On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN welcomed Ne-Yo to discuss the singer accidentally getting a record deal, his wife Crystal Renay, career highlights, and more.
Born in Camden, Arkansas, Ne-Yo got his start in the music industry as a songwriter. He made his debut as a songwriter on Mario’s “Let Me Love You” in 2004 and released his first solo single, “Stay,” with Peedi Crakk the following year. The record appeared on In My Own Words, his first studio album, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. Within a year, it was certified Platinum by the RIAA and the success of his track “So Sick” was undeniable as it topped the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2007, his second studio album, Because of You, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts and won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 50th Grammys. It lauded songs such as the JAY-Z-assisted “Crazy” and “Leaving Tonight” featuring Jennifer Hudson. Meanwhile, Year of the Gentleman, his 2008 third studio album, was a commercial and critical triumph, earning him Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary R&B Album and Album of the Year. After a brief hiatus, Ne-Yo returned with Libra Scale, which was his last album with Def Jam before leaving the label in 2010.
After he signed to Motown and became the label’s senior vice president of A&R, Ne-Yo released R.E.D. in 2012. On this album, he continued experimenting with genres such as pop while staying true to his R&B roots. Over the course of the following years, the singer-songwriter released a handful of other albums like 2015’s Non-Fiction, 2018’s GOOD MAN, and his holiday album Another Kind of Christmas, in addition to songwriting for the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Ciara, to name a few.
Earlier this year, Ne-Yo released his eighth studio album Self-Explanatory under Motown Records, serving as a follow-up to the 2021 15th anniversary edition of In My Own Words. The 13-song project, which debuted at No. 138 on the Billboard charts, featured BLEU, Jeremih, Zae France, and Trippie Redd. Currently, the musician is preparing to embark on his latest tour across the United States and Europe.
Below are nine interesting facts we learned from his “Drink Champs” interview. Check them out and be sure to tune into the full episode here.
1. On watching Ray J perform during Verzuz and what he could’ve done better
Omarion and Mario engaged in a highly anticipated Verzuz battle at the end of June. The main event saw a pre-show match that put Ray J and Bobby V up against Pleasure P and Sammie, who had frequently collaborated with both artists over the years. During the performance of Ray J’s 2005 smash “One Wish,” things started to go a little left. The slow R&B song was difficult for Ray to sing while he carried his kid (as can be seen in the concert footage that went viral on social media afterward). Ne-Yo, who witnessed the whole performance live in Los Angeles, chimes in: “Ray J is a marketing genius.”
“As a singer, you’re gonna have good days, and you’re gonna have bad days, and you have to take care of your instrument. If you’re out drinking and smoking and going wild and then grab the mic and get on stage, you’re probably not going to sound your best,” he says.
2. On accidentally getting a record deal at Def Jam Records
In My Own Words, Ne-Yo’s first album, was released by Def Jam in 2006, and he went on to record three more albums with the legendary hip hop label. However, he claims that he never intended to be signed on the day that he was. As it turned out, Tina Davis, the renowned music executive who signed Ne-Yo alongside L.A. Reid, was high school friends with the producer Ne-Yo worked with at the time.
“I got my deal somewhat by accident. I don’t believe in accidents; I don’t believe in coincidences. All I know is we didn’t walk into the Def Jam building that day with the hopes of leaving with a record deal. We went in there so that my homeboy Sauce — an amazing producer — we went to Def Jam that day so he could reunite with an old friend of his from high school. Little known to me at that time, that friend was Tina Davis,” Ne-Yo shares. Notably, Davis served as a music executive at the label and previously discovered Chris Brown. The singer shares that he got the chance to perform for L.A. Reid before being offered a record deal.
3. On David Guetta’s “Play Hard” hook being written for Wiz Khalifa’s “Work Hard, Play Hard” remix
In 2013, Ne-Yo collaborated with French DJ and record producer David Guetta on “Play Hard” featuring Akon. However, part of the chart-topping track was initially intended for Wiz Khalifa’s “Work Hard, Play Hard” remix, the singer states. “That hook, ‘Work hard, play hard,’ that was supposed to be for the remix to the Wiz Khalifa joint. I finished it and David Guetta said, ‘Nah, this is bigger than a remix. This is a record.’ Then he put Akon on it. Akon been a friend for a long time, that’s the homie,” he tells N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN.
4. On Ice-T letting Ne-Yo grab his wife’s butt at a Halloween party
During N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN’s “Quick Time With Slime,” the co-hosts ask Ne-Yo whether he’d choose Ice Cube or Ice-T. The singer responds with the latter, citing that the actor and rapper let him grab his wife’s butt at a Halloween party when he was younger. While both co-hosts were in shock by his response, Ne-Yo delves further into how it happened.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘Bro, all due respect, I’ve wanted to squeeze Coco’s a** for a really long time.’ He said, ‘And you know what, I’m just the kind of pimp to let you do it.’ He called her over and whispered something in her ear, and she looked at him and smiled, then looked at me and smiled, and turned around and bent that thing over. And I grabbed as much of a handful as I could. He gave me a pound and we drank and hung out for the rest of the night,” Ne-Yo reveals.
