I first interviewed Ne-Yo in 2006, just a few months after his chart-topping debut album In My Own Words had made him a household name. At the time, the already-vetted hit songwriter spoke about his desire to be taken seriously as an artist, and the good things he was doing with his Compound Foundation charity.
Now on the verge of releasing his sixth studio album Non-Fiction, Ne-Yo has three Grammys, and numerous awards from BET, Soul Train, the U.K.’s MOBO and Japan’s MTV Awards amidst even more nominations. Additionally, Ne-Yo has appeared in several TV shows and films, including Stomp The Yard and Red Tails. He has sold over six million of his own albums worldwide, and has penned platinum-selling hits for the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna.
There is no doubt that Ne-Yo’s wish to be taken seriously in entertainment and philanthropy came true, but that dream grew to include two beautiful children. Despite a very public break-up of his engagement with Monyetta Shaw in 2013, Ne-Yo attests that they are keeping their relationship in co-parenting very healthy.
On the road to preparing for the release of Non-Fiction on January 27, 2015, we talked with Ne-Yo about the ways he maintains balance at home, and how he communicates with his young children about life. Read on…
When you have young children at the caliber of fame that you’re at now, do you want them to know what you do for a living?
Ne-Yo: My kids definitely know what I do. My daughter is four, and my son is three, and they’re very much aware of the fact that daddy does music. They know that when they see the suitcases rolling toward the door that daddy has to leave and go to work. I don’t know if they know every aspect of what I do, but they know what it means.
If either of your kids came up to you in a few years and said “I want to do what you do” and you really thought they were serious, would you encourage it?
Ne-Yo: I’d encourage it. I feel like it’s gonna happen anyway. My kids sing everything that they do. They got the potty song, they got the time to eat song, and they got the time to go to bed song. Everything that they do is a song, so I feel like that’s going to happen in the very near future.
There’s a right way and wrong way to do the music business, so if they wanted to get in, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I would make sure I would try to lead them in the positive direction and aspect of the business, as opposed to taking the negative route, letting scandal and controversy be the thing that gets people’s attention about you. I wouldn’t allow that to happen.
Would you see yourself being a stage dad?
Ne-Yo: I would definitely be hands on, I don’t think I’d be a stage dad. When you think stage dad or stage mom, you think of this erratic person standing in the corner, making their kid do something that they don’t want to do. I wouldn’t ever try to force anything on them. I would take some of my personal expertise, drop some jewels of knowledge on them or whatever, but it would never be a situation where I’m forcing them to do something trying to live some old glory or something. That’s not me.
How do you deal with your kids when they want to play video games or watch television shows that might be out of their age range?
Ne-Yo: Well, me and their mom are pretty strict with stuff like that. There’s a lot of stuff on TV that is conventionally not for kids, the internet as well. Should they get their hands on it, then I feel like that’s your fault as a parent. You’re supposed to be the one who governs and dictates what they see, especially at this age. My kids know what the internet is, they know how to get on, but we have all the proper things in place where they can get to the stuff they’re not supposed to see.
As far as TV, we don’t let them watch too much TV. We definitely make sure they understand “Get out and play!” [laughs]It ain’t always about sitting in front of this box; your brain is still developing, read a book or whatever the case may be. My kids are just getting in reading now and actually enjoy it, and I kinda dig that, I encourage that they keep reading.
You went through a very public breakup. How are you maintaining the relationship in front of the children and talking to them about the situation?
Ne-Yo: My kids are super smart. I promise you that they’ve been here before. They know that me and their mother are not together anymore, because we’ve had the conversation with them. Maddie especially is getting to that age where she’s asking alot of questions. What I’ve learned about kids is whatever you turn into a big deal, becomes a big deal. Whatever it is that you turn into something negative becomes something negative to them, because they only know what they are taught.
They only know what they are shown, so we don’t argue in front of them. We don’t give them that; we don’t let it be a negative thing that mommy and daddy aren’t together anymore. We let it just be. It is what it is. This is mommy’s house, this is daddy’s house. This is your room in mommy’s house, this is your room in daddy’s house, the same way you have a room over at granny’s house. It’s just like that. We just don’t make it a big negative thing where they should even have to feel some type of way.
Now, of course when they get older the question will get more in depth and deeper. That’s cool. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but as of right now it’s about what you show them. If we show them positivity, then they are going to approach it and let it be positive.
If there is any advice that you can give your kids that you wish you would’ve had as a child, what would it be?
Ne-Yo: Do not let the fact that you are different from anybody else be a negative thing to you. God bless my mom, she definitely did a fantastic job raising me and my sister. In the hard times, she worked as much as she did, but there are certain aspects of that she didn’t get to fill. I kinda had to learn that for myself – that things that make you an individual are strengths and not weaknesses. The things that make you stand out from other people are positive things, not negative.
The stuff that gets you laughed at as a kid right now are probably going to make you rich as an adult. I didn’t realize that for a long time. So I definitely will make sure my kids understand that being a follower is only cool on Twitter and Instagram. You need to be leading the way, blazing your own trail, and doing your own thing.
What about this Non-Fiction album is different for you? What makes it special?
Ne-Yo: Well, one of the things that makes this album special to me is the rebirth of storytelling in the realm of music, period. Not just R&B, not just Pop – the concept of telling a good story. It’s been lost a little bit.
I feel like we’re in this microwave age where everything has to be faster, attention spans are shorter. I feel like people’s attention spans are so short that they won’t sit still long enough for you to tell them a good story. I feel like if the story is that good, people will sit and listen, they’ll pay attention. You’ve just got to make sure that it’s something that they want to hear, or something they actually want to pay attention to. I tried to give the art of storytelling a reboot with this album.
This album is also the first collaborative effort with my fans, making this music together. I reached out via my social media asking very vague and random questions: What’s going on in your relationship? Tell me about one of the things you fear? Whatever the case may be. The people who responded, the responses that I really dug, I would follow that person and continue that conversation in the DM. Basically I would take that conversation and turn it into a song. So half the album is true stories given to me by fans.
What do you want people to know most about you as a man and an artist at this stage of your life?
Ne-Yo: As a man, I am just that. I am a human being. I feel like as an artist you kind of get the short end of the stick when it comes to regular stuff. If I get a parking ticket it becomes the world. People make such a big deal out of things when celebrities do them. Things that regular people do on an everyday basis, when celebrities do them it’s a huge massive deal. I don’t think that should be the case.
I feel like people are people, nobody’s perfect, everybody makes mistakes. The smarter people learn from those mistakes so you don’t make them again, and the dumber people are destined to repeat them. Everybody has their moment of dumbness, that’s just real.
As an artist, I don’t feel like I should be crucified for my moment of dumbness whereas you have your moment of dumbness it’s just “Ah man that was dumb. Keep it pushing.” And nobody writes a huge story on a blog or whatever the case may be. I just need people to understand that what it is to be gentleman is not to be perfect, there’s no such thing as perfect. If I do something that’s ridiculously and incredibly human, it’s because I’m human dammit. That’s what it is.
I’m music, and that’s what I am. I’m not R&B, I’m not EDM music, I’m not Dance music, Pop music, Urban music, I’m just music. When people get that out of their head – the whole thinking of what genre is this and what box does this fit into – and just listen to it and decide whether you like it or not… Listen to the quality of it, then I feel like people will enjoy my music that much more.
I want to get to the place where you don’t even think genre when you think Ne-Yo. You just turn it on, and it’s good or it’s bad, bottom line. That’s where I want to get to – I feel like it’s going to take a little open mindedness from the fans.