More than likely you've spent the last year swaying along to the curse-crammed harmonies of R&B's reigning assholes, but is radio still feigning for a gentleman's touch? VIBE caught up with Ne-Yo—the #16 pick in our 21 Most Important Black Artists Alive (Under 40!) list—to see how he's adjusting to the darker side of R&B, where he went wrong with his last album and why he's thinking about swapping his fedora with a fitted.—John Kennedy
VIBE: If your 2008 album represented Year Of The Gentleman, 2011 is definitely “Year of the Asshole,” in terms of R&B. What do you think of the wave of explicit R&B that’s popular now?
Ne-Yo: R&B is traditionally for women, but even women will tell you the nice guy can get annoying after a little while. They want the nigga that's going to grab you by the back of your head every now and then. The dude that's going to bring you flowers just because, then fuck the shit out of you. It's just the balance of the two, or a guy that knows how to do both—that's the void right there. Me, I'm the gentleman, I'm for the ladies. And then you have the other side where the name of the song is "Bitch." So somebody's toeing the line between the two, maybe that's where I need to come in with this next album.
Word. In a lot of ways, Frank Ocean and The Weeknd represent that polar opposite of your style.
I haven't heard a lot of Frank Ocean's stuff. I dig “Novacane,” I like his storytelling. Somebody just recently put me up on The Weeknd. I like his vibe; he's definitely one of those cats that might curse you out on a record, but he's going to sing, so you almost don't even notice that he just cursed you out. I dig it though. It's—for lack of a better word—definitely music you fuck to, not make love. Even in that, he has some very honest songs. He says “Tell me you love me…I know you don't love me,” talking to this stripper chick. I feel him on that. Like you need this money; you're going to treat me like you love me, that's what I want. That's some real shit.
Are you going to lean toward a more bad boy image?
To a degree. I can only be so rough and tumble; that's just not really my personality. But at the same time, I know how to live in that gray area, be a nigga that knows how and when to be both. So, yeah, I'm in the process of trying to put together an album that speaks from the mentality of Mr. Gray.
Most important is that it’s honest.
People always want to hear a story, but it's not always boy meets girl, falls in love and lives happily ever after. That's not reality. Reality is boy meets girl, boy might have a baby mama who's crazy, so on and so forth. People are more into reality than fantasy when it comes to R&B nowadays and I ain't mad at that. Putting together this new album has definitely been a journey. With my last album not doing as well as the previous three, it gave me time to sit back and look at the image I portray and what I put out there. I felt like people were looking at me like he's too fucking nice, it has to be fake. Nobody's that damn nice all the time. Every now and then you want to curse somebody out or slap the shit out of somebody. And nobody's ever seen that side of me. I call myself protecting my fans [by] not showing that side, because it's not a pretty side. You'll definitely see a side of me on this album no one has seen before. People are either going to love it, hate it or not going to be ready for it. I'll be back in September.
Would you consider doing another concept album like Libra Scale?
I would, but I wouldn't do it the way that I did Libra Scale; I would do it the way [Michael Jackson] did Thriller. The genius of Thriller is there’s a 10 minute video for “Thriller,” but the rest of the album is just good music. It wasn't a continuation of trying to stretch this story across a whole album, which is the mistake I feel I made on Libra Scale. You'll lose a motherfucker's attention real fast. So were I to do another concept album it would be a little more to the point.
As long as it’s not a Euro-Pop album…
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