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Music moment: Ne-Yo

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, new music from singer-songwriter Ne-Yo. He has a new album out, his first since 2018. It's called "Self Explanatory." We wanted to hear more about the album, so we called music writer Keithan Samuels. He's the editor-in-chief of Rated R&B. And we asked about a few standout tracks.

KEITHAN SAMUELS: So "Handle Me Gently," I think, when I first heard the album, that song immediately stuck out to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANDLE ME GENTLY")

NE-YO: (Singing) She said, love me tender, love me sweet. Love me like I'm all you'll ever need. She said, touch me slowly, touch me slow. Handle me gently. That's all you need to know.

SAMUELS: Right now, it's probably one of my favorite songs off the album. You know, it just takes me back to the early '90s, the new jack swing era. And what I really love about this song overall is how it flows kind of like this gentle breeze.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANDLE ME GENTLY")

NE-YO: (Singing) I want to be better. Girl, instruct me, and I'll listen, oh.

SAMUELS: On the song, he's singing about, you know, his desire to stay in this relationship with his partner, although he recognizes that he hasn't been the very best. And he's just willing to do whatever he needs to do to keep the relationship afloat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANDLE ME GENTLY")

NE-YO: (Singing) I can be selfish. Yeah, OK. Yeah, OK. I have a tendency to step in my own way. Baby, I'd love you no less than the day that you said yes. So know I hear you clearly when you say, hey.

SAMUELS: And I really feel like this song definitely needs single treatment. It sounds so radio friendly. And again, it's one of my favorite songs off the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LOVE ME")

NE-YO: (Singing) And I really want to see you happy. I really want to see you secure, confident in your sexy. I know you don't feel that with me anymore.

SAMUELS: "Don't Love Me" - this song sounds just like a classic Ne-Yo record from his early years. It's so raw and honest. And, you know, on the song, what I appreciate is, you know, he's not in the right space to be in this committed relationship. But instead of leading his partner on, he knows that deep down, he wants the best for her. He wants her to be happy, and so he's communicating this to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LOVE ME")

NE-YO: (Singing) I can't be your happy. Walk away. You'll be better for it, girl.

SAMUELS: So in the second verse, he kind of owns up to some of his faults and gives some examples of what he has been doing, and he delivers it in this Roddy Ricch sort of cadence, specifically Roddy's "The Box." And I really like how he kind of switches up the flow in the second verse.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LOVE ME")

NE-YO: (Singing) Running after all these thots, steady, telling you I'm not. Lying to your face done got, too easy for me to not, even though I love you a lot, hey. All I'ma (ph) wind up doing is making you hate me. I broke your self-esteem and made you feel crazy. So walk away.

SAMUELS: And again, Ne-Yo does really well with breakup records. That's his bread and butter, although he's really good at other subject matters, too. But he really hones in on these breakup records. And "Don't Love Me" is another example of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IF")

NE-YO: (Singing) Last night your name came up in conversation. They were telling me you found love in a new location. And I swear my mind went...

SAMUELS: So "What If" is sort of this reflective song where Ne-Yo looks back on this relationship, and he wonders how things would be if they didn't let go. And I really love the contrast between the bluesy lyrics with the dance-friendly production. I've always loved sad songs that still evoke this feeling of happiness through the production, and I think "What If" does that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IF")

NE-YO: (Singing) What if, if we never let it go? What if we were way too young to know what it was? Us just chilling like before - tell me, wasn't that enough? What if...

SAMUELS: Again appears Ne-Yo in the dance-pop arena that's still rooted in R&B. And we've heard him do it before on songs like "Closer," so this is definitely one of my favorites as well.

MARTIN: That was music critic Keithan Samuels discussing Ne-Yo's latest album, "Self Explanatory." It's out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IF")

NE-YO: (Singing) What if, if we never let it go? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.