Interview: Ne-Yo Discusses His 10-Year Career, Casts a Love Spell on Brooklyn

Interview: Ne-Yo Discusses His 10-Year Career, Casts a Love Spell on Brooklyn

The singer talks fatherhood, music and more.

Published May 9, 2016

Thursday night (May 5) kicked off the first evening of a new live music experience curated by the Grammys. Spaced out over four days in New York City, the Grammy Park festival features nine concert performances, highlighting the talents of over 30 artists, who have each been honored with official Grammy wins and nominations throughout their careers.

As part of the weekend-long affair, Ne-Yo, along with Jazmine Sullivan, Robin Thicke, Aloe Blacc, Toni Braxton and Andra Day were all slated to perform at the historic Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, while additional showcases, such as one focused on jazz and another on gospel, are taking place at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside. First up on the roster was Ne-Yo and Sullivan who, paired together, made for a complimentary bill creating a well-rounded collection of the best of their sounds.

As the classic maroon curtains closed for a brief intermission after Sullivan and the ornate ceiling designs of the historic and beautifully restored building became visible, it was clear that this crowd had heart-eyes for Ne-Yo. The room was bustling with fans eager for the three-time Grammy Award winner to come out on stage. Once he emerged, donning his trademark fedora, every person in attendance was on their feet and cheering for the duration of his high-energy performance — and he did not disappoint.

While Ne-Yo has hit the decade mark in his career, he greeted the audience reminding them that he’s not old but seasoned. A further testament to the fact that he’s aging well was his nonstop dancing and veteran ability to win the crowd over. Those in attendance cheered and sang along to his tried-and-true favorite smash singles: “She Knows,” “One in a Million,” “Do You” and “Let Me Love You,” the song he jokingly said gave him his first nickname in the music industry, “the guy that wrote that song for Mario.” His set was heightened by his extremely talented band, which incorporated a horn section and a team of professional dancers. Ne-Yo also offered a tribute to Prince in his performance, showcasing a clip of an interview with Oprah where Prince said that he just wanted to be known for his music, further adding to the magic of the evening.

All in all, Ne-Yo is at a special turning point in career where not only is he still having fun during his live sets, but he’s able to connect with younger and older audience members alike, reminding fans that quality R&B music is timeless. What’s it been like starting your year off with your new marriage and the birth of your son?
I have very little to complain about as of late. I'm loving it. I love spending time with my family. I don't get to sit still much, so it's kind of a double blessing for me that my son is here and I still get to do music. I'm loving the experience of being a new father again and seeing his little personality develop and everything. I'm having a ball with it. I’m in the process getting back into the swing of things, like changing diapers and, you know, those little things that you never forget how to do, but can be a little rusty at since it’s been a couple years. But on the other side too, I am anxious to get back out there music-wise.

Does being a father influence the content of your music or your creative process?
A little bit, yeah. Now that I have kids, I want my kids to appreciate my music but at the same time I don't want to teach them anything that they shouldn't know just yet. So for now, I’d say I’m just a little bit more conscious about what I'm writing about and the words that I'm choosing to use. I’m trying my best to stay away from those colorful four-letter words so that my kids can sing along without any interruption.

All three of my kids are partial to jazz. My daughter calls it the ‘beep bop be bop’ songs and she's even started to skat a little, like ‘Daddy put on the beep bop de bop song.’ We all love it.

How have you managed to stay true to yourself despite your mainstream successes?
I know the music industry is based on a lot of smoke and mirrors in a lot of cases, such as making things look like one thing versus what it actually is. I feel like I've been here long enough that I've surpassed the need for any of that.

Towards the beginning of my first album, for example, there was a big debate on whether or not I should tell people how old I was or not. I was like, ‘Why would you not? Why does that matter?’

My hope just in regards of staying true to myself has never really been an issue for me. I never really created a difference between Shaffer Smith, my actual name, and Ne-Yo. They are kind of one in the same. It's been a bit of a gift and a curse. As far as Shaffer Smith is concerned, I've never viewed myself as a celebrity. I've never viewed myself as above anybody else or anything like that. I'm a regular guy at the end of the day. I like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and The Powerpuff Girls. [Laughs]

I've just kind of always been me and been unapologetic about it and I think that that resonates with my fans. You can hear it in my music and you can hear me, my voice, my tone, my passion. I've always been who I am. 

What are you hoping to achieve next in your career?
More of the same. I’m happy about what I’ve accomplished, but all of the people that I look up to musically all have Grammys in double digits, so as far as I'm concerned, I still have some work to do.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out what my seventh LP is gonna sound like and am thinking about what it is I have to say now. It's been 10 years for me. So in industry years, that kind of makes me one of the older guys, but I don't view it as a negative thing. I'm seasoned. I've always told myself I want to age gracefully.

Musically, I’m getting back to where I need to be. I love my fans for their level of patience. They have been very patient with me, allowing me to be a human and to enjoy the blissful daze of being newly married. I’m thankful my fans have let me take the fedora off for a second and be a regular person. To show my appreciation for that, I'm going to get back out there and give my fans what they want. I want to give people amazing music and amazing performances.

Written by KC Orcutt

(Photos: George Chapman/BET)


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