Gentleman's Corner: Ne-Yo Talks 'R.E.D.' Album, Working With Sia and MJ's 'Bad 25'

Dreams are not deferred in the world of Ne-Yo. Two years beyond his themed LP Libra Scale, he returns to music as a solo artist with the more humbled R.E.D. (Realizing Every Dream).

As his fifth studio album is prepared for a November 6 release, the acclaimed musician (and Motown Records' Senior Vice President of A&R) conversed with Vixen on everything from his long-awaited collaborations, his growth as both a man, father, and leader in a fickle industry, and if R&B music still holds superiority in expressing true emotions.

With accolades for Frank Ocean and fond memories of MJ's captivating "Smooth Criminal," it's Ne-Yo season once again for all you lovers and friends.--Carmen Shardae Jobson

 

Ne-Yo RED AlbumVIBE VIXEN: Why do that hip-hop and R&B artists seem to like acronyms so much?
NE-YO: I think it's just a clever way to get a point across, especially if you can come up with one that's clever and cool. Red is word that represents power, it represents passion; love and hate at the same time. It's a very, very powerful color, so to take that word and break it down to something in realizing every dream, realizing my passion, realizing my power, the power that music has given me, there's something cool about that.

The first single, "Let Me Love You" reminds me of "Champagne Life", and it seems that this album is going to be less cinematic in a sense, like more down to earth?
Definitely a bit more down to earth. My initial idea with Libra Scale was that I was trying to do a 45-minute mini-movie of the same name and to have the album be the soundtrack to the film, so that's why Libra Scale had such a cinematic vibe to it. But I learned the hard way that movies take way longer than albums, so a lot of corners got cut. I didn't get the opportunity to do what I wanted to do, that's why I feel the album didn't do as well as previous albums because it was just difficult to understand the final product. With R.E.D., I kind of decided to just get back to the basics and to the music.

In referring back to "Let Me Love You," how was it working with Sia? 
An absolute dream come true. I've been wanting to work with her for months before it actually happened. I've been a fan of Sia since before this newfound popularity she's now having. From her Zero 7 days to Some People Have Real Problems, I was asking my people to get a hold of her. Months later, Stargate comes to me, 'Yo, we got this track we're really excited about,' and I instantly recognize the voice. She's incredible. She [said recently that] she doesn't want to be an artist anymore; she wants to go the songwriter route, which I don't blame her on. If you have a different perspective of what an artist should be, by working in this business, it can really mess with you, so I get it. On the other side, I'm mad because she has such an incredible voice and she's not looking to [showcase it as much anymore].

Why does the song "The Cracks in Mr. Perfect" exist?
[Laughs] "The Cracks in Mr. Perfect" exists for a couple of different reasons. I was just trying to let it be extra honest that day; I was just trying to let it be known to be people that everybody makes mistakes. There is no such thing as perfection. We all have this perception or concept of what it is, but what is perfection? You're striving to be something that literally doesn't exist. It's like striving to be a damn unicorn. You can't do it! The only thing you can do is find the perfection in your imperfection and let that be your perfection.

Does it bother you when critics claim you've abandoned your R&B roots, or is that kind of criticism and fans something you expect from them now?
I'd like to say that it doesn't bother me, but it really does. Critics are so quick to say something like that, but they don't understand R&B is not what I do, it's who I am. There wouldn't be no "Closer," there would be no "Let Me Love You" or even "Give Me Everything" if not for "So Sick" and "Champagne Life." For a person to say that I've abandoned that for pop, they clearly haven't gotten who I am. My voice is my voice and the element of soul that I have. That may be the reason why I can do a song with Calvin Harris, then a song with Young Jeezy.

Well said. If the R&B music of today doesn't inspire or moves you, can you name past or present records that have touched you?
In regards to present R&B, there's some stuff out there that moves me. I definitely think that Frank Ocean is great for R&B. I can't think of too many other R&B records past, present or otherwise with Japanese animation references like "cotton candy majin buu" in an R&B record. I think that just adds to the mystique, the honesty that exists in a Frank Ocean record. In a way, he's still true to what the genre is. It's about emotion; that's what it's supposed to be. I just feel like the more it expands and grows--which is okay--it's important to not forget the foundation, and that's what missing in today's R&B. There aren't enough people respecting the core. When you listened to a Jodeci song, you believed it. No matter what they were wearing, their imag, or what was going on in their personal lives, when they were singing, "Baby I'll cry for you," you believed it. There isn't a lot of honesty in the emotion of R&B today which is why the genre is suffering.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Bad album, what is your favorite memory of the Bad era?
"Smooth Criminal," bottom line. It felt like that was his best video, even surpassing "Thriller," surpassing "Remember the Time" and "Bad." That video, it just solidified the history of the video and how it came to be. The whole idea. The genius of [Michael Jackson] is that he took that movie with Fred Astaire called Bandwagon and completely morphed it into something else. For him, he would take pieces from here, pieces from there and make it all him. It was sharp, just the whole thing.

