Ne-Yo is a pretty cheesy guy. We don't mean in the comical sense. At the mention of his wife Crystal Renay Smith, the singer's pearly whites shine brightly. At the time of his visit to the VIBE offices, the couple were nearing their two year wedding anniversary and passing the fourth year of their relationship. While it may seem like nothing to some, it's a vast feat for the R&B veteran whose love stories always came to a screeching halt at the four-year mark.
"I started looking back, back, back, back and realized, 'Damn almost every long-term relationship I have been in has been on the back of another one.’ Like right off the back of it," he says. The singer-songwriter teetered on the persona of a bachelor but also a loved being in a relationship. This led him to jump into the boyfriend role without meeting most of the requirements. "I never gave myself time to be single. I never gave myself time to figure out who the hell I am."
Part of what changed for Mr. Smith was his intent with love. His past has been well documented on some of his biggest hits like "So Sick," "Because of You," "Mad" as well as his much-publicized marriage to ex-wife Monyetta Shaw. With so many lessons learned, his love journey connected him to Smith, a former model and businesswoman.
And it clicked.
For their first date, the two decided to overshare every detail of their past. This included their not so proudest moments and what they wanted in the future. Brutal honesty became the key to unlock this new terra of love the singer never experienced. It also became the blueprint to his latest album, Good Man.
"I’ve learned to be more present, just in the realm of love," he says. "I’ve learned that loving somebody and liking somebody are two different things." Good Man shares these vitamins in the form of smooth tunes like its title track, which shares the details of his first date with his wife. There's also "Back Chapters" a mature proclamation about how one's low points shouldn't always dictate their love language. "On Your Mind" featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR and "Without You" carry the allure of today's alt-R&B flow without watering down the message.
One of the most personal songs on the 20-track project is "Apology," which acts as a soulful translation of 4:44. These aren't Ne-Yo's redemption songs, he's past that. His four-year curse is over and he's recently welcomed his newborn son into the world. It's a happy ending he never pictured, but worked hard for.
Check out VIBE's conversation with Ne-Yo below and the breakdown of "Good Man" up top.
Where did the inspiration for "Good Man" come from?
The song is inspired by the first conversation that my current wife and I ever had. It was our first date. And I am 38 now – oh God – and the whole concept of “boyfriend/girlfriend” has been lost at this point. So I told myself, "Whoever I decide to be with next, that’s going to be it."
This is me going into this unrealistically and not how you’d normally go into it. I decided to just go as me and I said to her, "I want us to lay it all out on the table right now. Let out all of the bad stuff. I know I can deal with the good stuff. I know I can tolerate the loveliness of your hair, and your smile and eyes. I know I can handle that. I want to know if I can handle the stuff about you that I might not like. I want to know if you take too long in the bathroom, or if your farts really really stink, or something. Whatever it is, I need it all right now and I’ll give you the same thing." So, this was a very uncomfortable conversation. But it was supposed to be, that’s what I wanted.
I found myself in a lot of relationships where I was trying to be what I thought was perfect to her. -Ne-Yo
By the end of the conversation, I had basically a laundry list of what "not to do" in order for this relationship to work. I took that list and flipped it around. And those things became the lyrics to "Good Man."
What made this time so different? What convinced you to have this approach?
My two oldest children are 6 and 7 and they are with Monyetta Shaw, who I was in a relationship with before this one. I realized one of the many things I did wrong in my relationship with Monyetta was not get over the relationship I was in before I got with her.
I never gave myself time to be single. I never gave myself time to figure out who the hell I am. So when me and Mo broke up, I took a whole year of being single doing all the sick and disgusting things that single men do. I'm not proud of a lot of it. I not proud of most of it. I initially met Crystal on what initially was supposed to be a music video. I wanted to shoot a little video for the album I was putting out at the time. I was going to cast her, but in the process of us talking and getting to know each other, there was a click, there was a connection.
