In 2006, after drawing attention for penning Mario’s 2004 R&B smash “Let Me Love You,” singer-songwriter Ne-Yo debuted his own No. 1: “So Sick,” an infectious earworm and a throwback to “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson and Top 40 ’80s R&B. That was also the year of Beyonce’s inescapable “Irreplaceable” – another Ne-Yo track.
Eight years, five albums, and three Grammys later, Ne-Yo (born Shaffer Smith) says he’s getting back to that classic R&B sound on his upcoming full-length “Non-Fiction,” a concept album pulled largely from stories fans submitted through social media.
“It’s a collection of stories, all 100 percent true,” he says. “I allowed my fans to be part of the creative process. Their stories became part of the songs.”
Ne-Yo plays The Fillmore Sunday as part of a short run of club and theater dates to introduce new material and revisit older hits.
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“It’s about relationships, hopes, dreams, and fears – things people were going to speak about passionately,” Ne-Yo says. “The ones that stuck wound up on the album.”
The idea originated from a partnership between Ne-Yo and Fruttare Fruit Bars. The company had him and Cher Lloyd write a song using Facebook and Twitter submissions from fans (the track didn’t sound like a fruit bar commercial, by the way).
“That’s where I got the idea from initially,” he says. “We took ideas and molded them together into a record.”
Ne-Yo, who is still prepping “Non-Fiction” for a January 2015 release, says the album will be more R&B than his last few, although the first two singles veer toward modern club jammers.
The first, “Money Can’t Buy,” came from an unlikely source: Atlanta rapper Jeezy, who appears on the track. Ne-Yo was skeptical at first.
“He calls me one day and says, ‘I think I got your next single.’ I was thinking, ‘What does this street dude know about R&B?’ I went to the studio not knowing what to expect. He played it for me and I instantly fell in love with it,” he says.
For the current single, “She Knows,” Ne-Yo got the vibe from Dr. Luke’s production.
“It hit me like a strip club, girls dancing to the song,” he says. “I hadn’t written anything yet, and I decided to play off that and speak about the undeniable confidence someone could have; she knows her value.”
The 35-year-old father of two (ages 3 and 4) pauses when asked about getting back to the aforementioned classic R&B sound that he’s managed to balance with modern hip-hop, dance and pop.
“It’s evolved into something a little different than it was,” Ne-Yo says.
Writing those is definitely different than producing a club track, he says.
“With the club records, people are paying attention to the lyrics, but not as much as they (do) on the slow songs or love songs. ... (Fans live) vicariously through the artist for the club records. You can talk about things the average person can’t do – buying a bunch of bottles or hanging out with model chicks. But that can’t be all there is in R&B. ... There’s got to be some of those passionate, heartfelt love songs to balance it out.”