The only thing better than Ne-Yo’s music is his personality. A true lover of life, the R&B superstar continues to gift fans all around the world with nothing short of feel-good, positive energy, blessing the music industry with his smooth, sultry voice for decades on end. The 3x Grammy-award-winning recording artist is best known for timeless hits “So Sick,” “Closer,” “Miss Independent”…the list goes on — ensuing instant nostalgia upon hearing.
Beyond selling over 20 million albums globally, Ne-Yo is now on his fourth season as a judge on NBC’s World of Dance and an all-star father, awaiting his fifth child on the way. His most recent collaboration arrives with L.L.A.M.A (LOVE, LAUGHTER, AND MUSIC, ALWAYS) and LEGO on the first-ever augmented reality-powered version of TikTok, featured on debut single “Shake” alongside Carmen DeLeon. The music video itself caters to the children of the world, allowing them to reap the benefits of music while enjoying their youth.
Baller Alert caught up with Ne-Yo via Zoom, who was posted in Atlanta. Read below as we discuss the “Shake” collab with LEGO and DJ Llama, shooting the visuals, fatherhood, why he and his wife are renewing their vows, navigating the social media world, collaborating with Trippie Redd, “No Plans For Love” with D-Nice, forthcoming album titled The Escape, new app Lum for independent artists, and more!
“Shake” with yourself, and Carmen Deleon is out now. How are you feeling?
When I got the call from the people at LEGO, I was instantly in. For one, my kids love Legos. They play with them all day long. I step on them with barefoot regularly in my house, They leave them all over the place. I knew this was going to be Dad cool points for me. Shout out to Ryan Tedder who wrote the record. Normally when I work with other songwriters, I’ll add a line here or there to make it feel more me. When I heard this song, there’s nothing I needed to do this. This is perfect, it’s exactly what it needs to be. It’s energetic, it’s fun.
I didn’t have to do anything to it other than sing it, sit back and wait for them to shoot the video. We shot the video, it’s the first time I’ve ever sat on a llama. A large llama head, let alone a llama at all. [laughs] It was a lot of firsts for me but I’m enjoying every moment of it. The people at LEGO have been great. L.L.A.M.A has been great. We’ve been having a good time, my kids love it. It did exactly what I anticipated it doing with my kids. I’m the coolest dad in the world yet again and I’ll humbly accept that title. So thanks LEGO, appreciate it.
How was the experience shooting it? The video looks crazy!
I was honestly blown away by the CGI because that’s not what it looked like when we’re there shooting. It was a huge green screen. The head of the llama we’re riding on, there’s a guy who to this day I feel for because he’s underneath the llama head operating it in a green bodysuit so you couldn’t see him. I know it’s really hot. I kept almost falling off the head so we kept having to do it over, I know this dude’s under there like “man if you don’t get this right!” It was a great time, truly.
What does it mean to make uplifting music, especially during this time?
It’s needed and necessary. It’s mandatory. I don’t gotta tell anybody that there’s been multiple reasons to not smile as of late. From Covid to the protests, it’s been a lot. We’re still dealing with the whole George Floyd situation, I don’t even understand why there’s a trial happening right now. Something upbeat, uplifting, happy and fun was needed and necessary at this point in time.
How’s fatherhood treating you? I know you have a fifth child on the way.
This whole quarantine situation has made my appreciation for teachers go way past where it was. Being with your kids every day, all day, trying to find ways to entertain them, trying to keep them controlled and behaved, it’s a whole lot. A lot of parents realize the importance of teachers through this whole quarantine because that block of time where they go to school, where you move around and do what it is you gotta do — when that’s happening in the house, it’s a whole other situation. Daily I was trying to find ways to entertain my kids so they didn’t destroy my house. Idol hands and children is a bad thing. You gotta keep them busy so they don’t write on the walls or toss really, really important and expensive things around. Should they break them, they can’t afford to get them fixed. [laughs] It’s still a lot. We’re slowly but surely getting back to a little bit of normalcy. My 2 youngest kids are back in school. My 2 oldest kids not yet, but next year Lord willing.
