Ne-Yo: The Hero, Pt 1

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When AllHipHop.com Alternatives talked with Ne-Yo exactly one year ago, his single “Stay” was just catching a good buzz. Meanwhile, critics and fans, weary of the path that R&B was going down in recent years, watched to see what the young songwriter would do next. We believed that Ne-Yo would be the one to bring the balance to R&B, and he more than proved himself to the masses in 2006 with his debut album.

Now in a comfort zone all his own, Ne-Yo is venturing into other genres of music, dabbling in acting and making the most out of his success. Our AllHipHop.com video team met up with Ne-Yo early one New York morning to parlay on topics ranging from serious life issues to that infamous sex video leak.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Was there any reason you were not on [the world] tour with Jay-Z and Rihanna?

Ne-Yo: No, just because when they left I was doing the Up Close and Personal [tour], went out with Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Franchize Boys and Juelz Santana. I was doing that, and I had already told the people that I was gonna do that when Jay came to me like “Yo, we’re about to do this and that.” I’m like “Why you ain’t tell me a week earlier – before I said yes to this?” But it is what it is. I had fun on that tour, it just ended three days ago. I’m definitely gonna go over there and jump on and do a couple of dates, we’re about to go overseas. I still don’t think I’m at a point where I’m proven, I just don’t want people to think I’m trying to ride Jay’s coattails. That’s been a major thing with me from the day I jumped on, I don’t need Jay on the first song for the record. As much as I wanted it, I was like, “I don’t need it” because I wouldn’t have been proven. People would say, “The only reason he made it is because [of Jay-Z”], I didn’t want people to say that.

AHHA: You have Jay-Z doing the things with the wells in Africa, Nelly has his charity that he’s working with for bone marrow donations… are you involved in any charitable work right now?

Ne-Yo: I have a foundation called the Compound Foundation right now, basically we go around teaching kids life skills. Things that we personally feel you need to know in order to have somewhat of a successful life. For example, we went over to Jersey and kind of did it like a contest. We took 10 kids to Bank of America and showed them how to open up their own personal savings account. We got a facility that we’re building, starting in Jersey and we’re gonna move from there out. I got a building I’m putting together the computers and experts [will show you steps] if you want to go to college. Like I said, stuff you need to know in order to have in our personal opinion a successful life.

AHHA: We still have the war in Iraq going on, and there are a lot of people your age that are out there dying and whatnot. Does it ever concern you as an artist living your dream out here… when you look at those world affairs of horrible things going on, does it make you want to step outside of your world and do something different? Even something small as maybe entertaining the troops or going to see them?

Ne-Yo: Yeah I wouldn’t have a problem doing something like that at all. I mean these are people that are over there fighting and don’t know what the hell they’re fighting for, they’re just over there and ain’t got a choice. I ain’t even gonna sit here and say that I know what it’s like over there, but I can imagine that it’s the closest thing to hell on earth you’re gonna see. Just to be able to being some of this goodness that’s familiar back to them, yeah I’d love to.

AHHA: Same [thought] with Hurricane Katrina. Have you been able to go to New Orleans yet?

Ne-Yo: Nah, we haven’t been through there yet, and it’s so wack. Like you send money to this and that foundation not sure really of the money is getting where it’s supposed to go, but you kind of feel like really that’s all you can do. I’d love to be able to give some actual time and actually go over there to see what’s going on and help out in any way I could – but the schedule doesn’t permit and it’s really sucky and sad that that is the way it is.

AHHA: Speaking of schedules for you, obviously with Jay[-Z] on this world tour, it’s kind of setting a precedence for something that a lot of people haven’t done. Have you thought about really going overseas?

Ne-Yo: As a matter of a fact we’re headed over there – we’re gonna be over there for three [or] four weeks. We’re crossing the whole thing, starting out in Paris and then just working our way across.

AHHA: You mentioned before is that your grandfather is Chinese. Have you ever thought about going to China? What is your audience like in China? Do you have that relationship?

Ne-Yo: I’ve never been, we’ve been to Japan like twice already, but no we haven’t been to China yet. I really don’t know. I’d love to go just to be able to say I went.

AHHA: Was it ever a challenge for you growing up, having that part of your heritage?

Ne-Yo: Not really, everybody thought that it was kinda cool that I had actual Chinese people in my family, because kids are into martial arts and all that stuff. That’s the automatic assumption, “Wow, do they teach you karate?” Just weird stuff like that, so nah it was never really any problem.

AHHA: In a dance competition: You, Chris Brown, [and] Omarion. Who would win?

Ne-Yo: Probably Chris, I just came off tour with Chris so I like really seen what that dude could do. That little dude is incredible, I haven’t really seen Omarion do anything other than what you see in the videos, so I don’t know. But if I had to pick one I’d probably go with Chris.

AHHA: Did you see You Got Served?

Ne-Yo: Yeah I did, and that was nice, but it’s one thing to learn choreography and it’s another thing to get on stage and freestyle and just move. I ain’t gonna say no names, but I’ve heard that one of the better entertainers that is known for his dancing is not a very good freestyle dancer. It has to be “five and six and seven,” but Chris can get up there and just wild out and just do his thing.

AHHA: In a previous interview with AllHipHop.com Alternatives, you told us that you were interested in collaborating with Marilyn Manson and Coldplay. Have you had the chance yet?

Ne-Yo: Nah, I think stuff like that is gonna come way down the line. People ain’t ready for the Marilyn Manson/Ne-Yo collabo yet, but I still definitely wanna do it. At some point I wanna break out of just R&B ’cause I’m not just R&B, so I definitely wanna venture out. But it’s something that you gotta gradually feed to the public, you can’t force feed it on ‘em right them because they’re not ready for it.

AHHA: Speaking of not ready for it, we heard that you’re working with Britney Spears.

Ne-Yo: [nods and smiles]

AHHA: What kind of collaborations with non-urban artists do you have coming up?

Ne-Yo: No real collaborations, it’s just me writing for them. I did some stuff that might go to Enrique Iglesias as well, and he was actually in the studio with me. When I did the song we’re trying to get to Britney, she was supposed to be there but the paparazzi screwed that up. She got to the studio, tried to step foot out the limo and just got bombarded with paparazzi, so she hopped right back in the limo and they pulled out.

AHHA: What’s that been like for you, going from being this friendly guy new to the label to having everyone go crazy over you like, “Oh my God, it’s Ne-Yo”?

Ne-Yo: It took some getting used to ‘cause I never looked at myself like a celebrity or nobody that girls would scream and cry over – I still don’t. It’s still kinda weird, I’m getting used to it but in the beginning it was like “Oh my God, give me your autograph” and I was like “Why? What you want my autograph for? Gimme your autograph.” I’m getting used to it.

AHHA: You’re originally born in Arkansas. You were raised in Vegas, which is more of an entertainment type of city, but have you gone back to Arkansas?

Ne-Yo: We just recently did a show in Little Rock, and please believe, family that I had no idea even existed showed up to this show. Like all kinds of cousins and uncles, “You don’t remember me? Boy I used to change your diapers.” But it was cool. I haven’t been back to the town that I was born in, I don’t even know if it’s still there. I’m telling you when I say it’s small, this is the smallest town ever. Like it’s really literally not on a good majority of the maps you’ll look at. I really can’t fathom there being anything to go back to ‘cause even when I was there it wasn’t nothin’ to do but make a baby or kill somebody, that’s it.

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