LAS VEGAS — Take it from a man who has lived here most of his life: If you go to LV, "Don't gamble," Ne-Yo advises. "If you do, don't gamble much."
In the middle of VMA weekend, the singer/songwriter found some time to leave the busy Strip and go back to one of his old neighborhoods, in Henderson, Nevada, just 20 minutes away. MTV News went along for the ride.
"In the very beginning, I was living a good 45 minutes away from the Strip," he says as the adventure begins. "We used to stay at this little project out there that everybody called the Gardens. At that time it was me, my mom, my grandmother and my sister. We had two bedrooms. Me and my sister shared a bedroom. My mom had a room. If my grandmother's back was hurting, she would get me and my sister and we would share the couch. It was the neighborhood. It was what it was: a little violent, a little dirty ... I lost one or two friends over there.
"We moved from the Gardens to this house on Las Vegas Boulevard, where we are going now," he adds as we arrive at his old stomping grounds. "Everybody was like, 'This is our first house.' I was like, 'Yeah, this ain't gonna be our last.' Things started getting a little better, we were still under the housing authority or Section 8 or whatever. So they took us out of [the Gardens] and moved us into an actual house, a town house connected to anther house. This was right around high school. This is where I started developing into who the hell I was."
When the SUV carrying Ne-Yo and company arrives at his old block, it's pretty quiet, even though there are some kids in the street.
"We were here for maybe two years, then my mom got a good job working in the bank," Ne-Yo says in front of his old house. "We got off, we weren't on housing authority no more. We got off housing authority and my mom moved to Green Valley. We had an extra two months, so it was just me in this house."
"A lot of non-PG-13 activities popping off at this house," he starts to laugh, reminiscing back to the days when he used to run wild without parental supervision. This is where he hatched lyrics for "Because of You" and other songs, and what inspired "Irreplaceable."
"That was my section," he adds, pointing to a window. "Like the family section or the den. That was my room. I would write right in there, had my little journals. Write whatever I wrote, sing it back to myself, slide the book back under my bed."
Just as the Gardens are miles away from the Strip, so is Ne-Yo distant from the talent show at his Las Vegas Academy high school, where he first revealed his singing talent to everybody. His songwriting has spelled "platinum" for himself and a myriad of others — he's definitely in-demand. At least with everybody except Britney Spears.
"I did not work with her," he divulges of Spears as he walks down the street and neighbors either look through their windows or approach him directly for autographs. He and Brit had been scheduled to collaborate months ago. "I was supposed to work with her, we had sessions set up and everything, but she didn't show up. Four times this happened. Everybody been telling me, me and Britney got beef. I ain't got no beef with Britney. As soon as Britney is ready to pay for a song, come get it. That's my outlook on that. Britney's people were mad at me because some of the songs that were for Britney wound up on Nicole Scherzinger's Her Name Is Nicole debut.
"Hey, it is what it is," he adds, after buying half the neighborhood ice cream from the truck. "Britney, I was rooting for you. Every time somebody asked me about you, I was like, 'More power to you. Go 'head, do your rehab thing, get it right, come back out and slay them.' But I can't stand in the way of somebody that feels like being mad at me. Be mad."
His tone changes seconds later. After all, it is Ne-Yo, music-industry nice guy.
"Britney, I'm still rooting for you, dammit. Come get these songs."
While Britney appears to be sleeping, the Jacksons apparently want to be in the Ne-Yo business. Both Janet and Michael.
"I had a meeting with Michael Jackson," he says. "I'm standing in front of this man and my hands were shaking."
In fact, he probably felt like the little girl who stands in front of Ne-Yo with her friends.
"Oh my God! Oh my God," she screams, holding his Because of You LP in her hands and waiting for him to sign it.
"I got Ne-Yo's autograph, oh my God!" she yells after he obliges her.
Sensing an opportunity, one of the girl's friends asks Ne-Yo to sign one of her body parts.
"Sign your arm?" he asks with a smile. "You gonna take a shower and it'll be gone."
"I won't take a shower," she promises.
"Somebody give her a piece of paper," he tells her buddies, then puts down his John Hancock.
"I'm showing everybody this," screams the girl, who can now continue to take showers worry-free. "I'm showing everybody."
"I even like your music," her mother tells Ne-Yo, "and I'm a Metallica fan."