Outstanding. That’s the first word that comes to mind when sought after singer-songwriter Ne-Yo is mentioned. From his work behind the pen for some of your favorite artists to the vocal abilities that he pushes through on his on tracks, the self-proclaimed Gentleman of R&B has given us hit after hit throughout his time in the industry.
Gearing up for the release of his sixth studio album Non-Fiction – which is set to hit stores on January 27 – the multi-talented artist has a lot to sing about this time around. Choosing to go a different route than with his previous albums, the “She Knows” singer called on a few lucky fans to assist in the creation of the upcoming project. With lead singles such as “Money Can’t Buy” featuring Jeezy, the Juicy J assisted “She Knows,” and the recently visually adapted, “Coming With You,” the anticipation for what Ne-Yo’s offering this time around is exceedingly high from fans everywhere.
Taking some time to chat with ThisIsRnB about the creative process of the album, using fans real stories on tracks like “Religious,” creating quality music no matter genre, the positives and negatives of R&B today, and more, Ne-Yo gave us one of the best interviews we’ve had in quite some time.
Make yourself at home with the exclusive interview below!
I know the new album is out next week. What was the process like when you were creating Non-Fiction? I know you pushed back the release date a few times, so I just want to know how it was for you creating the album.
A little hectic. This was my first time incorporating elements that are not… the way that a lot of the songs are written is not the typical way that I write. As you probably know, via my Instagram and Twitter, and the whole 9, I kinda reached out to my fans asking them about some of their stories. I wanted to tell their stories as well as mine. So just the whole concept of taking conversations that I’m having with complete strangers and turning them into songs, you know that proved to be – in some ways – easier than the way that I normally write, but in some ways more difficult. I don’t know these people and I don’t know if I’m properly representing the story that they wanted to tell. I hope I did – I hope I represented them properly [laughs]. But then on the other side of the same card, it’s real people and real stories. So, I feel like these songs are probably going to be some of my more relatable. Just in regards to the ones that were given to me by my fans. There are some elements of me that may not be relatable to the average man like dealing with fans and groupies and things of that nature, but aside from that, I feel like this is the album full of stories about real people. I feel like that’s going to be one of the things that’s going to make this album as successful as I hope it to be. People are really going to resonate with the stories being told.
What is your favorite song on the album currently?
Well, that’s the thing. I don’t really have a favorite. Every time I’m asked that question, I’m always trying to find a cool way to answer it, but all I can give you is the truth and the truth is every song has its own personality. It’s really like asking you which kid is your favorite and I’m one of those parents that can’t do that. I can’t pick Maddie over Mason, or Mason over Maddie. I can’t do it. I love them both equally.
How do you find the right balance between what you believe your core fans want to hear on the R&B side and managing to produces singles for the Top 40 crowd? Do you find it difficult to be a “true” R&B artist and still touch those who don’t really enjoy the genre?
Well, I think the title “true” R&B artist is a title that makes sense for me, but not complete sense. I would rather be a true artist than to be just a “true R&B artist.” Because, to be honest with you, when you say “true R&B artist,” you kind of put that person in a box. They’re not allowed to go any further than the realms of R&B and that’s never been my goal. R&B is my first love – the first genre of music I fell in love with – and it’s the reason I’ve even been able to travel to other places and to different genres. But, at the same time, if I were to just stick to strictly R&B, I would be limiting myself. It’s like why just shoot for that cloud when you can shoot for the moon? You can go further and that’s what I plan to do. I love music, it’s etched into my DNA, so I’m always gonna step off the porch. R&B is definitely my home – there’s no denying that. But, every now and again, I’m gonna step off the porch and try new things, but I’m always gonna come home. That’s what it is at the end of the day.
Yeah, definitely. I understand. So, that brings me to my next question. Do you ever get offended when fans come at your neck saying you went “pop” and refuse to embrace a record just because it has a dance like beat?
Hell yeah I do. I genuinely do. I can honestly say that for the most part, there’s not too many things that I read about myself on blog sites as far as negative comments from people that get me because I’m aware of the fact that haters exist and they don’t need a reason – they’ll just do it because. But for someone to say I don’t do R&B music anymore or that I’ve gone “Pop”…what does “gone pop” even mean? So, because more than black people like my music, it’s a negative thing? What’s with this reverse racism? I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why it’s not okay for me to spread this love to some white people, some black people, some Asian people, some German people, whatever. I don’t understand why that’s such a bad thing. I don’t view it as a bad thing, which is why I’m still doing what I’m doing. I’ma give you the R&B records, but I’m also going to give you some things that sit outside the realm of R&B because at the end of the day, it’s about quality music. That’s what I’m trying to produce – quality music. Quality R&B music, quality EDM music, quality Polka music dammit! It’s just music, good music is the goal.
