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Year of the Gentleman Part 2 of 4

Posted by ThatsMyJamRadio on April 29, 2008

Ne-Yo is what the entertainment industry calls a triple threat. He’s one of the most sought-after songwriters in music, as a recording artist he’s hard at work on his third album, and as an actor, he’s starred in Stomp the Yard. Find out his plans to change the R&B game in the May issue of 944 magazine, but check out what he had to say about working with other artists, that driving incident and his first big purchase with that first music industry check.

THAT’S MY JAM: Now there are a lot of singers that were formerly songwriters and even some producers that are now singers. Do you see this as, like, the way to break into the business now days or do you think that being just a traditional singer is still an option for people who want to get into the industry that way?
NE-YO: Well, unfortunately the business has turned into something where if you’re just a singer or if you’re just a rapper, and you’re not doing any writing or you’re not doing any producing, you’re not really making a whole lot of money. You have to depend on your shows. And now days, in some of the new deals that are coming out, these labels are asking for a piece of that, too, whereas back in the day they didn’t even get involved in your tour, they didn’t try to touch that money. Now days you gotta give them some of that, too, because CDs aren’t selling the way they used to. So, I think that it’s better in the long run if you are a producer or a songwriter, as well as a singer or a rapper, you know, I think that it’ll be better for you.

OK. Speaking of songwriting, how did you react when some of your songs, like, became such monster hits, like “Let Me Love You” by Mario and “Irreplaceable” by Beyoncé?
Man, well “Let Me Love You” was a shock, not that I didn’t expect the song to do well, I mean I hoped that it did, but I was shocked because at the time it didn’t sound like anything that was on the radio, so within that that’s scary. It’s going to do really, really good or really, really bad. So it turned out good and then it just kept going, which is what was the most shocking, it just kept going and kept going and kept getting played and, you know, one week turned into two, turned into 10 and it just kept going. So, definitely a pleasant, pleasant surprise.

OK. You had significant presence on Janet Jackson’s new album, I believe you wrote “Discipline,” “Can’t B Good” and “Rock With U”? Did you get a chance to work with Janet at all?
No. Janet has a certain group of people she’s comfortable recording with and that’s who did the vocal arrangements and everything, I just submitted the songs. I would have liked to, but you know, schedules didn’t permit it.

You know, I had stuff to do, she had stuff that she was doing and that’s pretty much what it was.

OK, but then again speaking of Jacksons, in a recent issue of Ebony, Michael said that you and Chris Brown, that he loved what you guys were doing. Like, how did you react when you read that?
That was one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever been paid, you know? Just in the fact that I look up to that guy the way that I do, you know what I mean? He’s one of the reasons that I sing, period, you know, just in that learning how to sing, he’s one of the people I studied very closely. Not so much the dancing element of it, but his vocal talent, because in the beginning when I was learning how to sing my tone was very similar to his and I hated my tone because it wasn’t dark and smoky like the guys that my mom used to listen to. You know, my mom was a Billy Ocean, Donny Hathaway, Smokey Robinson type, those type of singers, so I couldn’t do that, so I hated my voice. So my mom gave me Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July and Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and she said, ‘Study these two albums, because they have a similar tone to yours and you’ll get more comfortable with your own voice.’

OK. Being inspired by Prince and Michael Jackson, how do you kind of balance their influence with your own style?
Well, I know that I can’t be Prince. I know that I can’t do what Prince does. I know that I can’t do what Michael Jackson does, you know? But I think that’s the reality that people have to come to when you’re trying to pay homage to somebody who did it as good as they do it. That’s what you have to realize is that you can’t be that person, you’ll never be that person, so why would you try to be that person? What you do is you take bits and pieces of what that person is and add it to what you are, you know? My voice is my voice, I can’t control what it is I sound like when I sing. So, for someone to say I’m trying to impersonate Michael Jackson is absolutely false. Now for somebody to say that I’m paying homage to, which is exactly what it is, that would be accurate, you know?

OK. What has been your favorite collaboration, either writing, singing or performing?
Favorite collaboration — um, I loved, loved working with Mary J. Blige. Mary J. Blige reminds me of one of my aunts from back in the day, you know? I grew up with my mother, my grandmother, my sister and about five of my aunts all in the same house, and Mary J. Blige reminds me a lot of one of my aunts. You know, just very, very much family, you know? It didn’t feel like business, that felt so much like just, you know, me just hanging out with somebody in my family. It was really comfortable, you know, and I definitely think I grew a little bit by working with her. Like, one thing that working with her showed me was that poetic ain’t always the way to go. Short and simple definitely wins the race sometimes. If you’ve got something to say, just say it, say it, but just make sure that your delivery is such to where a person feels you when you say it, and I think that’s been Mary’s strength her whole career. There’s some people that have said that Mary J. Blige isn’t one of the best singers — whatever. When Mary J. Blige sings, you feel it. I don’t care if every note is flat, sharp, whatever, you feel it cause it comes from the soul, comes from the heart, you hear it in her delivery and that’s one thing that I learned from working with her. So, yeah, that was a beautiful experience.

OK. So, when you started getting into the music industry, what was the first thing that you purchased after you got your first music industry check?
[Laughs] The first thing that I purchased was a new car for my mom, actually. And there’s a funny story behind that. I went to my mom and told her she could get any car that she wanted, period. It was a very big check. So yeah, I was like, “Mom, you could have any car, I don’t care, pick the most outlandish, the craziest, whatever. You can have a Bentley, a Maybach, you could have whatever you want. So we’re driving around, she can’t find anything she likes. We went to the Benz dealership, we went to the BMW dealership, we went everywhere, she can’t find anything she likes. We’re driving down the street and we pass one of those, you know, corner car dealerships with every kind of car in it, you know, with the guy in the really, really bad suit that looks like he’d sell his mom just as fast as he’d sell a car. You know, that place. So, my mom was like, “Wait, let’s stop in here.” I’m like, “You don’t want to stop there.” “No, I do, I do. Let’s stop in here.” So we stop over there, she’s looking around and she’s looking really, really interested. And I’m like, “No, mom, you don’t want a car from this place.” So, she’s like, “You know what? I really like this one.” And I’m like, “Mom, that’s a Hyundai Sonata. You can get any car you want on the planet and you pick a Hyundai Sonata?” “Well I like it, it’s purple.” “Mom, you can get any car in purple.” “Well, I want this one.” “Alright.” So my mom’s first new car was a Hyundai Sonata.

Wow. I guess it made her happy, though.
It did, I mean, she’s upgraded, now she’s driving that newest BMW. She’s driving that now, but back then that was enough for her.

Come back tomorrow for Part 3 of “Year of the Gentleman.”

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