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
VIBE 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