Go ahead, talk; see if he cares

Special to The Times

IN the celebrity world, rumors are to be expected. Yet rising R&B-pop; star Ne-Yo still had a rare experience after entering the spotlight last year, when some magazines accused him of being a straight sex addict and others alleged he's a closeted homosexual.

Although these tales -- the former fueled by explicit video swiped from his cellphone -- were upsetting, Ne-Yo heeded the sage advice of Jay-Z and shrugged them off. Then he took the best revenge, addressing the buzz with wry humor on "Addicted," a funky, Prince-esque track from "Because of You," his chart-topping second album. "I'm not addicted to sex," he sings, "but, girl, I guarantee that if you lay with me you just might be."

"People are going to say what they want to say, regardless of truth," asserts Ne-Yo, 27, born Shaffer C. Smith, speaking by phone the day after starting his headlining concert tour, which arrives in Southern California next week.

He's now so used to gossip that he'll even take preemptive action. When innocently asked how often he sees his baby son, Chimere, who's mentioned in his record company bio, Ne-Yo good-naturedly declares he'll clear up those rumors right now. Uh, what rumors? "My son is not biologically mine, but he's had no father but me since the day he was born," he says, adding that he's no longer romantically involved with the child's mother.

It's hard to imagine anyone faulting voluntary fatherhood, but, in any event, Ne-Yo says his real worries will begin on "the day that nobody has anything to say about me."

He needn't fret now. Released last month, "Because of You" entered the Billboard album chart at No. 1, just like his 2006 debut, "In My Own Words." Both collections benefited from hit singles: Last year's "So Sick," a propulsive heartbreak tune, and this year's "Because of You," a pulsating hip-hop soul number whose vocal deliberately harks back to "Off the Wall"-era Michael Jackson. The new recording is still preoccupied with romantic longing and sweaty pleasure, but it tones down its predecessor's huge, busy production, keeping the focus on Ne-Yo's wistful-to-seductive tenor while evoking such musical heroes as Jackson and Prince.

"I wanted to give the vibe of those artists, as opposed to sounding like them," says Ne-Yo. "It's a way for fans to see what makes me tick musically."

He's already proved his versatility with a pile of hits co-written for other people: Beyonce's "Irreplaceable," Rihanna's "Unfaithful" and Mario's "Let Me Love You," among others. Currently he's working on songs for Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Jennifer Hudson (who appears on the "Because of You" duet "Leaving Tonight").

Clearly he's adept at capturing the everyday thrills and chills of modern romance, regardless of whether it's a he-said or she-said situation, but that's still an impressive list of bona-fide divas seeking his services. Ne-Yo knows a few things about women, having grown up in Las Vegas with his mom, aunts and sisters.

"You see how strong women are every day, appreciate it and learn to respect them," he says. Working with Beyonce and Hudson also left him admiring how down to earth they were. "Success can turn you into a person who thinks they're better than somebody else," Ne-Yo says. "But everybody's human, and these two people haven't let the fact that they have money and fans turn them into monsters."

Staying grounded is key for Ne-Yo, who counts on listeners commiserating with the personal experiences his songs detail. The I've-done-wrong lament "So Sick" drew from his history, and the regretful new strings-suffused ballad "Do You" follows up, asking if the jilted girlfriend, who's happily moved on, ever thinks about him. It's something a guy might feel but not be able to articulate, he says.

"I say things guys don't know how or have the guts to say," he explains. "They don't have to sweat it; they can just put the song on."




Where: House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Price: $41; sold out

Info: (323) 848-5100; www.hob.com/sunsetstrip


Where: House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Drive, Anaheim

When: 6:30 p.m. next Thursday

Price: $34 and $36; sold out

Info: (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com/anaheim

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