By Andrea Domanick
In honor of last weekend’s Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational at Shadow Creek Golf Course, R&B superstar Ne-Yo paid a visit to his hometown of Las Vegas to treat Jordan and his guests to a private performance Friday night.
The singer is busy putting the finishing touches on his upcoming release, “The R.E.D. Album,” in Los Angeles, so he wasn’t able to stick around to hit the putting green. But maybe that was for the better.
“My golf game is … let’s just say it’s not my forte,” Ne-Yo joked while lounging in a suite at Aria before the show. “It’s a little too slow for me.”
Despite his hectic life -- which includes a new A&R gig with Motown Records and designing a hat line for Saks Fifth Avenue, among other things -- Ne-Yo says it was important for him to make time to attend the MJCI, which benefits numerous charitable organizations.
“Well, no one says no to Michael Jordan!” he says, laughing. “But more than that, Michael’s charities deal heavily with children in need, which is exactly what we do at the Compound Foundation.” Ne-Yo is speaking of his own charity, which helps prepare youths exiting the foster care system for life on their own. “The event is very much in line with my own ideals, and I wanted to help shed more light on that cause.”
These days, such quick stops in Las Vegas are run-of-the-mill for Ne-Yo. His visits in recent years have been largely business-oriented, so he doesn’t have much time to go out on the town. The singer says he spends most of his time in his hotel or near the venue he’s performing at -- but does admit to being an avid craps player.
“If not on a stage somewhere or doing an interview, you might find me at a craps table,” he says. But he’s quick to note that he’s a “smart craps player,” thanks to having grown up here. “I take a specific amount of money out, and once that’s gone, I’m gone. I’m not going back to the ATM. I’m from here, I know you are not supposed to win. So if you do happen to get over, get out!”
Ne-Yo also credits his Las Vegas roots for helping him become the style icon he’s known as today. He cites the Rat Pack and Wayne Newton as major influences, and his hat line, Francis Ellargo, even features a style called “The Sammy.”
“Those guys, the classics, they didn’t dress up because they had to. They dressed up for the sake of dressing up, and that’s what I believe in, too,” he says, adding that Kanye West and Tom Ford are some of his contemporary influences.
Ne-Yo adores Old Vegas -- he grew up listening to the Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. records his mom brought home from the casinos where she worked -- but marvels at the changes it has undergone since he left.
“The Strip looks completely different from when I lived here. Even my high school looks completely different. But it’s not surprising,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing, I think the Strip looks great. I especially like that they’re trying to make bits and pieces of it more family-oriented because that helps bring more people here.”
As for his music, Ne-Yo says fans can expect “The R.E.D. Album” (due out in June) to be a record that’s deeply personal and celebratory. “R.E.D.,” which stands for “Realizing Every Dream,” will be largely focused on R&B, with a few dance numbers thrown in the mix. The singer says it will be a more uplifting record than its initial title and concept, “Cracks in Mr. Perfect.”
“ 'Cracks in Mr. Perfect’ was going to be a very honest album, putting a spotlight on the parts of me that are more human than this picture that I’ve painted for the world to see. And that’s not to say I’ve strayed away from that. But I realized imperfection is what creates my perfection,” he says.
“I decided to go with ‘R.E.D.’ because when I step out of my situation and look at it, I’ve accomplished almost every goal I’ve set for myself from age 12 till now. But I stay so busy, I have a tendency to not realize the great things that are happening to me,” he says, adding that the birth of his children forced him to slow down and take inventory, as well as give himself “a pat on the back” for what he’s accomplished.
You can expect to see Ne-Yo in Las Vegas again when he makes his rounds promoting the album; in fact, he says he plans to “hand deliver” a copy to the DJs at KLUC. But if you don’t find him there, he says, you can always try the craps tables.