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by rocafan on 1/31/2006 09:37:00 AM

Ne-Yo's own words: Music is 'what I am'


By Steve Jones, USA TODAY

The buzz: The Las Vegas-bred Ne-Yo's single So Sick was rising on the rhythmic, R&B/hip-hop and mainstream top 40 charts well before its video made its debut last week on BET and MTV. The song, which hit No. 3 on the national radio airplay chart last week, has increased anticipation for the Feb. 28 release of his first album, In My Own Words. Ne-Yo (Schaffer Smith), 23, has already made a name for himself co-writing Mario's No. 1 Let Me Love You and writing lyrics for the likes of Chris Brown, Mary J. Blige and Christina Milian. He's on tap to work with LL Cool J, Beyoncé, Tyrese, Ruben Studdard and Ciara and to do the bulk of the soundtrack for the film Steppin' Up: Save the Last Dance 2, in which he also will have a small role.

Ne-Yo prides himself on his "melodies and harmonies," has a hit single, an upcoming album and aspirations for movies and maybe even real estate.
By Stephen Chernin, AP

Leaving Las Vegas: Ne-Yo was born in Camden, Ark., and later moved to Las Vegas with his family. He left Las Vegas for Studio City, Calif., after graduating from high school, he says, because it has little to offer musically beyond the big casino show. Two years ago, he recorded an album for Columbia Records that was never released (the song That Girl wound up being done by Marques Houston). It left him ready to quit, but "music is not what I do; it is what I am."

Fortuitous meeting: He decided to concentrate on songwriting, but he was signed to Def Jam while in New York early last year with producer friend Kurtis "Sauce" Wilson. They had just stopped by Def Jam's offices to say hello to Wilson's friend Tina Davis. Davis, a company executive at the time and now Chris Brown's manager, was impressed by Ne-Yo. "It's crazy how things just fall into your lap when you're not looking for it," says Ne-Yo, who was nicknamed by producer Deon "Big D" Evans, who compared his musical instincts to the talents of The Matrix character Neo (Keanu Reeves).

Keying on lyrics, vocals: Ne-Yo's approach to music is different from that of most of his contemporaries, whose songs tend to be heavily influenced by rap trends. Ne-Yo prefers to rely on well-structured lyrics and expressive vocals to get his point across.

Putting in work: He says he buried himself in the studio with a team of young producers and recorded close to 400 songs, only a fraction of which wound up on In My Own Words. All that work won't go to waste, though. He says that since the success of Let Me Love You, he gets constant requests for songs, and he now has a stockpile to work from for future albums. "Literally, we would wake up around 7 or 8 in the morning, eat, and then stay in the studio all day and all night, go home, wake up the next day and do it again."

Hitting the road: Ne-Yo is under consideration for an opening-act slot on Mary J. Blige's nationwide tour this spring, but he got his feet wet doing several dates with eight-time Grammy nominee John Legend this past fall. He says that the experience left him craving more and that he was undaunted by the large crowds: "I'm more at home on stage than otherwise."

Compound ambitions: He hopes that by making In My Own Words a hit, he'll be able to springboard into other ventures. Ne-Yo wants to get into acting, writing and producing movies, and even selling real estate under his Compound Entertainment banner. "I'm just trying to make Compound a household name by 2008," he says. "I'm trying to become a Roc-a-fella or a Bad Boy. (Def Jam president Jay-Z) has taken me under his wing and is trying to teach me the tricks of the trade. It's only a matter of time."

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