At only 28, singer/songwriter Ne-Yo has already written and produced dozens of songs for some of the biggest names in R&B and pop music, and he's released two of his own chart-topping albums. Gayle talks with Ne-Yo about his lifelong dream of becoming a musician and his rise to stardom in the music industry.
Born Shaffer Chimere Smith, Ne-Yo says he was given his nickname after a friend compared his musical abilities to the superpower abilities of the character Neo in The Matrix movies. Ne-Yo grew up in Las Vegas and was raised by his single mother after his parents divorced when he was 5. He says his feelings of anger toward his father after his parents' divorce led to his interest in songwriting. "Growing up without a dad around, I had a lot of pent-up anger," he says. "My mom saw that and saw that I needed a positive outlet for that, so she's the one that gave me the pad and the pen, and her exact words were, 'Write it down.'"
While crafting hits for artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna has garnered him much acclaim, the success of his albums In My Own Words in 2006 and Because of You in 2007 have made him a star on the radio charts as well. Ne-Yo says he's now working with a variety of artists and continues to write new songs with influences from all musical genres. "I'm a lover of melody, in every aspect of melody," he says. "So it's not all R&B, it's not all hip-hop—I listen to country music, I am a huge fan [of country music]." Clint Black and Garth Brooks are two of his favorite country artists, but don't expect Ne-Yo to be on a country music tour any time soon. Instead, he's hitting the road to tour with Alicia Keys in April 2008.