I haven’t sat still in years before this happened. I almost lived on the road, would come visit home for a few days then get back out on the road. That’s my life before this whole quarantine. Living like that, you don’t see how important the small things are. Waking up in the morning and eating breakfast with your kids, that’s major. I don’t cook at all, so it’s cereal if it’s me. [laughs] Getting up and asking, “what cereal y’all want?” “We want this one!” Sitting there and eating it with them before you take them to school, that moment means something to them, and now means something to me. My kids understand when daddy’s gone, it’s because he’s making sure everything’s going to be alright for us. I thank God I have kids that understand that. It was never a complaint but now that we get the opportunity to do that, you can feel the appreciation from them. I didn’t realize what I was missing, how much that moment meant to me. Being able to pick them up from school, all of these things I was honestly missing out on because I was always working. Always gone. I thank God for the quarantine because it helped refuel and reenergize these relationships with my kids and with my wife.
Are you glad your wife talked you out of a vasectomy?
I don’t want to go into that because I don’t want to give that no energy. I don’t know where that came from. Not you. You’re the journalist, this is your job. I don’t know why people keep bringing that back up, I don’t understand. If you’re desperate to talk about me in some way, shape, form, or fashion, there’s a multitude of things we can talk about. Not saying you, but people in general. I announced I’m having another child and as opposed to people being happy for me… this whole trolling culture going on right now. This is a beautiful moment in our lives, period. It’s old as hell. The people involved don’t even discuss that anymore, so why would anybody want to constantly keep dragging that down? I don’t get that.
I don’t think it was a negative thing, though.
I mean, it was. Because that then opens up the whole conversation of “well did you make such and such tie her tubes?” Which I didn’t by the way. I’ve discussed this countless times at this point. I’ve told people that’s not true, that’s not how it went down. It then refuels that. We happy over here, we not doing none of that negative. We not giving that no smoke, we not giving that no energy. To anybody that feels a way about what’s going on with us or has something negative to say, you go ahead and do that. Meanwhile over here, we gon’ keep smiling. Keep growing and building, and being happy.
What’s the most fulfilling moment from your guys’ wedding?
There’s a point in time earlier last year that my wife and I were talking about divorce. We’re talking about splitting up. We had got to a place where we couldn’t really communicate anymore and we couldn’t see no way out of it. It was the quarantine and us being forced to sit still and be at each other’s presence that helped us work through that, so that was a great moment. Our actual wedding, a few things were done wrong. A few mistakes were made. For example, there’s a website where you’re supposed to RSVP for the wedding. It’s supposed to be private so only the people you want at the wedding RSVP for the wedding. The initial wedding planners we used made it public. [laughs] There’s about 100 people at my wedding I didn’t know. We had no idea who they were, rolled up like “hey man, congratulations!” “Hey, thank you.” They played the wrong song for our first dance. A few things didn’t go exactly the way we wanted them to go so earlier this year, I re-proposed to my wife. We’re going to renew our vows. We gon’ do it over the right way.
What was the song for the first dance?
“I Only Have Eyes For You,” but they played the wrong version of it. There’s the “doo-wop doo-wop” version, then there’s the Rat Pack version. The Frank Sinatra version that’s big band-y. It wasn’t a bad thing in the moment, but we both looked at each other like “this is not the right song.” [laughs] “We here now, let’s dance it out. It’s fine, whatever. We’ll work out later on.” We gotta get the right song played this next time.
What is your ideal date night with Crystal?