[Laughs] Well, I think you’ve done a very good job accomplishing that. You’re probably one of the most diverse and intriguing writers that has come out in the current era. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.
I appreciate that!
Of course. With the video “She Knows,” I know that you dropped two different versions. What was the reason behind dropping the alternate version and not dropping both videos close together?
The first version of “She Knows,” I wanted to give it its time for people to really appreciate it for what it is. But when we shot the video, there was a lot of amazing footage of these girls dancing that ended up on the cutting room floor. Mind you, I’m a man at the end of the day, so I definitely love strippers. I definitely love strip clubs and the whole 9. I’m sorry if I disappointed someone with that – your problem, not mine. I’m a guy, what do you expect? [laughs] But, from the artistic aspect of what these women can do with their bodies on these poles, there was some amazing stuff that didn’t make this video. So, we decided to do another version where you see more of the girls dancing and less of the other stuff. That was the whole purpose of the other video. To really showcase what these girls are doing because a lot of it, I’m not even aroused by. It’s more amazing like ‘Yo, how did you do that?’ and I know that people would look at it that way. Well, some people. Some guys would look at it like “Ooo, she on the pole,” but I knew there were gonna be some people out there that took it from an artistic standpoint and just were amazed by the athleticism of some of these women. You got soccer mom’s taking pole classes now. It’s officially made its way into middle America and the whole 9. So it’s more than just some raunchy thing that happens at black strip clubs; it’s not that no more. There’s pole dance competitions for goodness sake. So, I really just wanted to put it out there and showcase these women to give them their shine.
Well that makes sense. The song “Religious,” how did that come about?
The song “Religious” is, again, a story that was given to me by a fan. It was a man that was just talkin’ about the integrity of relationships nowadays and how people don’t do relationships how they once did. Those couples that stay together for 20, 30, or 40 years…it doesn’t happen like that too often anymore. This is a man who had been with his wife for about 23 years, and he said – his words not mine – “I’m not really a holy roller, I’m not in church every Sunday and I couldn’t give you two verses from the bible if I tried, but I look at this woman and I know God exists because only someone like God could bring someone like this to someone like me.” I was like damn bruh, that’s deep! I pray that all men can feel that way about a woman at some point because that just seems like the happiest place on earth. So, I kinda went off of what he was talking about in regards to, “I know there’s a God because of what this woman is to me,” and that’s how “Religious” came to be.
That’s a good one, I like that. Going a little further with the songs on the album, I was looking at the track listing for the deluxe version and I noticed that the tracks have a double song or interlude. I just kind of wanted to see what the official layout of it was.
Okay, so it’s not necessarily a prize, but it’s just extra added. Every song on this album is a 100% true story, however, the songs and the way that they are formatted, tell a completely different story that isn’t necessarily true, but it’s true in the point that this is something men have gone through before and it’s something I’m pretty sure women have experienced before, not matter what the story is talking about. The whole concept of a man claiming he wants one thing and then doing something stupid to mess it up, you know, anybody whose been in more than one relationship, that’s your story. So, that’s the reason for the interludes that kinda live on the ends of some songs. It just helps push that story along. I did it in a way hoping that it’s entertaining enough to get people’s attention into what’s happening in the story. Now, in order to get those, you gotta get the deluxe version of the album. The standard version is kinda just the music – which is as equally as dope. If you’re a person who doesn’t really care about the story lines and just wants to hear the music, then the standard is for you. But, I promise you more bang for your buck with the deluxe. You get more music; there’s more songs that didn’t make the standard version that are on the deluxe, plus the interludes that add on to the story.
Well, I’ll be one of the people getting the deluxe [laughs]!
[Laughs] Yeah, I definitely recommend that.
You’ve dropped some great albums from start to finish. What makes this album so different from what you’ve released before and what makes it so special to you?
