Ne-Yo: The Las Vegas Gentleman

The homegrown R&B star on his new gig as a Motown exec, and how he brought dapper back

Las Vegas’ R&B crossover star Ne-Yo has a body of songwriting credits that includes tracks for Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Carrie Underwood, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans and Mario. Now the Grammy award-winning singer/producer is embarking on a new career as a talent scout for Motown Records. Vegas Seven caught up with Ne-Yo before his upcoming show at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool on June 28.

How did your songwriting roots impact your career as a singer and producer?

Starting as a songwriter gave me an insight on a part of the business that a lot of just artists don’t get to see or experience. As just an artist you’re kind of at the mercy of whoever it is that’s producing or writing your music. Whereas for me I’m in control all the time, so my victories and my failures are all me, and I’d rather have it that way than be dependent on another person to win or lose. It also kind of gave me a sense that I’m gonna be around for a little while. Even when the day comes that I decide I don’t want to be an artist any more, I can write forever. So the music will always be a part of me, no matter whether I’m in front of a camera or behind the scenes. It will always be there. That’s the security that comes from being a writer.

Jay-Z/Def Jam signed you, giving you your big break. Did the Las Vegas boy have a proper celebration?

Of course! If I know nothing else, I know how to celebrate, I know how to party. I was born in Vegas; you learn [how to party] damn near before you learn anything else! I remember getting the big break, but I remember not having the big money at the time. So even though I did celebrate, it wasn’t a massive gala in Vegas?I was still broke. But I waited until the money came in before I had the for-real celebration.

Regarding your album Year of the Gentleman, you said that you wanted to lead by example and guide hip-hop artists away from the prevailing culture of rudeness and arrogance. How did you do?

I’ll take credit for a lot of these cats cleaning up their wardrobe, if nothing else. However, honestly, I didn’t hit the mark that I was trying to hit. When I came out doing what I was doing, with the suit, and the dapper [image] and the whole nine, I felt like cats looked at that and went, ?OK, so basically what you’re saying is if I put a suit on, that makes me a gentleman. All right, cool.? No, that’s not how it works. It is about what you wear, but it’s more about you on the inside, not the other way around. I always said: You can take a piece of shit, put a ribbon around it?it’s still a piece of shit in a ribbon. You gotta change you, on the inside. You then realize that what you look like on the outside matters too. Not so much what you wear, but the way that you wear it, the way that you carry yourself.

Let?s talk about this electronic dance music thing. Your Afrojack-produced track ?Give Me Everything” was a huge crossover hit. “Play Hard” with David Guetta and Akon was cool, too. What are the implications of this EDM movement for R&B?

First and foremost, EDM?dance music, techno, house?has been around forever. It is not a new trend. It may be a new trend here in the States, but it’s been around forever. It got popular here, and it’s getting to the point now where it’s getting a little watered down. Everybody’s jumped on the bandwagon, and the stuff just isn’t as good as it was when it was new, so I gotta figure out another way to go with it. One thing that I am excited about, there’s an evolution happening in R&B that I have to be a part of, I just don’t know what my place is gonna be. So I’m real anxious to get in the studio, start laying down ideas, start thinking about where my place is gonna be among the Miguels, and the Luke James, the Frank Oceans and Trey Songz.

How did being raised in Las Vegas contribute to your future as a entertainer?

Everything that I learned about being cordial, being a people person, all of that I learned in Vegas. Vegas is a tourist town. People come, do what they gotta do for a limited amount of time, then they leave. Every weekend you’re meeting somebody new. So you learn how to make friends, you learn how to talk to people, all of that I have to credit to living in Las Vegas. Another thing that I can credit to Vegas is just my love and appreciation for the Rat Pack and what they were, what they represented, the showmanship. It was always the entertainment town. Not just singing, not just dancing, not just magic, or comedy?it’s all of that. I don’t just sing, or just dance, or just get onstage and say something comedic, or whatever the case may be. It’s an all-around entertainment factor.

What are you looking forward to most about playing at Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool?

Nothing better than playing at a pool. People are partially naked, the drinks are flowing?it’s just a good time had by everybody. I’m there to be the icing on the cake. The fact that it’s in Vegas, and at the Cosmopolitan just makes it that much bigger, that much more lavish, that much more plush.

Last year, you were appointed senior vice president of artists and repertoire for Motown Records. How has your day-to-day evolved since then, and what can we expect from Motown as part of that evolution?

I’ve proven myself in the realm of singer/songwriter. But in that this is a new venture, this is a new ground for me; I’ve got to prove myself here, too. So I’ve just got to get myself to kind of separate myself from everything and just really focus in on one thing. I have an artist over there, her name’s Sonna Rele. She’s from the U.K., and she’s my first signing over at Motown. I can do great things for the company, but until I get to a place where they trust me and listen to me, it doesn’t matter. As of right now, I’ve gotta show that I’m worth my weight.

With your R.E.D. album, you had an interesting promotion with Malibu Red. What is the key to getting these big commercial deals in an honest way that doesn’t undermine your integrity as an artist?

Two words that you just used: integrity and honesty. You don’t want to walk into these meetings, talking shit that you don’t know, making these people feel like they’re stupid because they don’t know certain things about your realm. They don’t know things about your realm; you don’t know things about theirs. So it’s about sitting down and learning from each other. I didn’t know about selling alcohol, and they didn’t know about music. So we came together and educated each other to push this product. It’s about going in with the mindset of partnership. Think long-term, as opposed to that short quick money. It’s about sitting down humbly and listening more than you talk when the discussion is something that you don’t know. And then making sure that you’re speaking clearly when the conversation is something that you do know something about?clearly, boldly, but not pushy. You’ve gotta be the kind of person that they want to listen to.

Ne-Yo performs June 28 at the Boulevard Pool at the Cosmopolitan. $55, doors 8 p.m. Get tickets here. 

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