‘Year of the Gentleman’

On 2007’s hit single “Crazy,” from Ne-Yo’s sophomore album Because of You, Jay-Z opens the song with the simple exclamation: “Ne-Yo’s like young Michael, I’m Quincy ho.” What might seem like lofty words are actually closer to the truth than you may think.

Jay-Z has promoted and played a role model to so many artists, and nearly all their projects have turned to gold, from Kanye West to Rihanna to Lupe Fiasco.

And Ne-Yo, born Shaffer Chimere Smith, is certainly no exception. He has created a niche for himself in the all too similar sounding R&B genre and has gained fans — and even a few Michael Jackson comparisons — along the way.

Last week, he talked to The Miami Hurricane over the phone. During the conversation, Ne-Yo discussed The Rat Pack, Michael Jackson’s return, and why he still has some personal goals he needs to meet.

Dan Buyanovsky: In the industry’s current climate, what is the importance of not only being an artist and entertainer, but also a songwriter?

Ne-Yo: From a financial standpoint, nowadays if you’re just a singer or just a rapper, you’re not making too much money. You basically have to depend on touring or merchandise, and record labels even take a piece of that now. Publishing is one of the most lucrative aspects of the music business. They say an artist’s lifespan is about five years, but a songwriter can keep writing songs forever.

DB: Are there certain ways you choose who you want to write for or who you want to collaborate with? Are you selective based on the individual’s music or their reputation?

Ne-Yo: In the beginning I was more selective based on their music. I think at this point in the game people know there’s certain stuff I’m not good for. I’m not very good for the popular hip-hop and R&B songs. My whole thing is the lyrics. If you want some lyrics that invoke some thought, that’s my thing. If you’re not an artist who’s trying to do that, I may not be the songwriter for you.

DB: There are a lot of successful people who come out of University of Miami’s music business program. As someone who has seen several sides of the industry, what advice would you give to those individuals trying to make a name for themselves in the music business?

Ne-Yo: One thing a lot of people don’t take time to do is truly hone their skills. Basically, if you’re a decent singer, songwriter or guitar player, you have to become great singer, songwriter or guitar player. You have to be so good it’s undeniable. Another thing is don’t sell out. Don’t ever do something that’s not you just to get on. Some people will do just about anything to get rich or famous. That’s bullshit. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it. It may take you a little longer to get into the business if you are who you are and stay yourself, but let it take the time its going to take. Prince was getting booed off stage when he started, but now he’s an icon because he never sold out.

DB: Can you address the rumors of you working with Michael Jackson on his new album?

Ne-Yo: I got to meet Michael and we talked about what he wants to do and what he wants the sound to be for the album. I’ve been submitting songs to Michael for a while now, but he’s been very selective and picky with the new album.

DB: Tell me a little bit about your new album. What inspired you and what are your anticipations for the response?

Ne-Yo: The new album should be coming out in late June or early July. It’s called Year of the Gentleman, and the message behind that is, I want to bring the class and integrity back to R&B. If you look at the R&B cats and the hip-hop artists nowadays, they all look the same. They got the chain hanging to their ass, and their whole look is just unkempt. If you look back to The Temptations or The Rat Pack, they always dressed to a T because it was customary, and their demeanor and swag always went with it.

DB: Do you feel like you finally solidified yourself to the point that fans just trust you to come up with solid material?

Ne-Yo: I still have a lot of personal goals that I need to meet. Basically, for every great song of mine that you hear, there are five or six bad ones that you’ll never hear. My goal is that every time I touch the pad with my pen, it’s a hit.