We do stuff that regular people do. We go to the movies, we love to sit and watch and binge TV shows. We’re very much a couple who enjoys each other’s company. When the world shut down and you couldn’t go nowhere, you definitely gotta get more creative. Maybe we’ll do a picnic in the living room when the kids are with grandma. We try to keep it interesting, but at the same time regular. I don’t believe in spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and letting that be the importance of the trip. For us, it’s the small thing. I had to learn that if she’s asking me for flowers, don’t go buy a car. Just get the damn flowers. As a husband and as a man, I had to learn to listen. 9 times out of 10, a woman will tell you what she wants. Once you really apply what she’s saying, things tend to run a little smoother. That was a hard lesson learned for me, but one that I needed to learn fully. We in a great space now, we really truly are.
Are you missing the stage?
I so am, I really and truly am. I’ve done the little virtual concerts, that’s cool considering it’s all that can be done in the moment. It’s alright for what it is, but it’s not the same as getting on the stage. That energy exchange between an artist and the fan, you can’t bootleg that. You can’t duplicate that. I don’t care how big the screen is, how many people are tuned in on Zoom, it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same feel as the roar of a crowd when their favorite song plays. I genuinely miss it. I can’t wait for us to finally get a tight grasp on this Covid thing so we can get back to touring and performing because I’ve been missing it a lot.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
By the grace of God, I have done very, very well for myself with this music. I have a few hits. Normally artists will put their biggest songs towards the end of the show. That’s typically the way it’s done, you build up to that big song. We sat back at one point and realized “yo, we got ammo bro. We could start the show with ‘So Sick’ if you wanted to.” Well, let’s do that! For the last 2 years, the beginning of my show: [hums “So Sick” intro]. Crowd goes wild, that’s always a good feeling. “Give Me Everything” is always a crowd please, definitely one that’s going to get people on their feet. There’s a few of them in there that get a proper response, makes it hard for me to pick a favorite to be honest.
I just think of “So Sick” and how big that song was.
That’s the one that started it all. It don’t feel like it’s been 15 years. Not too long ago, we celebrated the 15 year anniversary of my first album. I really had to stop, sit back and go “damn, it’s really been 15 years.” Wow, okay. This is something to be happy about. 15 years later and people still give a damn about Ne-Yo, especially in this climate where people are fickle nowadays. They love you, then the same millisecond of that exact second they decide they don’t like you no more. You get cancelled for something. The fact I’m still here and people still give a damn, that really means something to me.
How are you adapting to this crazy social media era that we’re in?
I tend to not let it really bother me at this point. What I’ve learned about social media is that it can only really mess with you if you let it, if you allow what people are saying to hold any weight in your life or in your day. I had to really catch myself because there’s a point in time where I could have 2,000 positive messages and 5 negative ones. For whatever reason, I’ll sit and focus on those 5. Why don’t these people like me? All these people like me, thank you. That’s fine. But what about y’all? How come y’all don’t like me? I had to stop doing that. I realized at the end of the day, trolls do what they do because it’s their job. The same way haters do what they do because it’s their job. Who am I to stand in anybody’s way of doing their job?
It can’t affect me unless I allow it. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. What you’re saying about me or my post can’t harm me unless I allow it. You can’t shoot me unless I give you the gun, so why would I do that? I’d rather not give you the gun. I don’t really get bothered about anything anymore. My skin is so thick at this point, I don’t really care. Say whatever the hell you want and my response will be “alright cool. If that’s what you think I am, then that’s what I am. I don’t have the time or the patience to argue with you at this point.” I got 4 kids and a wife, I don’t have the time. Y’all do that, have fun.
You can’t allow anybody’s opinion to be so important in your life that you change the way you live your life based on trying to please somebody else, or trying to live up to somebody else’s expectation of who they have decided you are. You can’t do that. There’s people on this planet that don’t like me just because. They don’t know me, all they know is the bits and pieces of my life that I’ve allowed people to see. They misconstrue them and turn them into what they want. They decide “I don’t like this person, I’m choosing to not understand this person.” That’s your problem. Your expectations of me are your issues, not mine. Again, a lesson I had to learn. I’m not bothered by social media anymore. Only time I’m bothered is if my wife is bothered or if somebody in my family reads something and they feel a way. Then I have to go to them like “yo listen, these people don’t know us. It doesn’t matter what they’re saying. If you buy into it, if you respond, you’re going to make it bigger. You’re gonna feed it, so leave that alone. Let them say what they gon’ say because they can say gon’ it anyway.”