Download Ne-Yo's R.E.D. album on here on iTunes

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Aaliyah during TNT Presents - A Gift of Song - New York - January 1, 1997 in New York City, New York, United States.
KMazur/WireImage

Fans Rally For Aaliyah's Discography To Be Released On Streaming Platforms

As another day passes without Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms, fans are looking for answers.

Over the weekend, the hashtag #FreeAaliyahMusic appeared on Twitter in light of song battles between Swizz Beats vs. Timbaland and Ne-Yo vs. Johnta Austin. The latter opponents played their collaborations with the late singer, proving Baby Girl's dynamic relevancy in the age of modern R&B. As songs like "I Don't Wanna" and "Come Over" picked up plays on YouTube, the hashtag pointed out the tragedy of her songs not existing on platforms like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.

Aaliyah's only album on multiple platforms is her 1994 debut, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Other albums like the platinum-selling One in A Million and Aaliyah are being held in a vault of sorts along with other unmixed vocals by her uncle and founder of Blackground Records, Barry Hankerson.

Hankerson has built up a mysterious yet haunting aura over the years due to his refusal to release Aaliyah's music on streaming platforms. Reasons are unknown but Stephen Witt's 2016 investigation revealed business deals like the shift in distribution from  Jive Records to Atlantic helped Hankerson take ownership of the singer's masters. The deal was made in 1996 when Blackground featured artists like Aaliyah, Toni Braxton, R. Kelly, then-production duo Timbaland and Magoo as well as Missy Elliott.

Sadly, Aaliyah's music isn't the only recordings lost in the shuffle. Recordings from Timbaland and Toni Braxton have been hidden from the world with both taking legal action against the label over the years. There's also JoJo, who had to break from the label after they refused to release her third album. The singer recently re-recorded her first two albums.

With Aaliyah's music getting the attention it deserves, Johnta Austin discussed the singer's impact on R&B today. "It was amazing, she was incredible from top to bottom," he told OkayPlayer of working with the singer on "Come Over" and "I Don't Wanna." "I don't think Aaliyah gets the vocal credit that she deserves. When she was on it, she had the riffs, she had everything."

Earlier this year, an account impersonating Hankerson claimed her music would arrive on streaming platforms January 16, on what would've been her 41st birthday. A docuseries called the Aaliyah Diaries was also promoted for a release on Netflix.

Of course, it was far from the truth. Fans can enjoy selected videos and songs on YouTube, but it's clear they want more.

 

Aaliyah’s music is the landmark for a lot of your favs not only was she ahead of her time with her futuristic sounds she also was a fashion Icon dancer and phenomenal actress . The future generations need be exposed to her artistry and pay homage .#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/LxZfxcqRgF

— Black Clover (@la_alchemist) March 29, 2020

Her first #1 solely based on AirPlay! She was the first ! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/BHlANZjCGZ

— (@hodeciii) March 29, 2020

Makes no sense for someone still so influential to be hidden. Many try to emulate her. On Spotifys This is Aaliyah playlist, theres some great tracks not on her main Spotify #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/vLqLTVxqO9

— Blackity Black⁷ (@ClaudBuzzzz) March 29, 2020

Aaliyah is trending once again. She deserves endless flowers. This is true impact y’all. Her voice, her sound, her music...She’s been gone for 2 decades and y’all see the love for her is even stronger! We miss you baby girl! #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/ALDcT0ZQxR

— A A L I Y A H (@forbbygrlaali) March 30, 2020

Aaliyah said she wanted to be remembered for her music and yet most of it is not on streaming services #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/zwk0AWMCoE

— RJR (@MyNewEssence96) March 29, 2020

aaliyah’s gems like more than a woman deserve to be in streaming sites #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/mM2GWEg1pe

— k (@grandexrocky) March 30, 2020

I saw #FreeAaliyahMusic and IMMEDIATELY jumped into action! I can’t express how betrayed I felt when we were supposed to have all her music on Spotify by her birthday. Her discography is deeply underestimated and we need to make it right for our babygirl!pic.twitter.com/GfxBeJxUY1

— jerrica✨ (@jerricaofficial) March 29, 2020

Before Megan The Stallion drove the boat...

Aaliyah rocked the boat...

#FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/iXNwssD3sY

— Al’Bei (@_albei) March 29, 2020

i think we should have that conversation #FreeAaliyahMusic pic.twitter.com/cGl269tuTr

— AALIYAH LEGION (@AaliyahLegion) April 1, 2020

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Singers Adrienne Bailon (L) and Kiely Williams of the 'Cheetah Girls' pose for photos around Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Smashbox Studios on October 18, 2007 in Culver City, California.
Katy Winn/Getty Images for IMG

Kiely Williams Explains Fallout With Adrienne Bailon Houghton And Alleged Fight With Raven-Symonè

Our current isolated way of life has given some plenty of time for reflection like Kiely Williams of the former girl group 3LW and The Cheetah Girls (ask your kids). The tales of both successful groups have been told time after time by fans in YouTube documentaries and members of each collective but Williams has decided to share her side of the story.

