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Next Tuesday heralds the worldwide release of Ne-Yo‘s sixth studio album ‘Non Fiction’.
Easily the Grammy winner’s most R&B flavored effort in years, the set has been showered with praise from critics and has fared well commercially with singles ‘She Knows’ and ‘Time Of Our Lives’.
That Grape Juice caught up with the singer-songwriter recently and quizzed him on a number of topics including his return to Urban, his racier image, issues with streaming, and new projects from Rihanna and Janet Jackson.
Ever frank, the star delivered insightful conversation.
Check out our interview with Ne-Yo below…
Ne-Yo Shouts Out That Grape Juice
Sam (That Grape Juice): Hey Ne-Yo! Welcome back to That Grape Juice. We’re excited to talk with you today, as we’re looking forward to your new album ‘Non Fiction’.
Tell us a little about what inspired the title?
Ne-Yo: The title was inspired by the fact that every song on this album is a 100% true story, or based on a 100% true story. This is a very honest album and it is the rebirth of storytelling. That’s an art form that has been lost over the last few years in regard to music. This is storytelling’s rebirth. I want people to actually sit down and pay attention to the lyrics of the songs, as opposed to getting into the incredible musical aspects of it. Half of the stories are mine, going over some of the things that have gone on in my life over the past couple of years. The other half of the stories belongs to my fans.
I’ve reached out via Twitter, Instagram, all that, asking people questions about their lives and their relationships, whatever the case may be. And the responses that really resonated with me turned into songs. So I’ve got to give a shout out to everyone who participated and put in a piece of this puzzle that is nonfiction..
Sam: On past project’s you’ve showcased more of the “gentleman”, while on this LP the singles have skewed more “risqué”. Was that a conscious decision?
Ne-Yo: It was, it was. Every song on this album is or is based on a true story. But with the songs, this is the fault of getting bits and pieces of a full puzzle. Every song on this album is a piece of a larger puzzle. When you get the album and when you listen to the full source all the way down, it makes perfect sense what the song is. As far as the song, and what the project is, the video and the whole nine, what people tend to not understand about a gentleman, is that a gentleman is a ladies’ man as well. A gentleman is a man who can appreciate the beauty of a lady, and that’s all aspects of a lady, be she a woman who works in an office or a woman who swings around on a pole for a living. There is beauty in both of those women. And a gentleman can appreciate the beauty in both. They’re not viewed for the same thing or in the same way but in their individual right, there’s beauty in both of them. That’s what I need people to understand. If people think I say something positive about a stripper or that I attend strip clubs, that that’s ungentlemanly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s another reason why the name for a strip club is “gentlemen’s club”. There’s a reason for that.
Plus, I feel that people need to lighten up a little bit. I think sometimes people get a little caught up in their conception of what a gentleman is supposed to be. It’s not this perfect being who never attends strip clubs, or who never says a curse word, whatever the case may be. That’s not a gentleman, that’s a priest. And I’m not a priest. I’m not disrespecting any priests out there, but I’m not a priest. I’m a guy; I’m a guy that appreciates women and their bodies the same way that all guys do. It’s just that I come from a place of respect. I respect and appreciate them. It’s not just the misogynistic and animalistic, but there are definitely elements of that in me. I’m a man. That’s just what it is.
Sam: Sonically, this project marks a return of sorts to R&B in that its markedly more “Urban” as a body of work compared to a lot of your recent albums. Why is that?
Ne-Yo: It was.
I wanted for this album to be a reminder to my traditional R&B fans that R&B is who I am. It’s not a hobby for me, it’s not a job for me; this music is the reason that I’m here. This music is the reason I’m alive. This music saved my life. So I could never abandon R&B. I can never abandon R&B anymore than I could abandon my right arm. That’s what R&B is to me. It’s a body part, it’s part of who I am. It’s in my DNA. Just because I hop off the course every now and then to explore and travel and do new things doesn’t mean that I’m not going to come home. And I always come home, and R&B is my home. So I needed people to be reminded of that. I kind of view this album as that, while being conscious of the fact that I do have this very loyal, very huge fan base in the realm of EDM, pop and dance music. So there are some of those on the album, just to make sure every aspect of my fan base is set. I just needed the naysayers in regards to me and R&B to be shut up. That’s kind of what I set out to do, and I feel like this album does that.
Sam: Having enjoyed some of your most pronounced success with Pop and Dance tracks, would you consider your return to R&B in such a full on way risky given the current climate?