“No Plans For Love” is out now. How did that collab with D-Nice come about?
Shout out D-Nice, shout out Kent Jones. Me and D-Nice have known each other for a really, really long time. L.A. Reid approached me, the incomparable L.A. Reid. Shout out. Much love and respect to the incomparable LA Reid. L.A. Reid played a major part in me getting signed with Def Jam and people even knowing who Ne-Yo is, shout out to L.A. Reid. He said “yo, I have this song that’d be perfect for your voice. Would you mind cutting this for me?” Yeah sure, it’s L.A. 9 times out of 10 L.A. calls you, you gon’ take that call.. Shout out to Kent Jones, he produced and wrote the record. I’m in this place where I have to give credit where credit is due. If I didn’t do it, I have to let it be known I didn’t do it. Everybody hears me sing a song and assumes because I’m a writer, that I wrote it. No, I didn’t write this record.
L.A. sends me the record, I listen to it. It’s a smash. I knock that record out in 30 minutes, cut the whole thing. Sent it back to him, the next day he said “alright so we gon’ fly you to LA, we’re gon’ shoot the video. Blah blah blah.” Whoa, slow down. What is this, first and foremost? “Oh by the way, so D-Nice is putting out an album. This is going to be the lead single from the album.” Oh okay. Once L.A. gets excited about something, it’s foot on the gas. You just gotta hold on. That’s always been LA and I love that that’s still who is.
Whose idea was it to have the lyrics as the IG live comments? That was dope.
Hats off and kudos to D-Nice and what he’s created in the midst of the drama and ridiculousness that was this quarantine. He gave people a woosa moment that was so needed. He’s taken that and turned it into something really beneficial for him. I’m proud, I’m happy for that dude. I’m happy to be a part of people learning and realizing how magical that dude is and what it is that he does. He brought the world together when we’re at home in a messed up way, he made it feel alright again. With the whole Club Quarantine, you get on his Live and all of a sudden, you’re not in your reality no more. Not only are you at the club, but Barack Obama’s at the table right next to you. He made that possible for people. I’m happy to be a part of this project that he got coming out and the whole movement that is D-Nice.
Talk about working with Trippie Redd, is there music on the way?
Shout out to the boy Trippie Redd, he’s one of the few features on this forthcoming album I got coming out. Funny story, I’m in Record Plant in LA. I’m walking out of my room and he’s walking out of his room at the same time. We bump into each other and he goes “oh yo, Ne-Yo.” I’m like “hey, Trippie Redd!” You can’t miss Trippie. I didn’t gather that Trippie Redd would be a fan of my music, I didn’t see that. He said “yeah man, I used to play this game called Saints Row where you could roll around in the car. The radio’s playing in the car and you could control the radio in the car. Your song “So Sick’ used to be in this game. I‘d roll around killing people and doing whatever, listening to ‘So Sick’.” Oh that’s morbid as hell, but pretty cool. [laughs] He said “we gotta do something together.” I said “yeah man, say when.” What does a Ne-Yo and Trippie Redd song even sound like? I have no idea. It took him 45 minutes before he hit me like, “yo, I got something!” He sent it to me and I can’t even give it away. Y’all got to wait and hear this song. When I say that it makes perfect sense for him, perfect sense for me, somehow his world and my world come together. It makes sense, the song came out amazing. It’s called “Flesh and Blood,” you’ll hear relatively soon.
What can we expect from your forthcoming album?
We’ll put out the album in the summertime. I’m calling the album The Escape, because that’s what I want this album to be for people. With everything that went on in 2020, all the crazy stuff that’s even happening this year, I didn’t need to do music about it. We didn’t need another reminder…
Another quarantine album?
