Grammy-winning R&B artist Ne-Yo is a rarity these days, a gentleman with a flair for fashion and a fondness for old-school values. The man who gave us the hits So Sick, Let Me Love You (recorded by Mario, which soared to No.1 in 2004 and stayed there for nine weeks) Closer, Sexy Love, Miss Independent and Mad performs at the Jazz in the Gardens Festival this weekend at Sun Life Stadium. He talked to Miami.com about the show, his work in film and TV, and what he loves the most about Miami (hint: It’s not the Art Deco buildings).
How did you choose the stage name Ne-Yo?
I actually didn’t — it was something that I was dubbed. A producer-friend of mine gave me the name, actually as a joke at first. He said something along the lines of, “You’re like the Neo of the music industry,” basically saying that I could do things in music that regular people couldn’t do, much like Neo in the movie The Matrix. So it wasn’t something that was planned — it just kind of happened.
What attracted you to this festival?
Well, the lineup, with New Edition and Earth, Wind & Fire and Rachelle Ferrell, a lot of artists that I grew up on — a little bit of jazz, a little old soul. The fact that somebody would even offer me to be on the same bill as some of these guys is beyond an honor. On top of the fact that it’s an event that’s been going on for awhile and is prestigious — it’s not just one of those flash-in-the-pans.
How much of your latest album, R.E.D., will we hear?
It’s an acronym for Realizing Every Dream, and as far as how much of it you’ll hear, probably about six or seven songs. I try to mix it up between the pop and R&B stuff — for this I might lean a bit more toward the R&B stuff, but then again, I don’t know. My whole goal with this music thing is to get people to ignore genre and just pay attention to the fact that it’s good or bad. So maybe this might be the perfect venue to push that issue. But I don’t know — I’m still figuring out exactly what I want to do for that crowd.
Obviously, you’ll play most of your hits, but will you also be breaking out any new stuff?
Yeah, some of the stuff off the new album I haven’t performed yet for anybody, and I’ll be doing those — some of the songs that haven’t come out as singles yet. Some of those are very, very noteworthy album cuts, if I do say so myself.
You’ve done so many collaborations — is it possible some of those artists might join you onstage?
Anything’s possible. I don’t wanna let any cats out of the bag or destroy any surprises, but I’ll just say that anything and everything is possible.
In recent years, you’ve taken on several roles in film and TV, most notably in Red Tails. Anything new in the works?
There are definitely some things on the horizon, some things that have been said across the table once or twice, but nothing is set in stone just yet. I don’t like to speak on things until they’re absolute. But everything that comes across wants to take me out of the music game for two years, a year, and all of that. There’s some really, really good scripts that have come across, but if I were to do it, I’d have to step away from music for a second, and that’s just something I don’t feel like doing right now. So I’m waiting on the opportunity to come around that I can do while I can still do music. And there have been a couple, but none that I’ve completely dedicated myself to.
You’re well-known for your fashion sense — what most inspired that?
You know, sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era, to be honest with you. I feel like in the days of Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and those guys — I feel like that might have been when I was supposed to have been born. Just for the fact that those cats dressed up just to dress up — it wasn’t like, “Oh, we’re about to go somewhere, so let me put on something fly.” Nah, it was like, “It’s Tuesday — let me put on a suit.” That’s what it was back then, and that’s definitely how I feel.
What’s your least favorite look, fashion-wise, for a man?
That would have to be the cat who wears his clothes three or four sizes bigger than his actual body. I just can’t get with that. I feel like everybody has the potential to look good in their clothes — it’s just about the way that you wear them. And I don’t want people to misconstrue my words, like to be a gentleman you’ve got to throw a suit on every time you step out of the house. That’s not the case at all. That’s not what I do — you’ll see me in a pair of jeans and a nice T-shirt every now and then. My gentleman is on the inside, not the outside.
It’s pretty well known that you love Michael Jackson’s music — who else did you grow up listening to?
Definitely Prince, Sammy Davis Jr. and the whole Rat Pack, definitely Stevie Wonder, plus a few of the artists I mentioned that are on the bill for this show. I’ve been a New Edition fan forever — all six members. And Earth, Wind & Fire have been a huge influence on just about everybody in black music. Not even black music — just music, period. Them cats, they knew what it was to make songs to make people feel good. Again, it’s an honor to be on the same bill as these guys — it really, really is.
You’re a Vegas guy but you make it to Miami pretty often. What do you love the most about our city?
I love how much trouble you can get into in Miami. It’s definitely one of those cities where you’re gonna have a good time regardless of what you’re doing. You can’t beat the beach, you can’t beat beautiful women, you can’t beat just being in a place full of people who know how to have fun. And that’s what Miami is. If you go to Miami and you don’t have a good time, you did something wrong.