It is no easy feat to pursue artistry in Hollywood, and reaching the top is not for the faint of heart. Ne-Yo joins a lists of artists who have stood out as they pave their own legacy.
View this post on Instagram
Columbia Records was the beginning of it all for the R&B artist. The label signed him to his first record deal. However, the experience was met with a string of learning lessons, which harshened after the young artist was dropped from the label in 2003.
“As an artist signed to a label, you don’t got a whole lot of freedom, but there are some elements of it that, that you can control,” Ne-Yo explained during an interview with Shannon Sharpe on his podcast “Club Shay Shay.” “I went in under the impression that I had no control of anything. So I was kinda like a robot a little bit.”
While working on what would have been his debut album, Ne-Yo faced several roadblocks, which included an unwillingness from the label to add songs that he thought would better represent him as an artist. At the time, the album had already been completed and the budget maxed out, he was told.
“So, I go to the label and say, ‘listen I know the album is finished, but do y’all think I could go in and maybe do one or two more songs that just kind of fit who the hell I am,’ and they were like, ‘Well no. Album is done, and also your budget is depleted.’ I’m like, ‘How was my budget depleted? I know exactly what we spent,'” Ne-Yo explained to Sharpe.
“You get a record deal, and they take you out to eat and they throw that credit card down at the end of the night,” Ne-Yo said to Sharpe. “What they don’t tell you is that’s your budget on that credit card.”
His experiences only fueled the controlling aspects of the industry, which did not sit well with Ne-Yo. According to Billboard, he reached a point of no return when his unhappiness led him to make the decision not to promote the album or perform at shows. He was eventually let go by the label.
“I’m not doing this. I won’t [promote] the album. I won’t do shows, nothing,” Ne-Yo told Billboard. “So I was shelved on Columbia Records for like two years. They wouldn’t do anything with me. My manager finally goes in and you know, lawyers, lawsuits, blah, blah, blah. They finally let me go, but kept the whole album. This left a very bad taste in my mouth about record deals, period. That on top of the fact that I just kept getting rejected everywhere.”
In the aftermath, Ne-Yo describes feeling depressed and uncertain about his future.
“Even when we was living in the van, I’m talking to my mom every day, and I knew that if push come to shove and it hit the fan, I could go home.” Ne-Yo expressed to Sharpe. “But then in this situation, I’m out here. I’m roughly 20, 21 years old. I just got dropped from my record label. My manager is not picking up the phone no more because we got dropped from a record. This is like, all right, ‘Well clearly they don’t want you.’ I have no options, no anything. So, it is literally a back-to-square-one moment.”
Ne-Yo would continue to hold onto what was most familiar to him — the music. It was while walking down the street and singing that he caught the attention of a music manager, who vowed to get him a deal within four months.
“He said to me, ‘Listen, I’m gonna shake your hand right now. If I don’t get you a deal in four months, you walk away with that handshake and we go our, we go our separate ways. I don’t need no paperwork. I don’t need no nothing.'” Ne-Yo recalled during the “Club Shay Shay” podcast, “Four months to the day I had a record deal, I had a record deal at Def Jam.”
The rest is history! Ne-Yo released his debut album “In My Own Words” in 2006, which took the world by storm, earning the top spot on the Billboard 200, per Billboard.
By 2010, Ne-Yo left Def Jam after a string of successes to work under Motown Records, according to REVOLT.