NEW YORK — Ne-Yo knows that people appreciate his music.
After all, his first two albums have gone platinum and the singer-songwriter has also helped pen some of the biggest songs of other artists' careers, including Beyonce's Grammy-nominated "Irreplaceable" and Rihanna's recent smash, "Take A Bow."
Still, Ne-Yo (born Shaffer Smith) feels that he hasn't gotten the acclaim or respect that he deserves as an artist. Just before the release of his third album, "The Year of the Gentleman," the 28-year-old sat down to talk about his upcoming CD, his image and his reasons for feeling under-appreciated.
AP: Where were you artistically when you started working on the album?
Ne-Yo: To be honest, I was confused. I knew I wanted to take it to the next step, the next level. And for the life of me, I didn't know how I could do that while staying in my urban boundaries. And then I realized, "I gotta step outta my urban boundaries. I gotta come out of urban, and you know, venture out and listen to some different stuff. Gather some inspirations in order to take this next step." So that's what I did. I started listening to a lot of old pop music like the Beatles, and Elton John, Billy Joel and Phil Collins. Stuff like that.
AP: Did you ever want to do the kind of R&B that 1990s groups like Jodeci, Shai and Silk did?
Ne-Yo: I definitely had a respect for that kind of R&B. That was an era when I thought R&B was real. 'Cause for a minute R&B was very phoney.
AP: What do you mean?
Ne-Yo: I don't wanna name any names right now. You're gonna get me in trouble. But you know what I'm talking about. There was an era when R&B wasn't hot. . . . The whole hip-hop/R&B era just kinda threw me for a loop. Around early 2000 when every song kinda sounded like (one note repeated). Like for real, one note the whole song? That never made sense to me. 'Cause like, if you're gonna rap - rap. If you're gonna sing - sing. Don't try to do this combination hybrid of the two of them that sounds like (garbage). I didn't dig it. I just never got into it.
AP: And that made you do what?
Ne-Yo: That made me go back to my roots. That made me go back to the R&B I grew up listening to. The New Editions. The Boyz II Mens. Even farther back. The Temptations. The Billy Oceans and Smokey Robinsons. That type of thing. Where it was more about melodies and lyrics that actually had something to say. So I went back to that. So that's where inspiration for the first record came from. And we was real scared with the first record 'cause it didn't sound like what was going on with the radio at the time. Everybody was very much hip-hop/R&B. Everybody was very much Ciara-and Sean Garretted-out. No disrespect to Sean Garrett (writer of Ciara's debut single "Goodies"), but I think he kind of fathered that era. And it was a cool little era for what it was. But it wasn't necessarily for me.
AP: What part of your music do you feel is really under-appreciated?
Ne-Yo: I honestly don't feel that it's my music that's under-appreciated. I think that it's me that's under-appreciated. As an artist, period. 'Cause I look at it like - OK, two multiplatinum albums. Yeah. Grammy. Two years in the game. I won my first Grammy off my second album, right? Multiple, multiple No. 1s for myself and for other people. However, (I've) never seen the cover of Vibe magazine. Never seen the cover of People magazine. Never seen the cover of, you know, Rolling Stone magazine. And won't. 'Cause these people feel that for whatever reason, because I'm a fully functional adult and not a heroin addict, that I won't sell magazines.
AP: Who does the business want you to be?
Ne-Yo: Everybody wants me to be the (guy) who's (sleeping with) every celebrity woman in the industry. Everybody wants me to be this (guy) in the club, popping 17 bottles just because. Everybody wants me to be Diddy, and that's not me.
AP: You're always the nice guy on songs. There has to be a bad guy that you want to show off, right?
Ne-Yo: Yeah. And it's not that I haven't tried. But management, (the) label - they feel that I've created this image for myself, this box for myself. And they want to keep me in this box. And I've told them, "Y'all don't understand there's so much more to me that you're not allowing me to show the world. Maybe if y'all allowed me to show these other sides of me, then (people) would pay more attention to me instead of saying, 'Oh, Ne-Yo. Oh great music, great songwriter - what's Little Wayne doing?' "