Interview: Ne-Yo Discusses 'Non-Fiction' Album, Auto-Tune, New Collabos And More

If R&B were a classroom, multi-platinum selling artist Ne-Yo would be the quiet student who sits in the back of the class with the mystique and swag of a confident, but humble intellectual that everyone secretly aspires to be like. Ne-Yo wouldn’t answer every question because he’d find satisfaction in knowing that the quality of his work surpasses his flamboyant, attention-seeking classmates who use shallow themes to get by. Often when an artist seeks quality over what’s popping at the moment, he/she falls to the wayside or fades to black, especially with the media. But the three-time Grammy Award winning Ne-Yo doesn’t mind being, in his words, “underrated.” He'd rather move with quiet determination, stay on his Fugees shit, and softly kill the game.

Which is exactly what the self-proclaimed gentleman has been doing since arriving on the music scene nearly a decade ago. While many artists plea for attention with shenanigans such as taking flicks with other celebs, flooding strip clubs with dead presidents, beefing with other artists or following the current music industry fads, Ne-Yo is moved by quality, and he consistently holds down the Billboard charts, like a family man keeping his home filled with food, love and financial support.

Ne-Yo’s ability to pinpoint a feeling or certain moments speaks volumes about his refined thought process and songwriting skills. For instance, the lyrics, "You make the hairs on back of my neck stand up,” or “To the left, to the left/Everything you own in a box to the left," are believable lyrics inspired by real-life experiences and not by a fantasy. Real-life is forever. Fantasies are temporary. And Ne-Yo's a songwriting genius who's mastered the perfect balance of imagination and simplicity.

“I’m still very, very underrated, and I feel like a lot of it has nothing to do with my music and everything to do with the fact that I’m not the dude that’s going to beat somebody up in the club or tell the world about who it is I’m fucking," said Ne-Yo during a phone interview with VIBE. "I’m just not that guy."

As Ne-Yo puts the finishing touches on his forthcoming Non-Fiction album, he spoke with us about songwriting, performing, his favorite strip clubs, recording with T.I., Juicy J and much more.

VIBE: What do you think about the state of R&B today?
Ne-Yo: There are different kinds of R&B happening today. There’s the traditional more soulful R&B that doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. Then there’s the more hip-hop oriented stuff. You got your boy Ty Dolla $ign, people like that, who are bringing more hip-hop elements to R&B, which is cool. I feel like R&B is in a state of evolution right now.

So, what are you trying to do with this album?
With this album, I’m just trying to figure out what my place is in the whole thing. I’ve been here roughly 10 years now. Actually, I think my first album dropped ten years ago. And, I’m just trying to keep the music good. I’m just trying to add my two cents in this R&B movement that’s happening right now.

Why doesn't a lot of today's R&B sound real?
That has a lot to do with the auto-tune and all of that. Auto-tune is good to keep your notes intact, but it doesn't do much for the feel of your voice. The Auto-Tune makes everybody sound the same and takes away all of the emotion because you’re singing through this machine, and of course your taking all of this emotion out of your voice, for the most part.

Do you ever use auto-tune and we're just not aware?
Although, I do use auto-tune, I use it as a safety net as opposed to wings. It’s some cats that go to auto-tunesto jump off the building to fly around the room. I can’t do that. I need the emotion, I need the passion to be felt in whatever it is I’m saying. That is not a jig at anybody else, I’m just saying that that might be the reason some of the feeling in R&B is lost a little bit because cats is depending more on technology than what it is that God gave them initially, which is a passionate voice to speak about something your passionate about. I come from that Jodeci era, that initial R.Kelly era where it was about singing through air. And, that’s what I do, or at least that’s what I try to do to the best of my abilities.

Is there a theme behind this album?
The name of the album is Non-Fiction. And, I’m calling it that because the name of every song on this album is derived from a true story. Now, some of the stories are mine. Some of the stories belong to some of my fans. I actually reached out via Instagram, Twitter or whatever the case may be, and I’ve focused this on my fans. Things that are going on in their love life, things going on in their personal life and I wrote a song about it. From all these true stories I put together a story that’s not true. But, in that, it’s derived from true stories that’s why I’m calling it Non-Fiction.

How are you approaching this album?
Well, there’s a couple of ways that you can approach an album. You can go the compilation route, where you record a bunch of songs, pick the best ones and put an album out. That way can work, but for me I always want to try to do something a little different, a little extra to give the listener a little more to latch onto. Take for instance, the Libra Scale album for example, what I tried to do with that was build a story line around songs. I delved in something that I didn’t really know nothing about, which is all why that album didn’t go the way it should have.

