He’s a Grammy award winning singer, a songwriter, composer, and producer, one of music’s most talented and prolific artists and a man who needs only one name: Ne-Yo. In less than five years, he’s produced three No.1 albums, sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and collaborated with everyone from Michael Jackson to Tim McGraw. After taking a few years off to work on several films, Ne-Yo’s now back with his fourth project, Libra Scale, a stellar effort that’s sure to race up the charts and catapult the R&B superstar to even greater heights.
Libra Scale is a monumental concept album that tells the story of the rise of R&B’s first superhero squad, The Gentleman, a trio of garbage men who are granted all that they’ve ever wanted--special powers, money, fame, women-- after encountering a mysterious figure. The only catch? The men must use their powers to fight crime in their city and must never ever fall in love. Not a problem until Jerome (Ne-Yo) meets Pretti Sinclair, a vivacious, no-nonsense beauty. He quickly captures her heart. But all goes awry when after a night of passion, Pretti Sinclair contracts a strain of Jerome’s superpowers and suffers an adverse reaction that effectively drives her crazy.
Soon Pretti Sinclair morphs into ‘Diamond Eye,’ a stunning, but diabolical monster intent on destroying Jerome and the city he has sworn to protect. Plagued with guilt, Jerome nurses his broken heart at the local bar, while Diamond Eye terrorizes the city. At this point the mysterious figure who initially gave him his superpowers reappears with an ultimatum: let Diamond Eye/Pretti Sinclair both die and the city is saved or allow Pretti Sinclair to live and reverse all the damage Diamond Eye has done, but Jerome must die. Will he choose “the love of his life” or his own “love of life?” This dilemma fuels Libra Scale.
“Every one of my albums has had a point, some kind of message,” Ne-Yo explains. “The underlying question on this album is money, power and fame vs. love. Weigh it out on the Libra scale. Which will you choose? It’s really a question of morality. I want people to question how they live their lives. I’m showing them the pros and cons of both sides.”
It took Ne-Yo three months to write Libra Scale’s intricate back story, which draws heavily from the world of comic books and science fiction. “I’m a huge comic book nerd,” he says proudly. “I have been since I was kid Spider Man, Japanimation. I love all of that. I also felt that with the emergence and success of movies like Iron Man and Wolverine the climate was right to take this type of chance with this project.”
Once the story was complete, the songs poured out easily. In less than four months he wrote and recorded 60 songs, 12 of which ultimately made the album.
For party records like “Chamapagne Life,” a bubbly-drenched ode to living lavishly, the singer spent a month doing “research” in Miami’s hottest spots. “One night we went to the club with DJ Khaled and bought about 50 bottles of champagne,” he recalls. “We were ordering 10 bottles every 10 minutes. In Miami the bottles have sparklers on them, so everybody is looking at us like, ‘who are these guys?’” It’s one thing to hand a girl a glass of champagne. It’s another thing to hand a girl her own bottle.” He laughs loudly. “Oh, the difficulty of my life.”
Inspired by Michael Jackson’s cinematic videos of the 80s and early 90s, Ne-Yo initially dreamed of creating a 45-minute mini movie to be packaged with Libra Scale. Costs, however, proved prohibitive and he’s now decided to release a series of extended music videos, which will each run from 7-10 minutes. It’s ambitious, he acknowledges, but well worth the creative and financial investment.
“You want to know the one thing that really inspired this whole idea? Boredom,” Ne-Yo declares. “I was looking at the music industry and I was absolutely bored by the R&B genre. Everyone is doing the same thing. It’s all about simple beats, going to a party and being the flyest guy there or having sex with every woman you meet. That’s why Lady Gaga came out and blew the world up because she brought back the entertainment factor. She gives you something to look at other than a person standing on stage singing a song with a bunch of dancers. Her videos are movies. Her concerts are like plays. What she’s doing for the pop world is what I’m hoping to do for the R&B world and music in general.”
Elaborate concepts and visuals aside, at its core Libra Scale is vintage Ne-Yo: sophisticated songwriting, beautiful melodies and a voice that’s as supple as it is powerful.
“I was listening to a lot of old school Stevie Wonder when I recorded this album,” he says. “Albums like Talking Book, Inner Visions, Music on My Mind. I was also listening to a lot of Michael. The Victory album, Off the Wall, Bad, Dangerous. Michael didn’t just make songs or videos. He made moments and that’s what I’m always striving to do.”
For the lead single, “Beautiful Monster,” he re-teams with StarGate, the Norwegian production duo that, over the years, has helped him create classics like So Sick and Miss Independent. “Those guys are like my brothers from another mother,” he says of Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen. “They’ve mastered the art of complex simplicity. They figure out what melodies pull at the heartstring, what sounds make a person want to continue listening.” On the sumptuous guitar-led ballad, “She Is,” Neyo collaborated with country music veteran Luke Laird.
“ I’m a huge country music fan,” he says. “It’s one of the last musical genres where story telling is still sacred.”
As one of the industry’s most sought after songwriters, Ne-Yo has gladly shared his prodigious talents with his fellow artists, penning number one hits for Beyonce (“Irreplaceable”), Rihanna (“Take A Bow”) and Mario (“Let Me Love You”), as well as chart toppers for Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Kanye West, Lionel Richie and many more. All three of Ne-Yo’s previous albums--2006’s “In My Own Words,” 2007’s “Because of You,” 2008’s “Year of the Gentleman”—have gone platinum and produced a slew of top 10 hits, including “Sexy Love,” “Because of You,” “Mad” and “Closer.” Hollywood has also embraced him, both in front of and behind the camera. He’s written music for films like The Princess and the Frog, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire and I Can Do Bad All by Myself. Meanwhile, he’s appeared on screen in handful of films, including Stomp the Yard and Save the Last Dance 2. Two more films starring the singer— George Lucas’ Red Tails and Columbia Pictures Battle: Los Angeles—are in the pipeline. Music, however, will always be his first love, he says.
When asked how he’s evolved as an artist, Ne-Yo’s answer is simple: “I’m not afraid anymore,” he says. “When you’re first starting out you try so hard to get in the business and when you finally do get in, you don’t want to do anything to piss anybody off. You’re afraid you might get kicked out.”
“With this album I really want to drive home the fact that I’m an artist thru and thru. This is 100 percent an expression of myself, with no apologies made and no playing it safe.”