He performs with confidence, but Ne-Yo was very shy as a kid, and even as an adult, sometimes has trouble looking people in the eye.
He was born Shaffer Chimere Smith, but earned the nickname Ne-Yo when a producer friend compared his ability to "see" music to Neo's ability to see the Matrix in the 1999 film The Matrix.
Ne-Yo was always artistic, but he focused on painting. The music bug bit him when, on a dare, he performed Boyz II Men's "End of the Road
" at a talent show to an enthusiastic crowd.
He grew up in Las Vegas, where he performed with the amateur R&B group Envy. He earned a solo contract with Columbia Records, but was dropped before he could release his debut album.
Before he became famous as a singer, he earned his reputation as a top songwriter. His first #1 hit was "Let Me Love You" for the R&B singer Mario. The song held the position for 10 weeks and caught the attention of Def Jam Recordings, who swiftly signed Ne-Yo to a record deal.
With his debut album, In My Own Words
, he wanted to bring back traditional R&B without any hip-hop flourishes (although he welcomed occasional touches on later releases), in the vein of Stevie Wonder. The album debuted at #1 in America and spawned the chart-topping ballad "So Sick
He has aspirations to write country music because he admires the genre's focus on storytelling. "Irreplaceable
," a #1 hit for Beyoncé, was actually written with country artists like Faith Hill in mind.
In 2017, he signed on as one of three judges, including Jennifer Lopez, on the reality show World Of Dance.
He starred as the Tin-Man on NBC's 2015 production The Wiz Live! He's also appeared on shows like The Mindy Project and CSI: NY.
Ne-Yo became a father for the first time when his then-girlfriend, Monyetta Shaw, gave birth to Madilyn Grace Smith on November 12, 2010. The musician admitted that the gift he received from Beyoncé and Jay-Z when his daughter was born took him by surprise.
"It wasn't exactly weird, but unexpected. When my daughter was born, this box came to my house with no name on it," he detailed to The Sun. "And I opened it up and, you know, like a rocking horse?, this was a rocking swan. It was a little odd."
"Then I found out it was from Jay and Beyoncé and now it's my daughter's favorite toy. She was afraid of it at first, but now she loves it," he added.
Ne-Yo first met his model wife Crystal Renay in 2014 after discussing a possible collaboration for his album Non-Fiction. The musician knew Crystal was "the one" immediately. "I kind of knew right away," he said. "From that first encounter, I knew there was something different about her, something special."
The pair got married in front of family and friends at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, near Los Angeles on February 20, 2016.
Ne-Yo announced in February 2020 that he and Crystal Smith are ending their marriage. However after the pair quarantined together with their two young sons in their Georgia home to wait out the coronavirus pandemic, Ne-Yo withdrew the divorce documents.
Ne-Yo only lasted two weeks in his first ever job. The musician started out working at McDonald's, but he only stayed a fortnight before walking out, after his boss shouted at him in front of the whole restaurant. He recalled to MTV News:
"I loved it until I got yelled at for putting too much salt on the fries. My manager clearly took his job way more seriously than he should have, so I politely handed in my notice."