Beginning with the release of Ne-Yo's platinum debut In My Own Words in 2006, life hasn't been the same for the Las Vegas native. "The transition from being in the background as a songwriter and being an artist took a little getting used to," Ne-Yo laughs. "It's a lot different being the guy that nobody knew two years ago, but, I'm not complaining."
With the release of Ne-Yo's sophomore disc, the talented performer is ready to reveal his stellar growth as a songwriter, his maturity as a man and his prowess as a performer. "I write from personal experience, so everything in my life becomes a part of my songs," Ne-Yo confesses. "In my opinion, the essence of a good song provokes thought while also making you feel some kind of emotion.
"With the first album, I was going through a lot of personal issues, the most important being a break-up with my girl. A lot of that pain went into the record. In 2006, my son was born and I was happy with my life. That optimism couldn't help but spill over into the writing and recording process."
Last year, Ne-Yo also proved himself a masterful songwriter penning such gems as Rihanna's top-ten hit "Unfaithful" and co-writing Beyonce's instant classic "Irreplaceable." That track was on the Billboard Hot 100 number-one single for ten weeks.
"It was such an experience working with B., though I had no idea at the time that the song would become such an anthem. I've always tried to write songs that folks can relate to, and `Irreplaceable' hit that spot for a lot of women." Wondering how he has become so insightful when writing songs for women, Ne-Yo answers, "I suppose growing-up around so many women must have given me some insight," says Ne-Yo, "I used to hear everything my mom, aunts and sisters would say about life and love. When I write songs for women, I pull from those learned experiences."
Currently composing songs for Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Jennifer Hudson, the young star is excited. "Celine handpicked me for her project, which is exciting. With Whitney, I can't wait. She's an icon who has been through so much that I just want to sit down and talk to her so I can get some of those heartaches and struggles into lyrics."
Though last year was merely the launch of his musical journey, Ne-Yo's success was a gleaming achievement in the Def Jam crown. In addition to winning the prestigious Male R&B/Hip-Hop Artist of the Year award at the 2006 Billboard Awards (where he was also nominated in three other categories, including Male Artist of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and R&B/Hip-Hop Single of the Year for "So Sick," his premiere single), he was nominated for two Grammy's: Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for his chart-topping hit "So Sick" and Best Contemporary R&B Album.
"I can remember being home a few years ago watching the award shows on television, just hoping that one day I could be there," Ne-Yo says. "Now, I'm not only there, but I've been nominated. Believe me, it's a good feeling." Moreover, what's his favorite part of the fame game. "It might sound corny, but I love signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans. A lot of times it makes me late to appointments, but that's all right."
Still, the dark side of celebrity reared its ugly head last year when various rumors began spreading in gossip rags and on the internet. "At first it really upset me, because many people believe the things that they read. I can remember calling JAY-Z for advice and he said, `Yo, it comes with the territory. I know you didn't think this fame thing was going to be all good.' His words helped put things in perceptive; you got to take the good with the bad."
Like his musical heroes Prince and Sammy Davis Jr., Ne-Yo clearly understands that the secret of musical success is spending long hours in the studio. "Even when I was in the middle of performing on The Tonight Show, I was always thinking about the songs I wanted to write for this new album."
A big fan of Leno's before appearing on the show, Ne-Yo says, "I used to lie in bed and watch him every night," he remembers. "When I performed, I was just so surprised how small the stage was, because it always looked so big when I was at home." In addition, Ne-Yo also appeared on the Tyra Banks Show and Ellen DeGeneres. "I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get a chance to dance with Ellen, but that on my list for the next trip."
While the successful Stomp the Yard was Ne-Yo's feature film debut, he is quick to say, "I don't really consider myself an actor yet. Making the movie, I would have been lost if it wasn't for the stars Meagan Good and Columbus Short. They both couched me through scenes and helped me with my lines. They had a lot of patience with me, which really helped."
Listening to the first single, "Because Of You" one can hear a soulful purity that has been absent from R&B for some time. Produced by Ne-Yo's old friends Stargate, who first broke-out with their work on "So Sick," the uptempo "Because of You" has already started blazing from stereo speakers. "I wanted this song to kind of pick-up where "Sexy Love" left off," Ne-Yo says. "It's about being in love with a person so much that it turns into an addiction. No matter how many times you might break-up, you keep going back, because you just can't help yourself."
Writing and performing material that his fans can relate to is another gift that shines through on the radiant "Do You?" With a beat that manages to be cool and hard simultaneously, Ne-Yo's love ache can be felt as he addresses an old flame. "I wanted this song to sort of pick-up where `So Sick' left off," he says. "My ex-girl is getting married, but still I'm writing her a letter telling her I care, while wondering, `Do You?'"
Like the best songwriters, Ne-Yo has his own special formula when he's in the lab. "My motto is, `If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' I don't want a lot of people contributing too many ideas to the writing process, because I know what I want. I'm not trying to make a song that is hot for the moment; I'm writing songs that I hope fifty years from now, people are still singing. For me, it's all about longevity."
With its smooth `80s groove, "Angel" is one of those eternal songs. "This is one of those songs I thought about for a while," Ne-Yo informs. "The concept was what it would be like to be in a relationship with a real angel. Of course, it would be blissful, but no matter how much you love the angel she could never really be yours, because angels belong to God. Eventually, she'll have to go back to heaven."
Produced by newcomer Syience, the beat is reminiscent of the vintage Minneapolis sound laid-down by his royal badness. "Prince is the main reason I do what I do. So I wanted this to be a homage to him."
As a testament to how far Ne-Yo has been and where he wants to go, his upcoming album is a masterful excursion through the heart and mind of America's latest soul boy wonder.
Here's A Candle (For Your Birthday Cake) [Audio]
Song For Someone