Published Jan 21, 2015It's been over two years since Ne-Yo released his last album R.E.D., but it doesn't seem as if he's been out of the spotlight that much. His guest appearances on huge hit singles like Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" has helped to associate his voice with dance and EDM singles, even though he'd began his career focusing on an R&B sound.
"[The perception was] that Ne-Yo doesn't do R&B music anymore, which has never and will never be true," Ne-Yo tells Exclaim! "R&B is part of who I am. It's just the songs that got the recognition in the last couple of years have been in the EDM and dance realm."
However, with the upcoming release of his sixth album Non-Fiction (out January 27 on Motown), the singer is looking to get back to his R&B roots and has been taking notes on developments within the genre.
"R&B is in a great place right now," says Ne-Yo. "A lot of experimentation is happening, expanding the genre. I just feel like too much of the same thing can be a nail in the coffin for a genre of music. I'm not saying every song needs to be a love song, but we definitely need some love songs. Everybody's doing these 'fuck me' songs right now. Nobody's really talking about love and the good, bad and ugly of it. That's where I kind of come in with a bit of a traditional feel with all of this new music."
Non-Fiction's first single, "Money Can't Buy" featuring Jeezy, certainly backed up Ne-Yo's words, with its throwback soul production and Ne-Yo's vocal performance paying homage to Marvin Gaye. Elsewhere on Non-Fiction, the gospel-tinged "Religious," the ominous ambience of "Run" featuring Schoolboy Q, and the bedroom seduction of "Good Morning" are evidence of an R&B seduction.
"I knew that I was going back to my R&B roots," the singer reveals. "I kinda went back to my inspiration in R&B. Marvin Gaye being one, Michael Jackson definitely being one. Prince, Stevie Wonder those types of people. So you'll definitely hear elements of things I love about those artists in these songs on this album."
Ne-Yo has also been balancing his work as an artist with being a record executive — he's been a senior vice-president of A&R at Motown since 2012 and he admits getting up to speed with the role has been "truly like learning a new language."
"It hasn't been the smoothest transition I'd say. The thought process and aspects of being an artist versus the thought process and aspects of being an executive are a little different. With the artist it's about the vibe, it's about what it feels like, what it sounds like. How it makes you feel.
"As an executive, you're thinking commerce, you're thinking 'Is it relatable? Is this song fast enough for rhythmic radio? Is urban gonna pick it up? Does it have any crossover potential? What's marketable? What's gonna cost the least but give us the most?' All of these things that when you go in the studio you don't concern yourself with. You just go in there and vibe it out and do what feels good to you. Go where your creativity takes you.
"So it's kinda hard to go to the other side of it and turn something that's been like an additional sibling to me into something that's just completely commerce like kinda plastic and unreal almost. So that's a little difficult for me."
Something that comes more naturally to Ne-Yo is songwriting. His first break came when he co-wrote Mario's single "Let Me Love You" and he's gone on to pen "Irreplaceable" for Beyoncé and Rihanna's "Take a Bow," as well as working recently with Celine Dion on her "Incredible" single. However, he's been taking a break from high-profile collaborations and applying his songwriting talents to artists he is mentoring and developing, including London artist Sonna Rele, whom he has signed to Motown and Candice who appears on Non-Fiction.
Keeping his focus close to home, Ne-Yo has been able to examine his relationship with his audience, while trying to balance his other priorities and responsibilities. "A lot of people are saying, 'We miss the [2006 debut album] In My Own Words Ne-Yo,' things like that. And those are the responses and requests that stick with me," he says.
"I feel like being in the music industry successfully, it's comprised of two main things, you know. This has to be something that you do for your fans. you have to pay attention to what your fans want. But then at the same time you gotta make sure [there's] a piece of this you're doing for yourself as well. I don't want to be a robot, just be at the mercy of whoever's asking for whatever because I feel like the fans get into your personality about who you are, y'know. So 50 percent for them and 50 percent for me and that's kinda how I've been doing it over the last few years.
"I felt it myself that I needed to get back to my R&B roots, because I don't feel like my R&B fans have gotten their just due in a while. But this album is definitely that. Overall, I kinda want people to listen to this album and expand their minds a little bit and try something new. If you are a dance and EDM fan, there's definitely some stuff on there for you. But the majority of the album is R&B. So, as the EDM fan, I would like you to listen to some of this R&B stuff and see if it resonates with you. If you're an R&B fan, get into some of these EDM and dance records and see if it resonates with you. Especially if we're all in a room and we're all Ne-Yo fans, I think we should be fans of every aspect. We shouldn't be like I just like Ne-Yo when he does R&B or I just like Ne-Yo when he does pop music. Give it a shot. It might be that you just like Ne-Yo, period."