Exclusive: One on One with Ne-Yo

R&B superstar Ne-Yo is an internationally recognized brand. From his dapper style to his well-crafted artistry, just about everyone knows who the man is. With the release of his sixth album, Non-Fiction, Ne-Yo brings a variety of R&B tracks with just enough hits not to abandon his pop and electronic fan-base. The R&B crooner took a few minutes to speak with JET about his humble beginnings, staying power and what fans can expect from him in the future.

JET: You were born in Arkansas to two musically inclined parents. Did you always want to do music?

Ne-Yo: I’ve never really wanted to do anything else. I draw and paint a little bit. I’ve actually been doing that as long as I’ve been singing, but music was always the initial passion. It has been pretty much my whole life.

JET: When did you discover that you had the gift of singing/songwriting?

Ne-Yo: I’ve always been able to hold a note. I won’t say that I could [always] sing, but I could hold a note. I could mimic what was happening on the radio just well enough. The rest of it I had to work for. I don’t know. I’ve been humming melodies since [I was] like little little. You know [age] four and five. My mom said that the first song I ever wrote was about mustard and I was about five years old. I guess five is when I learned that I had the gift.

JET: Recently, you released you sixth studio album Non-Fiction. What can we expect from this work?

Ne-Yo: I normally don’t let the things I hear or read about in blogs bother me too much, but when I started hearing people saying things like “Ne-Yo abandoned R&B,” that really got to me. So I allowed this album to kinda be that. To my core R&B fans, if not for that R&B foundation that was raised, there would be no EDM song, there would be no Ne-Yo dance song, no Ne-Yo pop song. R&B is my home, it’s my foundation, it’s where I come from. So the majority is R&B, but I had to make sure I did something for everyone. It’s called Non-Fiction because every single song on there is based on a 100% true story. Half the stories belonging to me, the other half belonging to my fans. I reached out via social media asking people questions about their lives and relationships and the stories I dug the most I actually turned into songs for this album.

JET: Speaking of songs, you’re going to be performing a special song tonight in partnership with McDonald’s, correct? 

Ne-Yo: Yeah. It’s part of their “I’m loving the 24” campaign that kicked off in Australia. Very much like how I crowd-sourced information for the album, we pretty much did the same thing with this song. We reached out to people and told them to send in anything from poems to just thoughts and ideas that inspired love and just the spreading of love. I took those ideas and turned them into a song that I’ll be performing tonight for the very first time at The Avalon in L.A. It is a free show but it’s a list-only show. You can go to my Twitter @NeYoCompound to find out how to RSVP. After that, the song will be available on the McDonald’s website and anywhere else you get music.

JET: There are a lot of musicians out there who are settling for just a good beat. Lyrics are sub-par with the exception of a catchy hook. Your music seems to purposely evoke certain emotions making it different from the beat settlers. How important is it for music to have that substance and how can we continue to put music out there that makes you think and feel?

Ne-Yo: What I’ve learned is that we kinda need all forms of music. We need the stuff that we might not think is good. We need the stuff that we think is great. From the standpoint of contrast. If the sun shines every day, what the hell is a sunny day. We need the sun to go down just to appreciate the sunrise. My music is always going to be the kind of music that evokes some type of emotion. I like to create music that uses all of your senses. I do music that you experience as opposed to just listening to.

JET: What’s the key to staying power? How do you remain relevant in entertainment?

Ne-Yo: Good question. For me, it’s always been about consistency. Be it an R&B song, an EDM song, a dance, pop whatever it is you want to call it, there’s always one thing that remains consistent with me and that is the quality of the lyrics, the passion behind the vocals. These are things that you know you can find from me no matter what genre I’m singing in. I don’t know if I’d call it a secret weapon because it’s not like I’m hiding it from anybody, just who I am. Pay attention to what’s happening now, but you can’t let it define you because trends are meant to come and go. If you base what you do off a trend, soon as that trend is gone so are you. You can’t be oblivious to the trend but you can’t let the trend be your whole sound or your whole look or your whole image. You have to be who you are and incorporate bits and pieces of what’s going on right now to maintain that relevancy. That way it doesn’t look like you’re trying to be something that you’re not. These are some of the key ingredients to staying power.

Want more Ne-Yo? His album Non-Fiction is available in stores and online.