After writing songs for artists like Mario, Chris Brown and Christina Milian, R&B prodigy Ne-Yo is stepping out on his own with this week’s release of In My Own Words (Def Jam). And he’s off to a good start: The album’s “So Sick” is currently Number Eight on the Billboard Hot 100.
“‘So Sick’ is a true story,” the twenty-three-year-old Las Vegas native says. “It’s about the first girl I ever fell in love with, and how I completely screwed up that relationship. A good sixty percent of the album is true stories.”
The smooth ballad is representative of In My Own Words‘ classic sound. “I tried to go back to older, more traditional R&B,” says Ne-Yo (born Shaffur Smith), referencing Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men as influences. “The kind of music my mom used to listen when she was cleaning the house.”
In My Own Words may be Ne-Yo’s official debut, but it’s not his first full-length recording. Five years ago, the then-teenager made an album for Columbia Records. After a contract dispute, he left, but the label kept the album and triggered Ne-Yo’s songwriting career by having Marques Houston score a hit with the shelved album’s “That Girl.” Offers began rolling in, and — after co-writing Mario’s Number One single “Let Me Love You” — Ne-Yo got to collaborate with R&B superstar Mary J. Blige on last year’s The Breakthrough.
Despite his vicarious success, Ne-Yo was eager to get back behind the mike, and he’s unapologetically possessive of his new songs. “I honestly wish that I could have kept ‘Let Me Love You’ for myself, but I was brought in by [producer] Scott Storch to write it [for Mario],” he says. “I’m proud of this entire album because it’s been a long time coming. To receive the amount of love that I’ve been receiving just by telling stories of things that have gone on in my life is amazing.”
Ne-Yo, who derived his moniker from The Matrix, will make his own big-screen debut in the upcoming sequel to Save the Last Dance. But he’s not quite as excited about his burgeoning acting career. “It got a little tedious,” he confesses. “It was my first time doing anything movie-related, so by Take Seventy-four, I was a little tired.”
The singer’s more eager to talk about making music — his own. “On the outside, I’m being very calm and serene,” Ne-Yo says, “but on the inside I’m like a four-year-old kid.”