I’m like, "Whoa, let me slow this down. I just got single. I have only been single a year. Let me chill out." Initially, it was just friendly stuff. Talking on the phone here and there. Then I finally realized that I’m really, really liking this girl and I’m kind of thinking she’s liking me.
So that’s what led to the first date and that’s when I decided, "Okay, if I’m going to do this, I’m not going to come into this like I have gone into every other relationship that I ever been in. I’m not going as me, as real, as all "killer no filler" as I can be. And if it’s going to work it’s going to work and if it ain't, it ain't. So February 20th made two years of a happy marriage.
Congrats! Going into this album with all of these new gems, what are some things you've learned about the way you love now as opposed to the way you've loved in the past?
I’ve learned to be more present, just in the realm of love. I’ve learned that loving somebody and liking somebody are two different things. Because you can love somebody to death and just not want to be around them. And you shouldn’t feel any way about that, because love doesn’t mean that we’re always going to get along or we’re always going to agree. That’s not what love is.
I found myself in a lot of relationships where I was trying to be what I thought was perfect to her. Even despite – mind you every butterfly you know was first a caterpillar – when I was cheating and other stuff I was doing. I wanted her to feel like in her eyes I was perfect for her. She never caught wind of anything, she never saw anything, my dirt never touched her so to speak. But it was fake. It wasn't real.
Ladies I love y'all to death, but there is nothing y'all can do to change any man. It’s not going to happen.
It was like, "Okay, so you're telling this woman you love her. You're telling her all the things she wants to hear. But in the back of your head, you’re doing her wrong." So I told myself if I’m ever going to do this for real, If I going to do this the right way, I’m going to do this the right way.
That was kind of the inspiration for the album. Like what it means to be a "Good Man" above all things, is a decision. You have to decide. Ladies I love y'all to death, but there is nothing y'all can do to change any man. It’s not going to happen. You can inspire him to change, but you yourself aren't going to change him. He has to make the decision for himself. So I made the decision. A lot of the stupid things we do as men are because we are selfish and don’t give a sh*t about anybody. It took me a while to realize that and step outside of myself and say: "You are a selfish bastard, bruh. Like for real. You need to get that under control or else you're going to die alone."
This is my journey so to speak and not only my journey but every man’s journey. Again, every butterfly you ever saw was first crawling on the ground. So we all have to grow from somewhere. The album is basically what it means to be who I was versus who I am growing to become.
Why do you think it takes so long for people to say, "Okay, I'm going to love myself another way and love others the right way?
I genuinely don’t know. I ask myself that question a lot. I’ve worn big, stupid jewelry. I’ve worn clothes that cost more money than housing. I’ve done it and in doing it I realize it means nothing. WE make it so important and it means absolutely nothing. So the kind of the gift and curse of being a human being is that you got to go through it in order to get to that place of enlightenment.
I wish I could sit and tell everyone, ‘Aye, bruh, once you find that good one stick with it, because there ain't nothing else out here.’ I wish I could tell a dude that. But I can't. He’s got to go through something. He’s got to lose it. He’s got to suffer in order to learn that lesson.
This is all so interesting to hear from one of the kings of modern love songs.
I grew up in a house full of women. My mother, my sister, my grandmother, five aunts and me. From birth until 16. What I learned growing up in this house is there are certain trigger words and certain essences that just make sense with women. Now this power in the wrong person can be used for evil, I’ve absolutely used it for evil. But this power in the hands of someone who realizes the truth can save that person’s life. It can change lives. It is a powerful thing to realize the power behind respect for not just women, but for people in general. A very, very powerful tool.
One of the lessons that my mom instilled in me that stuck was that God makes a woman a woman, God makes a man a man, but you yourself can make yourself a gentleman or you make yourself a lady. That’s a decision you make within you.
Meaning that just because a woman is a woman does not mean she deserves respect. And there’s a lot of women running around that do not deserve it, and if you mess around and give it to everyone you’ll put these people in one box. You respect ladies.
Stream Good Man below.