Williams hopped on Live Monday (March 30) where she discussed her former friendship with The Real co-host Adrienne Bailon Houghton and the infamous chicken throwing fight with actress/singer Naturi Naughton. The mother of one didn't pinpoint exactly why she fell out with Houghton but did point out how she wouldn't be interested in appearing on her talk show.

"I don't think Adrienne wants to have live TV with me," Williams said. "'Cause she's gon' have to say, 'Yes Kiely, I did pretend to be your best friend. Now, I am not.' You were either lying then or you're lying now. You either were my best friend and now you're just not claiming me or you were pretending [to be my best friend."

The two remained friends after Naughton was kicked out of 3LW, the platinum-selling group known for 2000s pop hits like "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)" and "Playas Gon' Play." Williams and Houghton were eventually picked to be apart of The Cheetah Girls with then-Disney darling Raven-Symonè and dancer Sabrina Bryan.

Williams went on to discuss her fight with Naughton, which she denies had anything to do with her skin color. With her mother near, Williams claimed Naughton called her a b***h, leading to the fight. While she didn't clear up the chicken throwing, she stated how she was "going for her neck" and was holding food and her baby sister in the process.

Apologies aren't on the horizon either. “I don’t feel like I have anything to make amends for, especially as it relates to Adrienne,” Kiely said. “As far as Naturi goes, if there was ever a reason to apologize, all of that has kind of been overshadowed by the literal lies and really ugly stuff that she said about my mom and my sister. So, no. Not interested in that. I’m sorry.”

Moving onto The Cheetah Girls, Williams also denied claims she got into fights with Raven-Symonè on the set of The Cheetah Girls films and never outed her as a teen. The rumor about Symonè and Williams was reportedly started by Symonè's former co-star Orlando Brown.

Symonè has often shared positive memories about The Cheetah Girls and their reign but did imply during an episode of The View how co-star Lynn Whitfield kept her from losing her cool on set.

On a lighter note, Symonè, Houghton and Naughton have kept in contact with Naughton and Houghton putting their differences aside during an appearance on The Real. 

Symonè and Houghton also reunited at the Women's March in Los Angeles in January. During Bailon's performance at the event, the two briefly performed the Cheetah Girls' classic, "Together We Can."

Willaims also shared some stories about the making of the group's hits. Check out her Live below.

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Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Kelis Announces ‘Cooked With Cannabis’ Show Will Premiere On Netflix

Kelis is taking her chef talents to Netflix. The musician will host a food competition show titled Cooked With Cannabis that’ll premiere on the very-fitting April 20 (4/20). According to NME, the show will span six episodes and be co-hosted by chef Leather Storrs.

Describing the opportunity as a “dream come true” since she’s a major supporter of the streaming service, Kelis took to Instagram to share how cannabis and cooking is one of her many creative passions. “As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today’s society,” the mother-of-two writes. “In this country, many things have been used systemically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together.”

Each episode will place three chefs against each other as they craft three-course meals with cannabis as the central ingredient. Each episode’s winner takes home $10,000. Guests will play an integral role in who takes home the cash prize. Too $hort, and El-P are just a few of this season's guests.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

I'm really excited to announce my new show, Cooked with Cannabis on @Netflix!! Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love my Netflix, so this is a dream come true. Interestingly, this was one of those things that I didn't go looking for, it kind of came to me. As a chef, I was intrigued by the food and as an everyday person, I was interested in how powerful this topic is in today's society. In this country, many things have been used systematically to oppress groups of people, but this is so culturally important for us to learn and grow together. I hope you all will tune in, it's definitely going to be a good time! We launch on 4/20! XO, Kelis

A post shared by Kelis (@kelis) on Mar 18, 2020 at 7:57am PDT

In a previous Lenny Letter profile, Kelis shared she comes from a line of culinary influences beginning with her mother who owned a catering service. In 2008, the “Milkshake” singer sought to refine her cooking skills by enrolling in the Le Cordon Bleu school. Receiving a certificate as a trained saucier, the New York native put her expertise to the test during pop-up restaurants in her native city, created a hot sauce line, and co-owns a sustainable farm in Quindio, Colombia.

“Food is revolutionary because it is the one and only international language. It’s the most human thing you can partake in,” she said in an interview with Bon Appetit. “We are the only species that cooks.”

This isn’t Kelis’ first foray into the reality-cooking television world. In 2014, she partnered with the Cooking Channel for Saucy and Sweet and published the "My Life on a Plate" cookbook a year later.

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