Yeah, I didn’t need to sing a song about it. Y’all know, you can look out your window and see what’s going on. But what we do need is those woosah moments, that time to sit and breathe. Escape this dramatic reality for a second and go somewhere else. This album’s about mental stability and maintaining that inner energy that allows you to move through, to push through this storm. This album’s a recharge. Put the album on, escape your reality for an hour and a few minutes, let it recharge you then jump back in that storm when you have to.
Any goals for yourself at this point in your career?
At this point man, it’s all for fun. I’ve been blessed beyond anything I could’ve ever asked for in the music industry. I don’t need another music industry dollar ever in life. That’s not to say that I don’t want it, but I don’t need it. [laughs] I’m in a good space. This album will be out in summertime. Make sure you’re checking for Step Up: High Water. I’m currently in the process of filming a TV show called Step Up: High Water. You remember the Step Up dance films?
Of course, that was my shit!
They took that concept and turned it into a series. The first 2 seasons are on Starz right now, you can stream those. We’re in the process of shooting the third season right now, look for that later on this year. We got picked up by Starz. What else? I’ve started championing independent artists at this point. The fact that we live in a world now where you can make your own music and upload it to these streaming sites yourself, sit back and wait to collect your check, this is a great time for music. I’ve gotta be very honest. I came up in the era where it’s about the gatekeeper. If you couldn’t get through the gate, then sorry for you. That’s what it was. You had to have a record deal, you had to play that game.
You don’t gotta play the game no more, it’s a different time. I love that because now, it’s really about your work ethic. It’s about how hard you’re willing to work. You can put your music up and wait for your audience to find you, but understanding that don’t happen overnight. It’s about how much about how much you’re willing to grind to get it to go. I partnered with a company called Lum, a social media/music streaming app geared specifically towards independent artists. Check this out. On Spotify, Apple Music, whatever the case may be, everybody knows a stream is a half-cent.
Is it? Dang.
Yeah, a stream equates to half a penny. That’s the reason you have to have millions and millions and millions of streams to make any real money. The laws and regulations in music have been screwed up for a long time and today is no exception. Unfortunately, it’s still the same thing. With Lum, it’s music streaming so all of your plays count. All of your streams count, but we also have in-app gifting. We work with a currency that we call notes. One note equates to one stream. Say I play your song, that counts as a stream. If I really like your song, I get on your page, I really like what you’re about, I want to support you, now I can gift you 50 notes, 100 notes, 200 notes. If I gift you 200 notes, that’s 201 streams in one play. It allows for independent artists to make money on their music right now, as opposed to having to wait to take off to really make some money.
No disrespect to Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, all of them. Truth of the matter is if you don’t machine behind you, your song gets knocked to the bottom of these playlists that’re so important. The record labels have the money to push the songs to the top of these playlists. Whereas you as an independent artist, you throw it out there. You’re going to fall all the way down to the bottom, which means that check coming in a month is going to be $3. We’re here to afford that problem, while at the same time giving these artists an opportunity to build a fanbase. That’s really what Lum is about, it’s a community. It’s about fans locking into you from the ground floor and being with you on your ride up. That’s a die-hard fan, a fan that’s gonna rock with you forever because they’re there from the beginning. They almost feel responsible for your success, for helping you get there. That relationship’s been lost with everything going on. Now on top of that, you can’t do shows. Who’s catering to the relationship between artist and fan? Lum is. Check for Lum, it’s available everywhere. If you’re an independent artist, if you’re an up-and-coming artist and you’re not on Lum, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice.
What are your thoughts on NFTs?
It’s great. I have a few I’m working on my damn self. A great way for visual artists to make some serious money off of what it is that they do. It’s a great thing. Mind you, you don’t have to be a world-renowned artist. You don’t even have to be amazing at what you do. You have to come up with the NFT that people are going to be interested in some way, shape, or form fashion, put it up for auction and wait on your check.