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Ne-Yo mixes (and multitasks) it up
The Grammy winner expounds on his A-list collaborations and his plunge into electronic dance beats

By Kathy Iandoli
Special to MSN Music

Ne-Yo is continuously busy, yet when asked what he's up to, his response is a tongue-in-cheek, "Nothing." The Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and producer, born Shaffer Smith, has made his career out of articulating emotions in song for some top players in R&B, hip-hop and pop, himself included. His last project, "R.E.D.," debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts, led by the single "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)," charged with electronic dance elements.

Electronic dance music (EDM) is a brand-new component for Ne-Yo, where abridged bars replace his lengthy verses. It's that kind of training that has allowed him to also return to hip-hop hook writing, currently working with Atlanta trap rapper Waka Flocka Flame. The songwriting is omnipresent, with Ne-Yo having written for Beyoncé's upcoming project and whatever Rihanna has coming down the pipeline. He also has a penchant for jumping on remixes, most recently Ciara's "Body Party," produced by Mike WiLL.

MSN Music checked in with the Las Vegas native as he wrapped his latest track, "It's All Good," with U.K. siren Cher Lloyd for Fruttare's current ad campaign. He elaborates on his accessibility to fans, and how money and fame are merely an accessory to the public service known as making music.

MSN Music: What have you noticed is the difference between artists you've worked with from the U.K., like Cher Lloyd, and artists out here?

The major difference, honestly – and I don't know if it has anything to do necessarily where either artist is from – but I will say that the majority of artists that I've run into in the U.K. seem to be more focused on the music than anything else. Not so much the fame, glitz and the glamour or the scandal and the controversy, just, "Let's make a really, really good song!" Not to say I don't find that here in the States too, but everybody knows the machine that is alive here in the States. A lot of the younger generation that I run into seem to be more focused on being able to buy every pair of Jordans that comes out when they come out through music, as opposed to making it from the heart. Everybody has their own reasoning, whatever. I'm not going to act holier than thou, but anybody can tell you that financial gain is not the reason I do this. I do this because I love it, and the money and the fame and all of that is a plus that comes with it.

Bing: More on Ne-Yo

It definitely shows. You're huge, but not inaccessible

And I don't understand getting to that point. I don't understand why anybody would. Let's get real. Music is public service. Well, at least it's supposed to be. The songs that you sing or the songs that you write are to make people feel good or make them remember relationships or make people want to fall in love or make people realize that they're better than that situation or whatever the case may be! But it's FOR the people, so why would you ever want to get to a place where the people can't touch you? What you're doing is for them.

You've been dabbling in EDM where the songs have been getting bigger but the lyrics are shorter. How hard is it to be able to write like that?

It definitely takes skill. There's a reason that once dance music and EDM just got super huge here in the States, that there are certain people that shine through the sea of people who decided that they wanted to try it. Those are the people who have figured out how to get the point across using the least amount of words as humanly possible. It's not something that you can just sit down one day and go, "Alright, I'ma write a meaningful EDM song!" That's almost an oxymoron.

Which artists are you writing for currently?

Right now I've fallen into rapper hook world. I just recently spent a little time in Miami, working with a few people. Waka Flocka was in the studio; I did a hook with him. That should be interesting to see how that comes out. I'm always interested in trying to find ways to make things make sense that people don't feel like would probably make sense. Like, no one would ever think of Waka Flocka and me on the same record. However, I feel like we did something that's kind of going to make some sense. I just recently did some more stuff with Young Jeezy, I did some stuff for Yo Gotti, I did some stuff for the boy Rocko, some stuff for Plies! Going in soon with Jennifer Hudson ...

You've also been in the studio with Beyoncé.

Yeah, I did some sessions with her not too long ago for her forthcoming album. Again, I don't know what's going to be kept, but just being able to get in with her, that's an honor. It really is. I did some stuff with Rihanna for the album that she has out now. I don't know when she's going to start working again, but I'm assuming pretty soon. She just doesn't know how to sit still. Rihanna would put out five albums a year if she could. That's how much she works.

Photo gallery: Ne-Yo In Focus

How do you know how to write so well from a female standpoint?

I can honestly tell you that, in regards to men and women ... a lot of people feel there's these major differences between men and women. There aren't. Just in regards to relationships and matters of the heart ... not very different! We all want to be listened to, we all want to be appreciated, we all want to know that the person that we love loves us. That's what we all want, men and women. So I write from there. I write from the standpoint of, as human beings, we kind of all want the same thing.

I think you've cracked the code. Are you going to be a life coach next?

No, no! I would never try to tell anybody how to live their life. I ain't got mine figured out yet!

Kathy Iandoli has written for publications including The Source, YRB, BUST, XXL,VIBE, RIME and Vapors, and her work has appeared online at MTV, AOL and MSN Music sites. She is the former Alternatives editor of AllHipHop.com and the current music editor of HipHopDX.com.

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