In the midst of awards season, we managed to catch up with one of the most talented — and busiest men — in the game. Ne-Yo, 32, prepares for his fifth studio album, but also his new front of the office stint as the Senior VP of A&R at the iconic Motown label. EBONY.com talks with the Atlanta-based artist/producer/writer on fatherhood, his new album, and his plans to restore glory to Motown Records.
EBONY.com: How do you prioritize artist, producer, record exec, businessman?
Ne-Yo: For me, family comes before anything else. But I’m also understanding that in order for my kids to eat, I gotta work. That means that as much time as I would like to spend at home just tossing my daughter up in the air, I can’t do that because at some point she’s gonna get hungry and I gotta make sure that she has something to eat.
EBONY.com: Does being an executive change how you create your own music?
Ne-Yo: Not at all. I feel like I can honestly say that I’m anxious my damn self to see what I’m gonna do! One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that the music that feeds your artistic soul, it’s not always the music that feeds your family, so to speak. And I’ve never envied record execs that had to make those kind of decisions. These Motown people might be a little mad at me not being able to do that. I really don’t know if I’m in a place where I can do that. I feel like music is still supposed to mean something, it’s still supposed to have some kind of depth to it, some kind of meaning. Not saying that every song that you hear has to be super duper serious, but at the same time it’s supposed to make you feel something and I’m not gonna sign stuff just for the sake of signing. I’m gonna make sure that the artists I bring to the table are people that are true to life artists, not people trying to get some fame real quick and make some money.
EBONY.com: What made you want to go in the front office?
Ne-Yo: I sat down with Barry Weiss — he’s over there at Def Jam now — he’s in the top spot over there, and he talked to me about the whole revitalization of Motown and how they’re trying to take it back to its original glory. There was a moment in time where there was no R&B chart because there was no need for one, because all of these incredible R&B records was heading straight to the top of the pop charts and Motown played a huge part in that. So he believes that – and this is no pressure – he believes that I’m one element of a team of people that can take Motown back to its original glory. As flattering as it is, it’s scary as hell. They’re looking at me like I got an ‘S’ on my chest! I’m gonna do what I can, but I don’t have no super powers.
EBONY.com: How’s fatherhood changed you artistically, so far?
Ne-Yo: It hasn’t necessarily changed me artistically. It’s kicked up my drive a little bit; I have two little people that depend on me to live now. So the whole process of making the album changes a little bit when you factor that in.
EBONY.com: What can you tell us about the album that you’re working on?
Ne-Yo: Fifth studio album. I feel old, but I’m aging good, you know? It’s all good. But it’s my first release on Motown, so I’m a kid again, which is kind of cool. I’m a new artist all over again. It’s gonna be my first album on a brand new label. I’ve been heavy on my R&B stuff a lot lately. I feel like, as much as I love and appreciate the pop stuff, I feel like R&B needs me right now because it’s kind dwindling a little bit. I remember a time where an R&B record was good enough to top the pop charts, and I wanna be part of just taking the art form of R&B back to its former glory.