By// Starrene Rhett Rocque
Ne-Yo stopped by Johnson Publishing for a brief moment to chat about his album, R.E.D., which is in stores today. He explained to JET what fans can expect to hear and revealed his affinity and talent for visual art—especially when it comes to Japanese-style cartoons.
Explain the acronym behind your album.
The name of the album is R.E.D., which stands for “realizing every dream.” I called the album that because that’s what’s going on. I’m in a really good place in my career; I’m in a really good place in my life. The power of music has been there pretty much my whole life. Since age nine, when I decided it was going to be music and nothing else, I set all the dreams and aspirations for myself from then to now. Just about all of them have been realized. I felt like that was cause for celebration.
What’s this one going to sound like?
The album is a perfect blend of R&B music and pop music since I have very demanding and very opinionated fans on both sides of the spectrum. With my R&B fans feeling like I’m getting so much love on the pop side of things, I just needed them to know that I have not abandoned them nor will I ever. And you know just to show my appreciation to these pop fans who have been so loyal these last couple of years, I’m just making sure that everybody from both sides of the spectrum and all the folks in between get something to enjoy. Everybody that’s a Ne-Yo fan can come to the concert and have a good time together. So that’s the goal of the album, integration as opposed to segregation.
What’s one of the most interesting things about your new album?
The album had a whole other name and direction from the beginning. I had to step outside of myself, kind of slap myself upside my head and come to my senses. Initially, I was going to call the album “The Cracks of Mr. Perfect.” And that came from me just being a little bothered at the fact that — as an artist, a celebrity or whatever the case may be — you’re almost not allowed to be just a regular human being. Like as a human being, you wake up some days and you just don’t want to deal with anybody. As an artist, that’s just completely taboo. The day that happens to you, you’re an asshole. Nobody knows that you just got into an argument with your girl or your momma is on your back about something just before this person walks up and asks you for an autograph or to take a picture and you say no. They don’t know what happened and they don’t care. So, all they say is, “Ne-Yo didn’t take my picture when I asked him. He’s a jerk. I’m not buying his album no more.”
You’re also a visual artist but with so much going on, do you still get to draw?
Not as much as I’d like to, but it has now become my therapy and my escape from the music business, so to speak. I never thought I’d need one of those. Music used to be my escape from everything else — escape from the business side of music. It’s definitely that, not the music itself. I listen to music as I draw and I paint.
What’s your favorite medium?
Pen and ink. I came from a very heavy comic book background.
So, you’re into manga and anime?
Absolutely! Yeah, I stay on that. Japan is one of my favorite places to visit. That’s my saving grace now: drawing. I’m actually still in the process of doing some stuff with the Cartoon Network. I’m trying to put together a cartoon that I wrote and developed. It is just taking so damn long and people are dragging their feet, but it will be out soon enough.
What style of art is the cartoon?
It’s definitely not anime because that shit costs money. I didn’t know how expensive it was. You know The Boondocks? They animate that in Korea. It’s like a million dollars per episode. I’m like, “I’m cool. We can get stick figures.”
It’s a story called I Heart Tuesdays. It’s a story about twins who are direct descendants of two Greek gods that were cursed by Zeus for being really childish and irresponsible. They have to save the world from some unspoken evil every Tuesday for pretty much the rest of their lives. So, it’s dealing with that on top of dealing with being high school students. The intercom comes on and the dean says, “Hey guys. Due to weather, prom’s going to fall on Tuesday!” Damn!
What’s going on with your acting career?
There’s stuff on the table [but] ther’s nothing set in stone right now. It’s on hold because everything wants to take me away from my music for six months, eight months or a year. I’m not in a place with the acting where it means enough to me to step away from my music. Music is who I am. Whereas the acting, I have a love for it and an appreciation for it. I just recently was approached with the opportunity to play the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in a movie that Lee Daniels is doing. And for one, I was completely floored and flattered as hell that he would even think that I was good enough to do something like this. But, I had to decline because, for one, he wanted me to gain weight to play the role and, for two, he wanted to start shooting right before the album was about to come out. Mind you that he wanted me to gain like 30 or 40 pounds and I would only be shooting for two weeks. So basically, I would be sitting in front of people trying to promote my album with a belly out to here and the whole nine.
Do you have any other guilty pleasures like reality TV or anything like that?
I have to say that I was a partaker of Ratchet Mondays with Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. I was there talking mess about it the whole way through but did not hesitate to tune in and did not hesitate to record it whenever I could. I don’t know man, it’s the whole “cars on fire on the side of the road.” You just got to slow down. You got to see what’s going on. That’s what it is. You know it’s potentially bad; you know something is just wrong but you’re just drawn to it.
Would you do it if you got approached?
No. That’s like asking me would I jump into a burning car. I’ll slow down and say “Awe, that’s crazy!” but I’m not going to get in there.
OK, so that style of reality TV isn’t happening, but would you ever judge a show like The X-Factor or American Idol?
I would, but again, it would have to be something I could do while still doing music. I know for a fact, that’s one of those projects you have to take time off from whatever it is that you’re doing to lock into that. I couldn’t do that right now. But I definitely dig the whole concept of taking the things that I’ve learned in the business and passing it down to some of these younger cats out there.