When it comes to making hits, Ne-Yo is hell-bent on delivering the goods. In fact, he’s a beast behind the soundboard, creating mega-ballads for popstresses Beyoncé (“Irreplaceable”) and Rihanna (“Take A Bow”). Undoubtedly, the prolific songwriter and singer could easily retire his mic, stack his chips and live vicariously through the artists he’s blessed with his platinum pen. Instead, he continues to put in work as an artist, delivering his third offering, “Year of the Gentleman.” Taking a break from working with some of music’s luminaries, Ne-Yo spoke to ESSENCE.com about the sloppiness of saggy jean–wearing and cornrow-sporting men, the gay rumors that will never die and what type of woman he’ll put on blast.
ESSENCE.COM: Nowadays, strong women catch heat for their leadership, so your single “Miss Independent” is much appreciated. What attracts you to a female shot caller?
NE-YO: If ya’ll are catching flack for being strong then you’re definitely not catching it from me. I think it’s the sexiest thing in the world if a woman can do for herself. I love a woman who wants me but doesn’t need me. That puts her in the position of power. She doesn’t have to settle.
ESSENCE.COM: So who are some of your favorite independent women out here?
NE-YO: I think Michelle Obama is definitely leading the race as an independent woman. Did you see her speak [at the Democratic National Convention]? She had folks feeling like she could run for president if she felt like it. She’s the epitome of an independent woman. You have Beyoncé who is definitely doing her thing, and you have my little sister Rihanna, everybody who was in the video and of course you have Debra L. Lee, chairman and CEO of BET.
ESSENCE.COM: Today’s young men tend to wear their pants sagging low, but you’re dressing it up. Are you hoping other fellas will take note and step it up?
NE-YO: I certainly do and that’s part of the reason I’m doing it. I never felt that I was a slob. Even before I knew how to dress I knew that I shouldn’t have my pants around my knees. That doesn’t make no damn sense. It doesn’t look good. This album, I’m letting all the fellas know that we’ve been a little sloppy and it’s time to step up our game. In the year of the independent woman, she’s not settling for anything less. You don’t have to put on a three-piece suit to be a gentleman but wearing one with cornrows don’t make no damn sense to me. I’m sorry. I don’t care how you do it. You can be a gentleman in jeans and a T-shirt, but it’s about the way you wear it. It’s about your charisma, your charm and your swag. That makes you a gentleman, not your clothes.
ESSENCE.COM: You said that the Rat Pack inspired your album and like them you had your share of rumors, namely that you’re gay and came out in the pages of ESSENCE, which is a two-year-old rumor that never happened. What is some of the other nonsense you’ve heard about yourself?
NE-YO: Honestly, that’s the one that keeps reoccurring. I really can’t say that it bothers me because I understand that’s part of this game. Haters exist and who am I to stand in the way of somebody doing their job? But I can’t let that stop me from doing what I’m doing. I always say that if anybody feels that I might be gay, leave your girl with me for a night and ask her about the whole thing. It’s as simple as that.
ESSENCE.COM: You have the image of charismatic bachelor. So what would it take for you to want to settle down with one woman?
NE-YO: One of the perks to being in this business is that I meet beautiful women all day. So for me to settle down, she is going to have to be real, real bad. One thing that does catch my attention from a mental standpoint is a woman that isn’t trying to impress me. I hate when I can tell that you’re trying to be impressive. That’s wack. I’m going to point you out and then I’m going to send you on your way.