Anyone in the music industry knows you have to move quickly with the ever-changing trends, but Ne-Yo will always be known for one main thing. He is the “love song” guy, and that’s not a problem for him.
As rap dominated the market, it’s much harder for R&B artists to stay relevant without losing their fanbase. Plus, any singers above the age of 30 who aren’t named Beyonce basically get moved to Urban Adult Contemporary radio. This obviously, cuts down their younger audience.
When Ne-Yo hit over a decade ago, he turned heads with a series of strikingly weightless singles that relied on a small range of sounds like harpsichord style riffs over chunky drum programming. So what is an artist to do in a pop landscape that’s been pulverized by SoundCloud rap?
One way is to flip the bird and do what you want. Usher did this with his “Good Kisser,” and this still sounds cutting edge four years after its release. Usher also took the safe route with “No Limit,” and it’s very ‘of the moment’ meaning it’s rather unmemorable.
Ne-Yo has chosen the safe route with Good Man that is loaded with standard issue rap/R&B hybrids that has the singer floating his flexible voice over beats that crack and grind like “L.A. Nights,” “Breathe,” “Back Chapters,” and “Over U.” All these tracks are perfectly acceptable, but they fall into the very ordinary category which will be easily forgotten after the first listen. “Without U” is a rare standout on the album that adds a dollop of pan-Caribbean rhythms, but then you hit “Apology,” and you wonder if Ne-Yo realizes he’s better than most of the tracks on this album and is putting in a nice warning for us diehard fans. We can only hope that he’ll realize you can change with the times without losing what makes you so unique.
The R&B star released his seventh album on Friday and said he was nervous about putting out a new project at a time when SoundCloud rap, mumble rap and alternative R&B dominates on radio and streaming platforms.
“That had me a little worried initially just because the industry’s changed. The sound has changed, the look has changed. It’s a new day and a new time, and I was honestly really concerned about where do I fit in this thing now?” the 38-year-old said.
Sadly, this is felt throughout his latest album, and I personally hope Ne-Yo will just throw those worries out the window and pitch a big ‘fuck you’ finger up to SoundCloud and do what he wants to do.
“It’s like almost taboo to talk about love all of a sudden,” added the Grammy winner, who has written hits for Beyonce and Rihanna. “It’s gotta be about sex and money and how much drugs you sell. And mind you, I ain’t knocking nobody, I’m a fan of a lot of it. I just feel like that helped me realize where my place is in this thing. I’m the love song guy.”
Ne-Yo said with “Good Man” he wanted to make music that felt “warm.”
“I needed every song to feel like a hug,” he said. “Just kind of something other than what’s going on right now. Everything is so monotone and super bass heavy. There’s no real melodies.”
Ne-Yo was kind enough to take time with us where he talked about his music, the #MeToo movement and more.
One big question I’m always wondering about is where does an R&B artist like Ne-Yo or Mary J. Blige, or even K. Michele, fit in today’s market?”
Urban AC (adult contemporary radio), that’s where it falls. The first single that we put out, “Good Man,” it’s not necessarily traditionally an R&B sound … and even yet and still, because the song is talking about being a good man or whatever the case may be, (it went) straight to the Urban AC.
Any blessing is a blessing, you know. It’s charting at Urban AC, cool. But for people to listen to it and tell me that’s where it’s going to be, and that’s the only place it can be, it’s like, “Why are y’all putting a cap on my (music)?”
Your “Good Man” movement seems to be very important to you. Were you a bad boy before or have you always been a good standup man?
If I was a bad boy before, I was the best version of the bad boy …Even when I was moving around a bunch of chicks, groupies, and all that stuff, I was never the cat kicking chicks out my room at 5 o’clock in the morning.
So you were always respectful to who you were with?
Even if it was a small level of respect. Because I give respect the way you demand it. As a woman, you’re supposed to demand respect and if you don’t, well clearly you didn’t want it. So even in the realm of that, there was always a small level of respect that you have to give just because it’s another human being. You know, I don’t want nobody kicking me out no hotel at 5 o’clock in the morning.
You’ve always been a big supporter of women. Were you surprised to see the #MeToo movement grow so fast?
I’m really happy about it. Women get a bad rep, and it’s been like forever that women been getting a bad rep. Black people, we got it bad, but the worst thing in the world to be would be a black woman. Like a double whammy, like you gon’ have to work your (butt) off to get crumbs as a black woman. To see what’s happening right now with #MeToo and Times Up and all that, I’m happy about it. Because it’s true. Respect is not optional.
I had to take it upon myself to sit with myself in the mirror and go, “Have you ever really and truly given your 100 percent to any relationship you’ve ever been in? And the answer was, “No.” …I think back to some of the best relationships I’d ever been in, and even in that moment where I was just super happy, super cool with the girl that I was with, she cool, she ride for me, once she’s out of sight, if it’s something over here that’s ready to go, I’m gone. I’m gonna be respectful of my lady in that she’ll never find out. That’s not respect, bruh. That’s not what that is. So with my current relationship, I’m really doing it the right way and realizing that, “Yo, you can really be (expletive) happy. You can be really, like really happy.”
Will you start writing songs for other artists like you’ve done before?
I started being real selective about who I was going to work with. Again, not a lot of free time, which is another thing that stood in front of it. And with the change of the sound — and again, faulting nothing and no one, and no animosity, no diss or nothing like that — I felt like the sound that’d become popular, I felt like I would have to kind of dumb myself down to do this sound. And I don’t want to do that. I didn’t want to write like that. …I’ve been blessed to the point where I’ve made enough money to where I can wait. I can sit at home and wait for people. “Oh, we feeling real emotions again?” Cool. Let’s get it. I’m back.
What are your thoughts on going independent?
Ultimately, yeah, you want something as personal as your art, your music, to be yours. I feel like, should I get the opportunity to be independent, I’m going to probably go that route. ’Cause then it aint no deadlines and I can put it out when I feel like putting it out.
Have you ever rapped?
Yep. I still do in my free time, by myself. I gonna be real honest with you, I don’t have a lot of insecurities anymore, that’s one of them. I know that I can write it, I don’t know that I have the voice for it. That’s why I gotta give so much props to Chris (Brown).