As he prepares to release his third album in as many years, R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo says he is “a little bored” with urban music.
The genre has served him well. His first two albums have both been certified platinum, and he has co-written such monster hits as Beyoncé’s Irreplaceable, which spent 10 weeks atop the Hot 100 singles chart in 2006.
But Year Of The Gentleman, due June 24 from Def Jam, finds the 28-year-old Arkansas native — real name Shaffer Smith — venturing into “more worldly” territory.
“There’s some stuff on there that sounds like something the Beatles might’ve done,” Ne-Yo told Billboard. “There’s some stuff on there that sounds like something Billy Joel might’ve done. I can’t do just straight urban music no more, because to be completely honest with you, I’m a little bored with it. I’m just moving with what music excites me now.”
An early preview does indeed indicate something a little different from traditional R&B: Closer is a Stargate-produced club track with pulsing strobe-light synths and a high-energy house beat that calls to mind Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music.
So You Can Cry sports a mellow, easy-listening vibe, with Ne-Yo making a priceless rhyme of “pity party” and “calamari.” Guitars and cymbals figure prominently in What’s the Matter, which Ne-Yo likens to “a Beatles-style rock record.”
But will the little girls understand? Def Jam wants to expand Ne-Yo’s audience beyond its core of 16 to 24-year-old females.
“The records he’s written don’t just speak to young black girls,” says Ashaunna Ayars, Def Jam’s VP of marketing. “We’re trying to build an adult audience that appreciates his music as well.”
Part of the strategy involves Ne-Yo opening for Alicia Keys on her two-month North American tour, which is underway.
But Ne-Yo is anxious about overdoing the stylistic experimentation.
“My worry is that I’ll do something that’s so far left of what I’ve already done that it’s going to go over my fans’ heads. I pray that my fans are smarter than that.”
And he hopes they will understand that if he keeps writing songs like So Sick or Sexy Love or Because of You, both he and they will eventually get bored.
So Sick reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was drawn from his 2006 debut In My Own Words, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. His follow-up, Because of You, has sold 935,000 copies since its release last May.