Ne-Yo: Because Of You

While Def Jam MCs are complaining left and right about slow release schedules and lackluster marketing, the label’s R&B artists don’t seem to be having any problems. Like labelmate Rihanna, singer/songwriter Ne-Yo is quickly following up his successful debut with Because of You (Def Jam), a focused and mature look at the artist that puts him well within striking distance of one of the scant few slots at the top of R&B Mountain. As telegraphed by the breezy first single and title track, much of Because of You is clearly inspired by Quincy Jones and his legendary collaborations with Michael Jackson. Jay-Z’s obligatory (but enjoyable) appearance on “Crazy” draws attention to the Jackson connection for those who somehow missed it, but Ne-Yo doesn’t have to cover-up his inspiration. He lifts recognizable elements of those past hits but also adds enough of his own touch to keep the overall effect from feeling derivative. When he goes in a more modern direction (“Ain’t Thinking About You”), there’s an obvious Hip-Hop influence, but unlike certain other R&B singers, he doesn’t confuse himself with an MC and resort to half-singing over throwaway rap tracks. While Ne-Yo is able to keep his love of Michael under control, there is just plain too much Prince in this album. Ne-Yo’s never been shy about his inner freak, but he doesn’t seem to be able to express it without tearing pages directly out of the book of Purple Rain, which happens too much to ignore. “Addicted” probably suffers the most with its comically blunt lyrics and counterproductive singularity. Additionally, while no one can blame him for wanting to get a second LP out while he’s still hot, there a few spots that seem like they could’ve benefited from either more time or money. There are several moments where the music would have more power had it been recorded with live musicians instead of synthesizers, especially the cold and mechanical horns on the otherwise sunny “Can We Chill.”Ne-Yo has certainly done well so far in his relatively short career, but he’s still got room to grow and therefore might not be on the radar of every R&B fan. Still, with each step that he takes down his path, Ne-Yo shows more and more that he’ll be an artist to watch for the times to come and Because of You is no exception. “Sophomore Jinx?” Not even close.