Three-time Grammy Award®-winning artist Ne-Yo was explaining the genesis of his new album title, R.E.D., an acronym for Realizing Every Dream. “It came from me stepping outside myself, looking at my life as it is today and realizing that every dream I’ve had from the day I decided I wanted to do music, that I wanted my life to be about music, every dream that I’ve had from then til now, if I haven’t realized it by now, I’m definitely on the way to realizing it.”
R.E.D., released September 2012, is Ne-Yo’s fifth studio album for the Universal Music Group (UMG). It is also his first album for the newly revitalized Motown Records after seven megasuccessful years and four RIAA gold and platinum albums as a core member of Island Def Jam Music Group. Adding to the R.E.D. album’s provenance is Ne-Yo’s appointment (announced January 2012) as the new Senior Vice President of A&R for Motown, a coveted role at one of America’s most important and prestigious blue-chip record labels. In yet another new dream role, Ne-Yo will be working alongside industry great Barry Weiss, Chairman & CEO of Universal Republic and Island Def Jam Motown.
“I’m beyond flattered that they felt I was a person who could be helpful in reestablishing Motown,” Ne-Yo says. “What put me over the edge was Barry Weiss’s overall belief in me, his belief that I could be an integral part of this revitalization. Maybe he sees a greatness in me that I haven’t realized in myself yet. If the executive is the next step, then so be it. It’s just another set of dreams, another set of goals for me to move towards.”
Becoming an actor was never one of Ne-Yo’s desires, even though his stage name derives from a recording studio engineer’s observation, more than a decade ago, that he perceives music the way Neo perceived the Matrix. Nevertheless, in 2008, after the triumph of his third album, Year Of The Gentleman reverberated around the world, Ne-Yo was cast in two big budget, major studio blockbusters that took him away from music for most of 2009, during their back-to-back shooting schedules: director Jonathan Liebesman’s Battle: Los Angeles (Columbia Pictures), which opened in 201; and George Lucas’ World War II epic Red Tails (20th Century Fox), the chronicle of the Tuskegee Airmen, which opened in 2012.
“One thing I learned about acting,” he says, “it’s actually very similar to music. It’s all about the level of passion and the level of emotion that you put into what you’re doing, that’s gonna make what you’re doing good. You can hear it when a singer receives that anointing to where he’s not even in his body anymore, the music has completely taken over. It’s the same with acting, you can see when an actor has become his character. You must have a very strong understanding of who you are in order to become somebody else. I’m still a student to the music, and I’m still a student to acting, but it’s another transition, another step, another group of dreams and goals to set.”
Ne-Yo’s status has also enabled his company, Compound Entertainment, to enter into a partnership with worldwide spirits and wine giant Pernod Ricard to develop Malibu Red, their popular coconut-flavored rum infused with silver tequila. “They made me Chief Creative Director, I designed the bottle, and I wrote a song called ‘Burnin’ Up’ for the brand. We shot a video which they edited for a commercial, and it’s doing really well, I’m excited about it. Now I want to take Malibu Red and make it a household name in clubs, to be one of those specific bottles that must be at your table. Another transition, another step, another group of dreams.”
Born into a family of musicians in Arkansas on October 18, 1979, Shaffer C. Smith, aka Ne-Yo, was a youngster when his mother relocated to Las Vegas in hopes of a better life. A natural-born storyteller, Ne-Yo cited Prince, Marvin Gaye, the Rat Pack, and Stevie Wonder in his list of favorite entertainers.
After a couple of stints in local groups, Ne-Yo was astute enough to see the potential in song publishing. His talents as a songwriter soon began to blossom with cut after cut on major artists’ albums and singles, including Mary J. Blige, B2K, Faith Evans, Musiq, and Christina Milian.
The big break took place in 2004, when R&B singer-actor Mario scored a left-field #1 hit with “Let Me Love You,” which Ne-Yo co-wrote with the track’s producer Scott Storch. The song stayed at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks, and became (at the time) the most-played song in radio history, with 189.5 million audience in its peak week. It finished out 2004 as the #1 most-played song of the year at radio, and also became one of the top-selling ringtone downloads of all time.
Ne-Yo’s name was on everyone’s A-list, and in 2005, (then) Def Jam president Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) and Island Def Jam Music Group Chairman Antonio ‘L.A.’ Reid succeeded in signing Ne-Yo to the label. He was quickly cast in the Paramount Pictures sequel Save The Last Dance 2 and wrapped up filming towards the end of the year. In late December, after completing a sold-out, critically acclaimed tour with fellow newcomer John Legend, Ne-Yo’s single “So Sick” began to catch fire, eventually hitting #1 on the Hot 100 and #1 in the UK in early 2006. (“So Sick” was actually his second Def Jam single, the follow-up to his 2005 debut “Stay” featuring Peedi Crakk.)