One of the things that makes this album so special to me is, again,…this is my first time writing like this. I’ve never reached out to fans on some, “hey, let’s write this song together.” I’ve never done that before. This is album #6 to me, and though it may not be as big to some people, it’s a huge deal to me. I know for a fact that there are artists out there who you may get one album or one song from…you get ONE. Being that I’m at number 6, that’s an accomplishment. Relevancy is an issue of established artists. You’ve got to stay relevant as all these new cats are coming up. You gotta make sure your spot is secure. So, the fact that I’m still here at number 6 and that people even give a damn, is a blessing to me. I know that my fans are the reason that that is. So opposed to this time having them on the outside looking in, I kinda just wanted to bring them on in and make it our album opposed to just my album. I want the people who contributed to listen to this album and know, like ‘Oh my God, that’s my story.’ I want them to know. I want that for this album and for the people listening. I want them to feel a little bit more important in regards to how it was created opposed to just sitting back, waiting to hear something.
I like to ask a few fun questions when I interview artists. I know that you’ve written for almost any and everybody that I can think of, so the first question is if you could’ve written any song, what would it have been and why?
That’s a good question. I’ve been forward in saying that I love the record “Loyal.” I just think it’s a great concept, I think it’s a very well written record. It’s just kinda puts the magnifying glass on what everybody already knew anyway. You know, hoes are not supposed to be loyal – that’s why they’re hoes. I dig the fact that he – and I think Ty Dolla $ign helped him write that, I’m not sure – put the magnifying glass on that unspoken fact. Now, I know that is not a song that would ever work for me because of who I am because of the picture I’ve painted of myself to people. I get it, I understand it. It doesn’t change the fact that I respect the record for what it is. It’s a great record – it really, really is.
So, Valentine’s Day is about a month away. I’m pretty sure the ladies would want to know: what’s the perfect date scenario for you?
Um…I don’t know how cliche candles are, but I personally love them. I’m a huge fan of candlelight. It’s incredible to me. It’s the most relaxing setting that can be produced for me personally. So, we gone turn all the lights off and we gone light some candles so that we can get the right silhouettes and the right shadows dancing on the wall so we can do whatever it is we plan to do. We gone turn on the right kind of music – it doesn’t necessarily have to be something from today. Actually, I recommend it wasn’t something from today. I like these moments to feel like Spike Lee movies. You know, you get that good jazz going in the background. The type of song that you may not know the name of the song or the artist, but you hear it and you recognize it. It’s just mellow. So, candlelight, the mellow jazz playing in the background, get something real good to eat, and then just chill. Maybe light one up if we feel like it, and just live in that moment, and just slow down. I feel like everything moves so fast today. Just take a minute, just take a day to slow down and basically not do nothing but enjoy each others company and energy. That’s it…that’s it.
Well you just won me over, so when are we going on a date?! [Laughs]
[Laughs] That’s real though! You gotta feel that. We live in an age today where everybody moves so fast to get to the next thing. It’s like racing to the next damn stop sign. You gotta stop! What you moving so fast for? Just chill out for a minute and live in that second – just live in that moment. But you know, who am I?
OK, last question. What do you feel that R&B has gained from the new generation that has come in and what do you feel as if it’s still missing?
I feel like R&B from a sonic place has gained a little diversity. You can definitely tell that there are elements of other genres being incorporated into it. When you listen to people like The Weeknd, and your Jhené Aiko’s, and just that whole vibey thing that’s happening right now with R&B, it’s a throwback to the older days. I definitely hear a lot of Sade in Jhené Aiko – which I can definitely dig – but at the same time, it’s today’s sound; it’s more of now. So I feel like we definitely inherited some diversity in sound. But, I feel like what’s needed is diversity in the lyrical content. I feel like right now, music is real misogynistic. It’s not your Boyz II Men R&B right now. It’s a little harder. Subject matters are a little more to the point, and the whole romanticism of R&B is lost right now. I feel like that’s what’s need in order for the genre to flourish. I’m not mad at the “f*ck me” song, I’m not mad at that one. But we also need the “make love to me” too. There can’t be too much of one. You need both. Too much of the “make love to me” songs keeps us back in the day. We gotta move with the times. So, it’s alright to have the “f*ck me” songs, but you can’t do a whole album of “f*ck me.” You gotta be made love to at some point.
-Interview by Ni’Kesia Pannell
Pre-Order Ne-Yo’s new album Non-Fiction on iTunes now!