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Ne-Yo Gets Real On R&B, Essence Fest & More
It’s no secret that Ne-Yo is a maker, lover and champion of R&B music. So it comes as no surprised that the GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter and Recording Academy member would be spotted in New Orleans at this year’s Essence Festival—the venerable celebration of Black artists and music, which is now in its 24th year. We caught up with R&B’s gentleman to chat about the festival’s impact, his love of Erykah Badu, his musical legacy, who’s on his musical radar, and why real singing still matters.
There are so many music festivals these days, what makes Essence special for you?
Essence Festival is special because [it celebrates] black women---one of our most precious commodities. This is about them, and anything celebrating them I'm always going to be for. I've been a champion for women pretty much my whole career, my whole life. My mama wouldn't have it [any] other way, so I'm always here to celebrate female Black excellence.
Anybody you're really looking forward to seeing this year?
Erykah Badu. [I have] been a huge fan of Erykah Badu since the beginning of her career. I love how she's just unapologetically her. You know what I'm saying? She is who she is, whether it's trendy, whether you get it or not, she's like this is me, love it or leave it alone. You can't do anything but respect people like that.
R&B and rap are dominating the music charts these days, and both have become king amongst music consumers. Can you see that effect of those genres on the world of music and pop culture?
I mean I can definitely see it. You can definitely feel it. You can feel it in every aspect of music. Have you listened to country music lately? You can definitely [hear] the influence there. Pop music [too]. I'm happy that we are in the process of swinging things back towards R&B music, with artists like H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, Ella Mai, Jorja Smith, [and me]—I've got to include myself in there. I need music to feel like something again. I feel like we're swinging back towards that. We're swinging back towards real emotion in music. You know? Real voices. Real singing and that makes me really happy.
What are you listening to right now?
I'm a really, really heavy on H.E.R. I love what she does. She works with DJ Camper, who I work with a lot as well. He actually produced [my] song, “Good Man” [the latest single and the title track off his seventh studio album]. Daniel Caesar, and I listened to Jorja Smith's album [Lost & Found] because I think it came out right around the same time mine did, so I wanted to see what the competition was sounding like. Not that there is any animosity or anything, I just wanted to [hear it]. Mind you, she's amazing. And I love Drake’s new one [Scorpion]. Love what he's sounding like.
So, if you could set up your dream collaboration with any artist or band alive right now, who would it be?
For me it would have to be Stevie Wonder. I have my five kings that have been my inspiration, pretty much, from the start of my love for music: Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr., [and] Marvin Gaye. Now, of the five I've named, only one is still living. That's Stevie Wonder. So, I got to get in with Stevie.
When your fans look back on you in 50 years from now what do you want them to remember about you as the artist Ne-Yo and your music?
I want them to remember that Ne-Yo wrote from the heart. Ne-Yo spoke from the heart. Whether [or not] what he was saying or doing was the most popular thing at the time or not, it was always real. And that he was a good man that could write the hell out of a song.