Ne-Yo: There is a risk in anything you do from a commercial standpoint. There is no guaranteed way to stay on top of what’s going to be
positive commercially. People feel like it’s a science, and to a degree it is, but when you take this science and apply it to people, because at the end of the day it’s the people and what they want, and what they’re going to go out and buy. There’s a huge variable in there that you can’t really account for, because you never really know what’s going to connect with people. You don’t know. Every other few months, a new trend pops up, and it’s a trend you didn’t see coming. Nobody saw the Shmurda dance coming, but that came. It just happened. You never know what’s going to resonate with the people. So you have to do what you should do, and put up a prayer to the Most High and hope that people agree with what you feel is dope. That’s all you can do as an artist. You go in and you do what you feel works, and hope everyone else follow suit.
Sam: As an artist that with established longevity, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the music industry. These days streaming is a red-hot topic (i.e. it’s affect on the charts, artists getting paid less). What’s your take on streaming – as an artist and as a songwriter?
Ne-Yo: I really don’t have an issue with the whole concept of streaming and what it is and what it means for music. I just want proper compensation to be had.
That’s the whole thing. I understand that the laws that are in place don’t really say much about streaming, because streaming didn’t exist when these laws were created. It’s already gone to Congress a couple of times with the folks at ASCAP about this exact matter, so that the laws that allow streaming are that everyone is compensated properly for whatever it is they do. Songwriters, so that songwriters are given what they deserve, so that artists will get what’s deserved, and the whole nine.
My thing with streaming is the same thing with my take on the whole downloading conflict; as long as it’s being done legally, as long as people are getting paid for their work, then I have no issue with it. It’s the folks that step out on the wrong side of the gate and do things they probably shouldn’t do, steal people’s hard-earned work. That’s when it’s an issue. It’s kind of crazy but I’ve spoken on this topic via my social media once or twice, and the response that I get kind of saddened me a little bit. It’s like people feel like I should just give them my music for free. I say, you don’t do your job for free, and I love my job, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s my job, and I’m supposed to be compensated for what I do. No, my music’s not supposed to be free. That’s not how this works.
But you’re not going to change people’s minds overnight. There’s always people out there who are going to go out and try to get it over. I’ll give a shout out to those people who still have enough integrity to purchase it, and to the ones that don’t, I guess it is what it is. Shame on you.
Sam: Beyond your own hits, you’ve penned smashes for the likes of Beyonce and Whitney Houston, are there any artists that you’re working with presently?
Ne-Yo: At the moment my focus is on new artists. I have new artists of my own that I’m putting the majority of my writing energies toward. One we’re really excited about is Sonna Rele – from the UK.
Sam: There’s a lot of talk about Rihanna’s new project. We hear you’re working on it? Can you tell a bit about that? What kind of sound?
Ne-Yo: Yeah, I’m not really allowed to say a lot, I promised to keep the integrity of the process and let her shock the people the way that she chooses to shock the people, so I’m going to leave it at that.
Sam: Ok, cool. Rounding up; there’s a lot of talk about Janet Jackson’s new album and you wrote the title track to her 2008 LP ‘Discipline’ – which is one of our favorite Janet tracks. Is there any chance of you featuring on her comeback project?
Ne-Yo: I’m not sure that (the call) is coming yet. But that would be amazing.
Sam: It would!
You’ve doubled in acting and starred in films such as ‘Red Tails’. With all the talk of biopics, Aaliyah’s bio pick Whitney’s one this week, if you could play anyone in a music based bio, who would it be and why?
Ne-Yo: Oh man, I don’t know. I would have to get my acting chops up before I can take on something like that, but I would never want to be the reason why somebody’s memory was disrespected. I would love to play the Sammy Davis Jr. I know that that would take a whole lot of studying before I could do something like that, but ultimately if I had to choose, it would be him.
Sam: Cool. Final question. You continue to leave a mark in the music industry, but when all is said and done, what would you like your lasting legacy to be?
Ne-Yo: The fact that I could write great songs and beyond anything else I was an aware person. I think the most important thing about your artist personality is that people have to be able to relate to you as a person and I feel like going too far with the whole concept of the “celebrity” and this whole untouchable aspect of what a celebrity is supposed to be. I just don’t go with it. My fans know that I’m very tangible, they see me in the streets, run up on me, they want picture or an autograph, if I’m not rushing to an airplane or have to be somewhere fast, I always stop and take a picture and sign an autograph, because I understand that these are the people that make me who I am.
At the end of the day, I just want people to know that about me. I do what I’m doing because I love it, not so much for the financial gain, don’t get me wrong, I definitely want to be able to feed my kids, but that’s not motivating factor. The money is not the motivating factor and the reason why I do this. I do this because I love it, I do it because it’s therapeutic for me, it’s real. And I just want people to recognize that when they listen to my music and when I’m gone, if somebody would say something like that on my funeral, I wouldn’t be mad.
Sam: Awesome answer. Ne-Yo, thank you very much for your time. Best of luck with the project.
Ne-Yo: Thank you.
Ne-Yo’s new album ‘Non-Fiction’ hits stores on