After landing at No. 1 as co-writer of Mario's 2004 smash "Let Me Love You," R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo is poised to hit the top of the charts as an artist

After landing at No. 1 as co-writer of Mario's 2004 smash "Let Me Love You," R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo is poised to hit the top of the charts as an artist. The 23-year-old newcomer's debut, "In My Own Words," arrives this week via Def Jam. The crossover single "So Sick" is No. 4 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.

Just what is it about Ne-Yo -- who was born Shaffer C. Smith in Camden, Ark., and raised in Las Vegas -- and his music that is creating all the hoopla? Pair his lyrical skill with emotive vocals and arresting melodies, and Ne-Yo's game plan becomes clear: Push R&B back to the forefront.

"I'm glad to see that people like Alicia Keys, John Legend and Trey Songz are bringing a face back to R&B," Ne-Yo says. "And I'm trying to be one of those people, giving people quality R&B music that's going to trigger some kind of emotion."

Ne-Yo says breaking out of the songwriter mold was difficult at first, and his now busy schedule has caused him to sacrifice sleep, nourishment and a love life. But he is growing fond of the new pace. "As a songwriter you go into a studio and it doesn't matter what you look like in there," he says. "As an artist, you have to look right and make sure you say the right things. It's an interesting transition, but I'm making it."