5. On his thoughts on marriage and “Pinky Ring” not being a diss towards his wife
Ne-Yo’s track “Pinky Ring” with O.T. Genasis, released in 2020, seemed to be a dig at his estranged wife Crystal Renay after he announced their split. “She gave back the wedding ring/I turned it to a pinky ring,” he sang on the record. Despite fans alleging that it was a shot towards Renay, the singer denies that it was a diss and shares that they made up afterward.
“That was different. That was anger, that wasn’t sorrow. I was mad. I was upset. It wasn’t a diss record, I didn’t say anything foul about her so to speak,” the singer says. “I wast just speaking on the way that I was handling the situation at the time. She forgave me so I’m good. I’m back with the wife.”
6. On collaborating with BLEU on “Stay Down” ahead of his next album
Ne-Yo’s eighth studio album, Self-Explanatory, was released in July with guest appearances from Trippie Redd, Zae France and Jeremih, among others. The project featured the pre-release single “Stay Down,” which serves as a collaboration between him and BLEU, formally known as Yung Bleu. Ne-Yo explains to N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN how the joint effort came about.
“‘Stay Down’ is actually one of my favorite joints on this album. What happened is I wrote two songs about the same thing and I ain’t want to get rid of either song, so I just chopped the b**tches in half and put them together.” He adds, “The addition of BLEU, that was my n**ga Mister. That’s my cat; he keeps his ear to the streets. He introduced me to his music and I was impressed by the young boy.” Later, Ne-Yo co-signs BLEU and says that he’ll be an artist to watch in the coming years.
7. On JAY-Z putting Peedi Peedi on his debut single “Stay”
Ne-Yo’s first single “Stay” appears on his 2006 album In My Own Words, marking his debut as a musician after songwriting for several popular contemporaries at the time. Billboard‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charted it at No. 36. As Ne-Yo admits, JAY-Z was involved in arranging the Peedi Peedi appearance on the song.
“JAY-Z brought that around. They knew that they wanted to go with ‘Stay’ as the first record. And mind you, L.A. [Reid] had a whole game plan. He said, ‘Alright, so we’re going to put this out first. This record is not going to go to No. 1, but it’s gonna do just well enough to get attention. To get people going, ‘Who is this Ne-Yo cat?’” He expands, “They knew they wanted to go with ‘Stay,’ but they felt like it needed something. That’s when JAY was like, ‘We gotta get a hip hop feature on it.’ It’s JAY-Z so, like, whoever you decide, I’m rocking.
8. On Beyoncé’s “Flaws and All” originally being for Britney Spears
Beyoncé’s 2007 song “Flaws and All” is a standout cut from the global music star’s deluxe edition of her second studio album, B’Day. Composed by Ne-Yo, Shea Taylor and Solange, the record was supposed to be for Britney Spears. As the singer shares, Roc Nation co-founder and longtime friend of JAY-Z, Ty Ty, gave the record to Beyoncé while Ne-Yo was working on the commission for Spears.
“I’m in the studio as a writer at this point. I got a deal, I’m on Def Jam and I’m working on my album, but I’m also just writing. We get a commission to do some s**t for Britney Spears … I’m writing songs with Britney Spears in mind. Shout out to my n**ga Ty Ty. Ty Ty is coming to the studio every other day just listening to what I’m doing. Every other song he’s like, ‘Yo, let me get a copy of that.’” Ne-Yo expands, “I did a song called ‘Flaws and All.’ It’s a Beyoncé record now, but it started as a Britney Spears record.”
9. On nearing divorce with his wife Crystal Renay
When Crystal Renay accused Ne-Yo of infidelity earlier in August, she filed for divorce, claiming that the musician recently fathered a kid with another woman in the official filings. Towards the end of the interview, which took place prior to the divorce news, the singer shares a time that he himself considered getting a divorce. He says that his recently released song “Don’t Love Me” started off as a letter to Renay, stating, “I know you want to be here, but I don’t think that you should be here because I don’t think I can be the man that you deserve.”
“I knew that the person that I was in the moment was hurting her. I was so enthralled in being that person that I looked at it like, ‘Me being this person is hurting her to the point where I’ll let her go before I allow myself to continue hurting her.’ Here’s the flip: That was honest of me but at the end of the same day, we just discussed how we choose desire over necessity,” Ne-Yo says. When reiterating his wife’s response, he adds, “’So you’re deciding to not be who you know I need. That’s a decision you’re making and if that’s the decision your making then yeah, we should get a divorce.’”