Superstar singer-songwriter Ne-Yo is best known for crafting catchy R&B hits, but he’s also incredibly passionate about education. He recently partnered with the Get Schooled Foundation to surprise Aki Kurose Middle School Academy in south Seattle by becoming “principal for the day” and performing for the student body. He spoke with theGrio about the importance of education, his new position at Motown, and why you’re always a role model when you’re in the spotlight.
theGrio: Did the kids know it was going to be you who showed up at school?
Ne-Yo: I don’t think the kids knew what to expect. What they knew was they were being rewarded for increasing their attendance in the entire country, and I came out to support.
While you were principal for the day, did you send anyone to detention?
No, but I was a teacher’s assistant for two different math classes, where I then realized I was in the dark with most of the terms they were talking about.
Although you’re an entertainer, how important is it to reinforce education as a starting point?
I’m living proof of what positive reinforcement can do. My dad wasn’t around, and I was raised by my mom. She never let my circumstance be a crutch against the success I could reach. That’s the message I want to send to kids; if you really want anything, you must work for it.
Individuals in the spotlight don’t necessarily embrace the term “role model,” yet with initiatives like this you seem to be more on the forefront.
As an entertainer, I do feel I have a bigger microphone to get my message across. It speaks to what type of person you are when you have that power. To quote Uncle Ben from Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Since you’ve been blessed, do you feel its your moral obligation to be a positive role model?
Whether you want them to or not, kids are looking up to you. They mimic the way you dress, talk, the whole nine [yards]. You can’t expect kids to move in the right direction on their own.
Does the media harp too much on the negativity that celebrities fall into?
Of course. The media’s job is to pique people’s interest, and it sucks that people are more interested in dirt. We’re programmed to be attracted to the negativity.
Can you elaborate on your new position at Motown?
I’m senior VP of A&R, and I was told that Smokey Robinson held this position. While these are very big shoes to fill, it allows me to groom and find icons all over the world. You can have all the talent in the world, but if it’s not harnessed, you’re a talented fool and I can’t tell you how many of those are in the industry.
The recent song collaborations between Rihanna and Chris Brown have caused very strong opinions, both positive and negative, from their fans and peers. Do you feel that the media and their audience aren’t separating the music from the person?
Yeah, I definitely do, but that’s how it always has been, since the beginning of time. With social media and behind-the-scene type shows, that element of mystique that came with musicians is gone. If a fan missed something scandalous, they can just look it up on YouTube. Which I feel puts more responsibility on the artist, that if you have dirt, it can
and will get out there. If you do dirt, maybe you should be more clever on how you go about it, or don’t do it at all.
Follow Kyle Harvey on Twitter at @HarveyWins