The YEAR OF NE-YO
An accomplished songwriter who never followed the crowd and played against perceived coolness of rap and hip-hop, Ne-Yo brings velvety smoothness to his own hits, and is currently charming the world with Year of the Gentleman. In between TV appearances, radio interviews and photo shoots, Ne-Yo spoke with JEZEBEL about his new album, his image and what it means to be a gentleman.
Before the beginning of the decade, Shaffer “Ne-Yo” Smith was writing music for some of the music industry’s biggest names, and often was heralded as the lyrical talent behind their success. After penning No. 1 hits for heavyweights like Rihanna, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Mario, earning a great deal of recognition in the process, it was only a matter of time before Ne-Yo would make a mark of his own.
The 29-year-old R&B star has come a long way, and so has the mastery of his craft. His first two albums went platinum, and he has won a Grammy. His latest CD, Year of the Gentleman, delves into the emotion, nostalgia and vulnerability of a man in love. “I’m basically trying to bring a little bit of class and integrity back to the game,” says Ne-Yo, revealing that he wants to make romance and male chivalry sexy again, and dreams of people dancing to his tunes in a suit and a tie. “I’m trying to lead by example and bring some of these elements back.”
Given his philosophy, it is not surprising that Ne-Yo cites Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra as a few of his musical inspirations. “For me, the sharpness of Sammy and Sinatra is the kind of style I strive for,” he says, crediting the women in his life–his mother, sister, grandmother and five aunts–for helping to give his music its passion and intense energy. In a way, his latest effort is like a collection of ballads about his love for women. His song “Miss Independent,” for example, could very well be an ode to his mother–a woman who raised him and his sister on her own, instilling in her son an appreciation for music while encouraging him to find his own voice. Naturally, Ne-Yo’s signature high-pitched tenor is full of heart and strength, especially when he declares his admiration for a woman’s independence with lines like, “She got her own thing, that’s why I love her.” But it’s not just the ladies who will be wooed by Year of the Gentleman. The album’s lead single, a Euro-disco track called “Closer,” has reached No. 1 in the United Kingdom and has remained a top 10 or 20 single in the United States and throughout Europe and Asia.
Ne-Yo’s lyrics, “And I just can’t pull myself away, under her spell I can’t break, I just can’t stop,” describe a man hopelessly in love, but they are also the perfect way to describe the singer’s ascendancy up the charts–we just can’t stop listening to his music.
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