One of the most acclaimed R&B artists of the 2000s, Ne-Yo entered the mainstream as a songwriter in 2004 with Mario’s “Let Me Love You,” a number one pop hit. By the time Billboard determined that the romantic ballad was the eighth most successful single of its decade, Ne-Yo had racked up a career’s worth of accomplishments as a composer and recording artist. He had platinum certifications for In My Own Words (2006), Because of You (2007), and Year of the Gentleman (2008), the second of which won a Grammy award in the category of Best Contemporary R&B Album. Seven of his singles, as well as five on which he appeared as a featured artist, peaked within the Top Ten of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” (2006) and Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” (2008), two of the many songs he wrote for other artists, were smash hits as well. Although he hasn’t been as prolific in the 2010s — he has worked extensively behind the scenes as a Motown executive, amid a slew of acting and televised talent-competition gigs — he has released new albums every two or three years, all the while continuing to add a high level of sophistication to pop-oriented R&B, inspired as ever by the likes of Michael Jackson and Babyface.
Born Shaffer Smith in Camden, Arkansas and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, Ne-Yo broke into the music industry as a songwriter, though he had a false start with a short-lived group called Envy. Prior to exiting his teenage years, he penned material for Youngstown. Shortly thereafter, he co-wrote “That Girl” for Marques Houston and “I’m Sorry” for Christina Milian; the former composition had been intended for Smith’s own debut album, which was recorded for Columbia but never released. In late 2004, he became known throughout the industry as the co-writer of Mario’s “Let Me Love You,” one of the most-played songs on urban radio stations across the U.S. Ne-Yo subsequently signed a solo deal with Def Jam. In My Own Words came out in February 2006 and reached the top of the Billboard 200 and R&B/Hip-Hop album charts, supported by the number one hit “So Sick” — one of his many collaborations with Norwegian production duo Stargate. The same year, he appeared on Remy Ma’s There’s Something About Remy and Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale, and he had a hand in writing a pair of Top Ten hits: Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” and Rihanna’s “Unfaithful.” Because of You, his second album, followed in May 2007. It topped the Billboard 200 and R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, with its upbeat title track topping out at number two on the Hot 100. A Grammy in the category of Best Contemporary R&B Album followed early the next year.
After another series of songwriting triumphs, including Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” and Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight,” Ne-Yo released his third album, Year of the Gentleman, in September 2008. Propelled by the hits “Closer,” the Grammy-winning “Miss Independent,” and “Mad,” the set eventually went platinum, which made Ne-Yo three for three in that regard. Ne-Yo then went relatively quiet for a brief period but returned in 2010 with Libra Scale, an album inspired by science fiction and comic books, as well as Stevie Wonder’s and Michael Jackson’s most ambitious recordings. It debuted in the Top Ten. He maintained his mainstream presence as a featured artist on Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything,” Young Jeezy’s “Leave You Alone,” and Calvin Harris’ Grammy-nominated “Let’s Go,” among a handful of minor hits.
In November 2012, after he signed to Motown and was named the label’s Senior Vice President of A&R, he released R.E.D. (“Realizing Every Dream”). The album found him continuing to embrace dance-pop while maintaining his connection to R&B. It debuted at number four on the Billboard 200. The singer spent much of 2013 collaborating with other artists, including Akon, David Guetta, Cher Lloyd, and Celine Dion. The build-up to Non-Fiction, Ne-Yo’s sixth studio album, started during the first half of 2014 with the release of “Money Can’t Buy,” a single featuring Jeezy that charted outside the Top 40 of the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Additional collaborative singles with Juicy J (the platinum hit “She Knows”) and Pitbull (“Time of Our Lives”) followed shortly thereafter. The parent album arrived in January 2015 with a Top Ten chart showing. Later in the year, he added to a previously short list of minor acting credits with appearances in Sharknado 3 and on Empire, and for a live televised stage production of The Wiz, he played Tin-Man.
Featured collaborations with the likes of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike (“Higher Place”), Yunel and J Alvarez (“Sin Miedo”), and T-Pain (“Marry You”) arrived as Ne-Yo semi-regularly made television appearances as a judge on programs such as America’s Got Talent and World of Dance. In mid-2017, he began releasing singles in anticipation of his seventh album, including the tropical-flavored “Push Back,” a collaboration with Stargate, Stefflon Don, and Bebe Rexha, issued the following March. Parent release Good Man arrived three months later. ~ Andy Kellman