Guest Editor Ne-Yo Talks New Album ‘R.E.D.’, Working With Tim McGraw and Why R&B’s Harder Than Pop

R&B artists usually confine their catalogs to the bedroom or the club, but Ne-Yo successfully kicks the doors down into both. With his fifth studio effort R.E.D. (an acronym for Realizing Every Dream), R&B diehards will be ecstatic to find that the Gentleman does not abandon ship but instead conjures up a well-balanced mix of smooth grooves and pop zingers to keep ears smiling.

“This album is to make sure there’s something for everybody that loves Ne-Yo,” he says. “I have a demanding R&B fanbase and a demanding pop fanbase…intelligent fans who are willing to take rides with me. My goal with this album is to integrate them.”

Though considered one of the lyrical forerunners of rhythm and blues, Ne-Yo admits crafting a slow jam is harder than a club banger. “Honestly, it’s harder to write an R&B song nowadays. R&B’s audience is getting smaller and smaller. I gauge myself as an R&B artist but the platform has allowed me to do pop songs,” he says. “I can’t remember a time a powerful R&B ballad made it on the radio. Nowadays, R&B can’t get past the urban charts. In my mind, I want the pendulum to swing back to when you looked at the popular mainstream charts, there would be a Boyz II Men. True R&B.”

However, the “Let Me Love U” singer praises crooning newbs Frank Ocean and Miguel for their take on the genre. “Miguel is soulful and there’s no overbearance of AutoTune. You can hear the passion in his voice,” he says. “Frank also has a very different approach. I never heard a Dragonball Z reference work in an R&B song before.”

Ne-Yo brings a mixed bag of artists to R.E.D., including Calvin Harris, Fabolous and an unexpected Tim McGraw. Ne-Yo offers up a twangy R&B hybrid titled “She Is,” a product of the three-year friendship and songwriting sessions from the McGraw household. “About three years ago, I had been writing with Gary from Rascal Flatts and met Tim McGraw. We kept the relationship going mainly ’cause the experience is different,” he says. “Normally when you’re called on to write a song, you go to a city, go to a studio and just write lyrics over skeletal melodies. With Tim, I went straight to his actual house. There was Tim McGraw, a dude with guitar and Faith Hill cooking chicken in the kitchen. I kid you not.”

For his track with Wiz Khalifa on “Don’t Make ‘Em Like U,” Ne-Yo admits the pair went the digital route. “Cyber sessions are becoming more frequent so I didn’t get to work with him in the actual studio. So I reached out to him, he was down and he killed it, especially since the song speaks to his current situation with Amber [Rose] and their bundle of joy.”

Though there was no in-person pow wow, the father of two offered the Taylor Gang’s papa-to-be some parenting advice. “Be prepared for no sleep, especially that first year.”

Besides his album, the 33-year-old singer also confirms that he will have a hand in Rihanna’s upcoming LP Unapologetic. “We got two songs. Rihanna twisted my arm not to say anything about the album so I’m going to stick to that promise.”

When asked if fans can at least be hopeful for a second go-round of “Hate That I Love You,” the singer still kept mum. “See, now you’re trying to get me beat up by Rihanna. [Laughs]”

Ne-Yo’s album ‘R.E.D.’ is now in stores and available on iTunes.