Words by Desire Thompson. Art by Sam Liacos.
“Lust is life” isn’t something you hear everyday, but it plays into R&B’s most telling records, making connections stronger than others on the periodic table of love. If anyone knows this to be true, it’s Ne-Yo, whose lengthy discography has delivered strong entries of all types of affection.
In 2006, the singer/songwriter, 27 at the time, took a risk leaving behind tracks of “stolen glance love” heard throughout his debut album, In My Own Words, and replacing them with satisfying, haunting urges on Because of You. Predictably, the topic is retold through body-rolling melodies. Reviews for the album remained surface level, giving it gold stars for tapping legends like Prince and Michael Jackson on “Sex With My Ex,” “Addicted,” and the lead single, “Because of You.” Vocal arrangements rather than topics for “Do You,” “Can We Chill” and the Jennifer Hudson-adorned “Leaving Tonight” were sonically digested with the finest of forks thanks to his glowing resume. Just before the singer stepped into the spotlight, he was already in demand thanks to his chart-topping credits on Mario’s “Let Me Love You,” Rihanna’s daring single “Unfaithful” and, of course, Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.”
“Because Of You” opens the album, which turns 10 years old this month, serving as an ode to a new temptation. It’s a feeling we face when our minds are closed and curiosities take center stage. “And I know this much is true/Baby, you have become my addiction/ I’m so strung out on you/ I can barely move but I like it,” he chants. Living in the moment is jarring, I know it. While re-listening to an album I originally first heard as a teen, some lyrics hold more meaning this time around. Lines like “my obsession won’t let me leave” and “she’s the sweetest drug” hit me in the gut. I was once called a drug by an ex, a compliment you don’t realize stings until it’s directed your way.
It makes me wonder how much moments of lust can impact our love lives. After all, they’re some of the most intimate moments you’ll share with another soul. You’re stripped of your garments and instead are cloaked with inhibitions you explore within the bed, the floor, or the backseat.
We’ve all heard the songs that describe, warrant, or drive sex. Overhearing classics from Jodeci, Ginuwine, or Janet Jackson as a youth would imply that lust reigns supreme and would find its way into the equation. Before 50 Shades Of Grey kickstarted Middle America’s BDSM fascinations, British author Alex Comfort’s 1972 illustrated manual, The Joy of Sex, taught the world how to make love, not to mention inspire a global sexual liberation. With so many ways to interpret carnal desire, it’s no surprise we get caught up in what’s real and what isn’t.
While listening to Ne-Yo’s altering mindstate on other cuts like “Crazy,” the singer is thrilled to be out of character as he talks to photographs and finds himself always wondering about her whereabouts. On hour two of my three-hour jam session, I’m back to thinking about Mr. Nobody and how he confessed to tracking my every move on three different occasions. Once was for a dinner I had with a girlfriend and another was a day I headed to work from his apartment. The third I never found out about. “Say It” comes into play at the latter end of the album, with Ne-Yo turning on his bedroom voice, but also pining for better communication. I can admit this is where me and Mr. Nobody clicked. We fought hard to make it work, just as much as we wrestled in the sheets, but sometimes things don’t work out.
Stuck between reality and fantasy, a third listen around opens up Ne-Yo’s gripe with a romance burning out as quickly as it started. “Go On Girl” is a look into his parlays of love without the rose colored glasses. It’s also a lesson that doesn’t end when she walks out the door, since it takes two to tango.
As Ne-Yo reflects on this lesson in love, us 20-somethings of today are still learning the same tidbits in a far more digitally advanced and socially troubling world. Lust doesn’t have to be life, even though Tinder is a download away and fuckable robots are in the making (no, seriously).
While it’s comforting to flirt with desire, setting a foundation for the warmer things in life is much more satisfying. If we’ve learned anything from Ne-Yo, it’s that balance is key. Loving someone down won’t always equate to the real deal and that’s okay. The best thing is to take a shower and start anew with yourself. Because of You might be a decade old, but my first encounter with Mr. Nobody kicked off a year ago, allowing me to see that living in lust doesn’t have to be a permanent stay.