INTERVIEW: Ne-Yo's Tribute Makes Prince Proud At Grammy Park Show
By Isha Thorpe
May 6, 2016
On Thursday (May 5) night, Prince's influence on Ne-Yo was more visible than ever before. The Non-Fiction recording artist performed at the first ever Grammy Park event at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y. and it was an exciting night that I'll never forget.
"I’ve always been told that you should always be the very first to do something, or the very last to do something because those are the ones that people remember," Ne-Yo said in an exclusive interview with iHeartRadio. "First, last or best. So, I’m trying to be the first and the best."
By performing old classics like "So Sick," "Miss Independent," "All Because Of You," "Champagne Life" and more, plus showing BK some love with "You Make Me Better," to taking it back by performing Mario's "Let Me Love You" (which Ne-Yo wrote before he blew up), right on down to singing new songs off of his latest album like "Religious," "Congratulations" and more, the superstar definitely did not disappoint.
“Music is one of the few mediums, as far as art, that can completely change your attitude, change your mood, the whole nine. Two people that hate each other can come to a concert because they both like the same artist and be friends in that moment," the artist said when I asked him what he thought made music so powerful.
He added, "After the concert is over, OK whatever. But in that moment, they are brothers. I can be a Jew and you can be a Nazi, but in this moment, at this Ne-Yo concert, we are brothers in liking this song. There’s not too many other mediums that can do that. I don’t know why music is that powerful, but it is. It just is and I feel like if we can tap into that somehow, we can change that world.”
The long catalog that the performer has made for a very fun night out. From the minute he danced onstage, until he time he walked back off, I couldn't help but remain on my feet, while I was swinging my hips uncontrollably and singing along with him.
His music definitely has the effect. When asked what were the ingredients that made great music, the "Closer" singer said, “What makes great music is an infectious melody; a melody that you hear once, twice, and you can sing it back. It gets stuck in your head. You know the ones? A beat that makes you move, no matter what your mood is, no matter where you’re at, no matter what you’re doing; and a lyric that you can relate to.”
Initially warming the audience up with his major hits, the most beautiful moment of his entire Grammy Park concert was when the "Let Me Love You" singer paid tribute to Prince.
“I called him [one of] my four kings. These are my four musical fathers: Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Sammy Davis, Jr." he revealed. "The only one I got left is Stevie Wonder. I’m tryna bubble wrap him and put him away somewhere…so he doesn’t expire.”
News that Ne-Yo is a major fan (and musical child) of Prince isn't completely new. For years now, he's expressed how much the legend meant to him. In our sit-down, he reiterated his love for The Purple One.
“Above the fact that he was a musical genius, could play any instrument--you give the man a spoon and a garbage can, and he could turn it into a full orchestra. But aside from that, I love the fact that Prince has always been Prince," he said. "A lot of people don’t realize that Prince was getting booed off of stages for the first two years of his career doing the exact same thing that made him an icon, wearing the exact same... the whole nine. In the beginning, people didn’t get it and he didn’t change for the world. He let the world figure it out and catch him."
He continued: "That’s how you become an icon. You don’t chase the world, you let the world chance you. And it takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of strength to take that road."
Ne-Yo then said that as time progresses, people will eventually appreciate your individuality. He said that stars like Prince thought, “'You don’t get it now, but you will. And when you do, you’re gonna love me.' That’s who Prince was and I can’t do anything but respect somebody like that.”
The "She Knows" singer/songwriter also revealed the exact moment he discovered his hero passed away. He, like myself and the rest of the world, couldn't believe it.
“I was actually on a plane back to L.A. from China, honestly. It was one of those planes where they got the TVs or whatever. And it wasn’t my TV, but I was waking up and I looked over and I saw somebody else’s TV and it said 'Prince Dies At…' and I’m like wait a minute, hold on. I got my phone and I’m like is there any people that I know, that know people that know…I’m like OK, wow. It was kinda surreal."
He later admitted that he would unexpectedly get extremely emotional when he spoke about the musician's death on a interview soon after news of his death broke.
"The first interview I did for my man in Atlanta Big Tigger. He texted me and he was like 'Hey, do you wanna say a few words about Prince’s passing?' And I was like 'Sure,' thinking that I was gonna be OK," Ne-Yo started. "Man, I got on that phone, I cried like a baby and it was live on the radio. But I didn’t even worry about being embarrassed or anything. Like I really felt that. It was a painful moment. It’s like you feel like you knew him personally, that’s the power of music.”
Due to the musical impact that the icon had on Ne-Yo, the "One In A Million" artist felt like it was only right that he paid tribute to his fallen hero. He even had a snippet of Prince's interview with Oprah play before the tribute began. The clip showed Prince discussing being judged by others for his artistic expression. You can tell this memorial meant a lot to Ne-Yo because right before he began singing Prince's "The Beautiful Ones," he said, "Man, I just pray that I can do this song justice. I love you, Prince. We miss you."
Check out a clip of the emotional tribute below.
As Ne-Yo was performing, you can honestly see that he wanted to make his musical pops proud. At one point in Ne-Yo's career, the fallen icon gave him some much-needed, uplifting words that enabled the Grammy Park performer to feel like the talented superstar he is.
"Prince used to throw a party at his house after every Grammys and I actually got invited to one. So, I was a 6-year-old girl in my head. I went and mind you, there was a bunch of people there. So, I wasn’t expecting to see him," the artist said. "I remember I saw him from across the room, and he saw me, and he B-lined to me. And I remember this was right around the time that my fourth album, Libra Scale, had come out."
He added: "Libra Scale was one of my albums, that as far as critical acclaim, didn’t really get the look. So, I was a little under because of that. But, Prince came to me, and looked me in my face and said, 'Libra Scale is a great album and don’t let anybody tell you any different' and he walked away. And from that moment, I was like, 'OK. Libra Scale is the best album I ever did because Prince said so. The hell with everybody else!”
Looking back, it seemed as though the entire concert was sort of therapeutic for Ne-Yo. It was like his personal way of saying good-bye, but also helping the legacy of Prince live on through celebration. Obviously, Prince loved good music. So, what better way to honor him by showing him love on the stage?
"With the passing of Prince, this is definitely feeding my artistic soul,” Ne-Yo said about his performance. Yes, Shaffer, it was for ours, too. Thanks for slaying the stage and stuffing our guts with your incredible talent.
And as far as the whole, "I just pray that I can do this song justice" thing, you had absolutely nothing to worry about. Prince knew you were a star when he told you so at his afterparty, and last night was even more proof of that. We're sure he was up above, rehearsing on his guitar when he slammed it on the floor in a "you better sing that damn song!" mood like the rest of the audience, when he heard your beautiful vocals blessing his work.
Photo: Rachel Kaplan for iHeartRadio