Any features on the album?
Well, the first single, ‘Money Can’t Buy” features the boy Young Jeezy. I still don’t know exactly why it is that the collaborations with me and Jeezy work. I am the epitome of R&B and Jeezy is the epitome of street. That’s what he is, that’s what he do. But, for whatever reasons his tone and my tone together just makes sense. I got T.I. on the joint. I got the boy Juicy J on a couple records. I just wanted to reach out to people that I haven’t worked with before and see what happens. So, I reached out to a few people and of course the best ones are the ones that made the cut.

What’s it like recording with T.I.?
Well, the way that particular song went down, I had an idea already, I knew what I wanted to write about. I needed another perspective on the record. The name of the record is “One More.” And, it’s basically me and T.I. getting a young lady at a bar, so I go at it one way and I know how I do, but I needed another perspective on it, because everyone don’t rock the way I rock and every body don’t do what I do. So, I called on T.I. who happened to be in the studio right next to me. So, I asked him about doing the track, I played it for him and he said, ‘I fuck with this, let me do something.’

Ne-Yo and Juicy J, that’s interesting.
The first Juicy J record that I did, I already had a concept for, but for one, I needed somebody that I never worked with before and two, someone that was going to bring the concept home. The name of one of the records is “Run.” It’s about that predator chic, that professional groupie. Her whole thing is to break up relationships, get in and troll for money and all that. So, I called on Juicy J because the song is a little more trappy than you’ve ever heard from me. So, who better for that than J? Called on J, he came in laid his verse down and it just brought the whole song, the whole vision of the song to life. It just made perfect sense.

The second song I did with him is called “She Knows,” it’s basically my version of a strip club song. I’ve never had a strip club song. I do enjoy strip clubs, I’m a fucking guy at the end of the day.

No doubt. What’s your favorite strip club?
I got a couple strip clubs, Onyx in Atlanta is definitely one of my favorite spots. As well as DOA (Diamonds of Atlanta). I go to Magic City from time to time, but I have the most fun at Onyx. I’ve never been to any of the strip clubs in Houston, I’ve heard amazing things about them I just never been. Got to get out there one of these days.

Was there ever a period where you felt like this was work instead of a passion?
I put it to you like this. As a songwriter, there was a lot more freedom for me to just be who the hell I am. Do whatever it is you do. Be with whoever it is that I want to be with, without any ridicule or judgment or criticism from the masses. Because as a songwriter you’re not in the public eye, so it doesn’t matter because you’re not in the public eye, so you get to have a regular life. As an artist when you’re in front of the camera, you put yourself out there to be judged, you put yourself out there to be possibly ridiculed, criticized or for people to even make up shit about you. Even though people were trying to tell me about all that, can’t nobody tell you nothing to prepare you for that. The first time it happens to you you like, ‘who is this and why they talking shit about you on Twitter?’ You want to go to war, fight. You want to attack every nigga on Twitter. But, you cant’ do that. That part of it became work for me and just getting to a place where I understand the business side of the music business.

So, when that happens do you think people stop focusing on the music?
I’ve had magazine editors tell me to my face that I’m boring because I’m not the knucklehead. I’m not that dude. I’m a regular guy at the end of the day who just happens to do music and do it relatively well. But, that’s not enough to write a story about I guess. I had to realize that this is a business at the end of the day. The business side of music is a real thing. And, people want to sell magazines so they put people on the cover who they feel can sell magazines, so of course, they put people on the cover that they feel people want to read about, that people are interested in.

Would you rather stick to songwriting or performing?
I was thinking that at one point. At one point it got real bad for me. I was in a really funky place. Just feeling unappreciated. Like, I have yet to be on the cover of VIBE Magazine for the record [laughs]. Not as a ploy to get on there now. I’m just saying I feel unappreciated behind the fact that people are telling me that once the music is off what is there to talk about in regards to Ne-Yo? And, my response to that is why is the music not enough? But, now like I say, I do it because I love it and I do it for the people that’s paying attention. I love being on stage, I love performing, I've received more love in other parts of the world than I have here in the States, not to take anything away from my American fans, I love y’all to death, but my fan base is a little bigger outside of America.

I feel like that may be because outside America they have a little more appreciation for just the music, it’s not about what car you’re driving, you know, all that kind of stuff. Now, it’s about doing it for the people that’s paying attention. I can write a song until I’m about 145 years old. I don’t have to worry about my knees going bad, I don’t have to worry about being cool. None of that shit matters in song writing. I can write my songs go home and play with my kids. As an artist, I know there’s an expiration date on this. I ain’t going to be able to spin around as fast as I once could once I turn 45-50, so I’m do this for as long as people are listening and once they stop listening, I’m do it for the younger generation that’s coming up and write their songs. So, with that being said, music will always be a part of me.

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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T.I.

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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