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Jalen Rose and Ne-Yo Talk Songwriting for Bey and Rihanna

Growing up in Las Vegas, singer-songwriter Ne-Yo aka Shaffer Chimere Smith was surrounded by tons of estrogen in the form of tourists, transients, and even in his own home. Specifically, the 42-year-old lived with his mother, sister, grandmother and five aunts.

“Not a lot of testosterone in this house,” he told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man” episode. He said it taught him to be a good listener. “But that’s where I fell in love with an independent woman because she was the kind of woman who would get up and get her hands dirty if they needed to. There’s no man to change a tyre, so we have to change tyres… It was that kind of women.

He attended a performing arts high school in Sin City, but said he got into trouble as an adult. “I started being a bit of a jerk, getting in trouble, doing stupid stuff. And that’s when my mother made me start writing. It started out as journal entries, then eventually turned into songs.

We can thank his mother’s discipline for the Ne-Yo we know today.

“I owe my mother all my writing ability and my career. She gave me this red notebook and said, “Write it down. And as I was writing, I said, ‘Write what?’ She said, ‘I don’t care. Just write it down. And then from there, everything else went as it should. I’m Ne-Yo now.

The man is known to wear many hats, literally and figuratively. He has his own hits and he writes for great singers, many of whom have only one name: Mario, Rihanna and, of course, Beyoncé, whose anthem “Irreplaceable” he wrote. He said he was inspired by the love life of one of his aunts, which included a string of boyfriends.

“A guy who stayed a little longer than everyone else, but he found a way to ruin everything. Everything in the song is true. She really bought this guy a car and this guy was really driving the car around town with another chick in it. She is about to put it all in a box to the left of the closet and tells him to come upstairs. So I wrote the song initially to keep it. I tried to turn it around and write it from a male perspective. And what I realized is that this song doesn’t work as well from a male point of view as it does from a female point of view. So once Beyoncé finally got her hands on it, that’s all she wrote. The rest is history.

Once again he used real life to inspire his art. This time he’s snooping around his own house. His new single “Don’t Love Me” from “Self Explanatory,” his first studio album since 2018, is an honest look at his own relationship with his wife, Crystal Renay Smith. He said they were struggling just before the pandemic and on the verge of a divorce, but reunited in an over-the-top ceremony in April.

“It just got to that place where we couldn’t talk anymore. It’s like there’s clearly some beef here, but I have to go. I was at a place where I didn’t know if I was capable of being the man I felt she deserved. And so that’s what the song basically says, ‘Don’t love me, walk away. You’d be better off because I know if I just let you stay. And if you stay, I’ll probably end up hurting you. So I want you to go”. And it took my very smart wife to point out to me at the time that she wasn’t going to let me get away with it. She said, ‘It’s not that you can’t be the man I deserve, it’s that you won’t.’

Ne-Yo uses real-life experiences to write his songs.
Ne-Yo uses real-life experiences to write his songs.
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He still has a few people on his collaboration list, but at the top is Drake. “I’ve been a big Drake fan from the start. I’m really, really impressed with his writing ability, his rapping ability. Nothing the guy can’t do. I would love to see what a Ne-Yo-Drake song sounds like. Ne-Yo played a part in Rihanna’s first hit; Jay-Z introduced the pair and he penned his mid-2000s hits “Take a Bow” and “Unfaithful.”

“When I first met Jay, Rihanna was one of the first artists he told me about. [Jay-Z said,] “So we have this young lady, she’s from Barbados, she’s got really, really dope energy.” So when I met her she was still young…I met her when she was still a child,” he said, adding that he felt uncomfortable when friends commented on her sex- appeal.

“She was always a workhorse. She’s the one who’s going to go into the studio, stay in the studio until it’s done. I say everyone sleeps on a couch and she’s always pounding on it. Like she was that person. So I totally understand how she’s as successful as she is today because ever since she was a child she said, ‘The work has to be done’.

The Vegas-raised artist is now based in Atlanta and part of that music scene that LA Reid and Babyface have developed. The best part of recording in this city?

“Atlanta is its own animal…and it’s refreshing to me that you can come here and let your weird flag fly, so to speak. And not only is it accepted, but it’s embraced. The more individual you are here, the more love you get, instead of running around trying to be like or look like someone else.

He talked about his own evolution with record companies who wanted to put him in a box he didn’t see himself in. The now-seasoned veteran reminded people that you don’t necessarily need a record deal to get started. And it has some wisdom for budding artists.

“The music industry is full of people trying to be what they saw on TV or what they saw on TikTok. I’ll put it to you this way: if there’s one thing about you or one thing that you do that someone has made fun of before, because it’s you individually, that’s your superpower. . Understand it and use it. Blow this up. Because I’m telling you, that’s the thing. That thing that separates you from everyone,” he said.

Advice so good you can jot it down in the red Ne-Yo notebook.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan iconoclast Fab Five, which rocked college basketball in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before becoming a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the best-selling author “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion designer, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership. Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.

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