Grammy-Award winner Ne-Yo, who has impressed audiences with his talents since his debut In My Own Words dropped in 2006, is fed-up with the sloppiness of current R&B. “I’m tired of seeing guys with no shirts gyrating on stage,” laughs the 29-year-old artist. “That’s not classy. Years ago, if you wasn’t wearing the right suit or have a correct crease in your bands, you couldn’t even get in the door-let alone on stage to perform.”
Coming off of a fantastic year where he won a Best Contemporary R&B Album Grammy for Because of You, as well as writing songs for contemporary legends Celine Dion and Mary J. Blige, others might had rested for awhile; but, not Ne-Yo. “I couldn’t wait to get into the studio and start working on new stuff,” he says.
With Ne-Yo’s third disc The Year of the Gentleman, the Las Vegas native and premier songwriter has constructed a suite of songs that shows exactly what he means by class. Written over the course of travels through Europe last year and his own fascination with the hometown boys known as the Rat Pack, Ne-Yo explains, “For me, the sharpness of Sammy and Sinatra is the kind of style I strive for in clothes and music. Year of the Gentleman is named in honor of those guys.”
Yet, as Ne-Yo proves on the first single “Closer,” it is possible to be classy and funky at the same time. Produced by Stargate, the track is an electro-excursion in the glam of Euro-disco. “I just love the beat on that record,” says Ne-Yo. “When I was hanging-out in clubs in London, everything had that energy to it. I wanted to merge that sound with American soul music, and ‘Closer’ is the end result.”
In England, staying at his favorite hotel the Courthouse, Ne-Yo would sometimes sit at the bar and write songs. “It’s funny, because the hotel used to be a real courthouse,” he says. “There was also a small jailhouse in there where supposedly David Bowie and Mick Jagger were both held at one time.”
Like the best artists, Ne-Yo’s music has an eternal sound that appeals to fans of all ages. “As a songwriter as well as a singer, I think it’s important to cast my words wide. In other words, I am not trying to contain myself in some little box marked ‘urban.’ I have traveled the world, and I want to bring that across in the material. Forget about urban, pop or whatever, Year of the Gentleman is a worldly album.”
Harking back to a late-sixties retro sound, the beautiful “So You Can Cry” was one of the first songs Ne-Yo recorded for the project. Opening with an enchanting guitar resembling soft rain, “So You Can Cry” is a heartbreaking tune about a runaway girlfriend.
“I don’t know what puts certain ideas in my head when I’m writing,” explains Ne-Yo. “Sometimes I see a picture in a magazine, a painting in a museum or a word on a page, and that’s all I need to trigger the thoughts.” In 2007, Ne-Yo once again showed his true colors as a songwriter by penning lyrics for label-mates Rihanna (“Good Girl Gone Bad”) and Janet Jackson (“Rock With U”); in addition, Ne-Yo also wrote songs for Beyonce (“Flaws & All”).
As well recording Year of the Gentleman, last year proved to be a very busy time for the young talent. “I performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, which was a blast; even though it was cold as hell.” Performing his hit “Because of You” while on a float, Ne-Yo remembers, “I was shocked that so many people knew who I was. I guess the fame part of my success hasn’t sunken in yet.”
Embracing Lennon and McCartney with the same vigor as Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson, the amazing “Stop This World” should be hailed as one of the most beautiful love songs in years. When Ne-Yo swoons, “She’s got heaven in her eyes,” there is no denying his passion.
Moving beyond the competition by just being himself, Ne-Yo’s Year of the Gentleman is right on time to usher in a new era of soulful pop.
Because of You is the second studio album by American R&B and pop singer-songwriter Ne-Yo, released May 8, 2007 on Def Jam Recordings in the United States. It features guest contributions from rapper Jay-Z on “Crazy” and singer Jennifer Hudson on “Leaving Tonight”. Because of You debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and…
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