries and all of that.

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