On 20th Anniversary of “Let Me Love You,” Ne-Yo Recalls Mario Being “Sam Cooke Reincarnated”

Before Ne-Yo became a household name, the budding performer was working tirelessly as a songwriter behind the scenes, and his breakthrough came in the form of then-16-year-old singer Mario.

Released in October 2004, Ne-Yo wrote “Let Me Love You” for Mario’s sophomore album Turning Point — the follow-up to his hit “Just a Friend 2002” — and the smooth R&B track became an international hit. It topped the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart for nine weeks and spent 11 weeks on top of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart. It earned Mario his first-ever Grammy nomination and helped the teen singer transition to a performer with an adult fanbase.

More from The Hollywood Reporter

But Ne-Yo admits, “I remember when I wrote that song, I did not think Mario was going to be able to pull it off.”

“Mind you, I hadn’t met him yet,” he adds. “All I knew was that he had just turned 16 and I’m like, ‘This is kind of a mature song. Like, does this dude even know anything about love?’”

But things changed once Mario arrived at the recording studio and got in the booth. “When I met him, I realized that he’s just Sam Cooke reincarnated. I had to eat those words. He knocked that song out in an hour and the rest is history,” he says. “So shout-out to Mario.”

Aside from “Let Me Love You,” Ne-Yo has also written hits like Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable,” Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” and “Unfaithful,” and Jennifer Hudson’s “Spotlight.” His songwriting success propelled him to the front of the stage with the 2006 release of his debut album, In My Own Words. And, ironically, Ne-Yo released his own song similarly titled to Mario’s — “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)” — in 2012. It was co-written by Sia and became a Top 10 hit.

Ne-Yo says he and Mario will celebrate on the road this year.

“We are actually going to be on tour in the U.K. come March, so looking forward to that,” he says of his Champagne & Roses Tour. “It’s a beautiful thing. Time is music.”

Best of The Hollywood Reporter