A little over a decade ago, an teenage boy, raised by a cocktail waitress single mother and used to relocation, would hit the Strip and Wet ‘n’ Wild on the weekends, picking up girls.
Sounds ordinary. But this young man dreamed of superstar success in the music industry, of flashy cars and clothes and Hollywood and female fans.
Still ordinary. But this young man, Shaffer Chimere Smith, made it. He penned a song, “Let Me Love You,” that spent nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard 100 in the winter of 2005. He was signed by Jay-Z to Def Jam Records and went on to release two albums that went platinum, and then a third, Year of the Gentleman, which has received six Grammy nominations.
In addition to his own albums, this local boy has written songs for Rihanna (“Unfaithful” and “Take a Bow”), Beyonce (“Irreplaceable”) and for Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Corbin Bleu, and Enrique Iglesias. He was recently contacted by producer Will.i.am to work on an upcoming Michael Jackson album.
On a Thursday night in early February, his name is imprinted in big block letters on a billboard that hovers over the I-15 north right before it starts to parallel the Strip. 97.5 and 98.5 FM radio hosts—the local R&B/rap/hip-hop stations—are twittering about Ne-Yo’s upcoming concert tonight at the Pearl.
Inside the Palms, outside the Pearl, clusters of well-dressed fans wait around the slot machines before the concert starts.
Y.A. Poet, a local rap artist, is one of them. It just so happens that Y.A.’s cousin used to date Ne-Yo’s sister and that Y.A. visited Ne-Yo’s first studio, here in Las Vegas, where “he had a sock over his mic.” Y.A. Poet (born Ernest Monroe) is a huge fan of his hometown homeboy.
“Ne-Yo is an excellent entertainer. He gives back to the community and he’s my hero. He’s my role model as a local artist,” gushes Y.A. Poet, while his companion inexplicably films him talking to me on his camera phone. “He’s Las Vicious!” chimes in the impromptu cameraman, Westtin Flickk.
Ne-Yo is indeed a smooth entertainer. His songs are sweaty, close quarters, slow-dancing material. Personally, I prefer the up-tempo makes-you-want-to-bump-and-grind beat of Usher, who, along with Jermaine Dupri, was in the audience.
The measured, sappy crooning about relationships and love and romance and heartbreak bored me. There were back-up dancers (surprisingly some were white and curvy, like Ne-Yo had secretly co-partnered with Dove to subtly subvert stereotypes) and roses tossed into the audience and a back-up band with saxophones, guitars, drums, trumpets and trombones and lots of flashy lights. Ne-Yo danced well and looked sharp in a silver suit. Between songs he talked to the audience, unsurprisingly, about relationships (“Nothing worth it comes easy”) and love (“Real men aren’t afraid to admit that they’ve been in love before, that they’ve had their heart broken before. That don’t make you any less of a man.”)
He sang, with intermittent pelvic thrusts, his hand on his heart and his face registering heartfelt heterosexual pathos, his Grammy-nominated hits “Closer” and “Miss Independent.”
Basically, it was the ideal Valentine’s Day show, a show encouraging the wrapping of arms around your date and swaying and pondering about love and relationships. Much of the audience did just that.
But on Valentine’s Day next week, hardcore rock act Puscifer will shake the Pearl with their single “Cuntry Boner” (get ready to sing along to a rousing chorus of “Group sex, group sex, group sex”) and other equally filthy songs from their albums “V” is for Vagina and “V” is for Viagra.
Ne-Yo’s velvety musical touch may have the women lining up today – and occasionally breaking the law to get close to him - but I prefer Puscifer’s macho-prick persona. And while the rockers surely get their share of girls, too, it’s Ne-Yo, on February 8, who will probably take home the Grammys.