Ryan Leslie - Ryan Leslie

Posted February 3, 2009
Tags: Ryan Leslie,

Ryan Leslie is a complicated man, and like most complicated things, America’s had some...

Ryan Leslie Album Review

Ryan Leslie is a complicated man, and like most complicated things, America’s had some trouble figuring him out. Leslie graduated from Harvard – yeah, that Harvard – with a degree in economics, but perhaps sensing that our economy was about to collapse faster than Ja Rule’s career, he decided to pursue his real love, music. Although his initial attempts to release an album were riddled with delays, Leslie flipped that experience into a burgeoning marketing company and an impressive production career, laying down tracks for the likes of Beyonce, Cheri Dennis, and of course, Cassie. But even with these ample successes, his real ambition was to make it as a solo artist, a complicated scholar/businessman/singer/rapper/producer kind of solo artist.

Quick side note: Ryan Leslie will never be a mega star because, well, his last name is Leslie. You might wish our culture didn’t care if an artist’s last name made him sound like a white teenage girl, but this is the music industry. Image matters. You could be the dopest rapper since Biggie, but if your name is Clifford Harris, you might want to change that s**t to T.I. Now I’m not saying he should change his name to RL-Murder, I’m just saying the name’s not doing him any favors.

Speaking of which, it probably wasn’t a great call for him to self-title his debut album, Ryan Leslie. But I don’t want to get carried away with the name thing (more than I already have), especially considering the man’s music is more than strong enough to stand on its own. As you’d expect from someone who owns a media marketing company, Ryan Leslie is a finely polished album that showcases his talent for engaging melodies and layered arrangements, and while his voice isn’t charismatic or powerful enough to carry him to stardom, respect is given where respect is due.

Leslie catapulted into the national consciousness with the surprise hit, Diamond Girl. Making a record that perfectly balances hip-hop’s swagger and R&B’s smoothness isn’t easy, which is why people take notice when Diamond Girl walked that line with precision and skill. It’s a damn good song, but let’s be honest, you remember Diamond Girl primarily because of the production, not Leslie’s voice (more on that later). Leslie works the formula again to pop perfection with Addiction, layering swirling synths over stripped down production to hypnotic effect. Individually I’m not huge Cassie or Fabolous fans, but I’ll be damned if they don’t fit perfectly here. For his part Leslie adopts an almost John Legend-esque singing style, hitting every note with an easy grace before switching to a falsetto for the hook. This is the kind of track that gets you widespread radio play and while “mainstream” is a dirty word in some circles, when if comes to Ryan Leslie it simply means that his music makes a lot of people very happy.

Where Ryan Leslie, the artist and the album, falls short is ironically when it displays the full range of his talents. He’s a damn good producer and musician, but only a decent rapper and an above-average singer, and when you’re competing against the Kanyes and Ne-Yos of the world, good just isn’t good enough. Take Quicksand, an up-tempo jam with a live instrumentation feel that turns the spotlight squarely on Leslie’s vocal abilities. While he hits every note with skill, there’s a long list of singers who could have done the same job. Or on the more hip-hop side, Leslie seizes on You’re Fly as an opportunity to drop a couple custom verses. While the man shouldn’t hesitate to grab a mic, I don’t think anyone’s rushing to get a pad and pen after lines like “I’ve got great taste in women, I’ve had a lot but when it comes to great face you’re winnin.” Now don’t get it twisted and think I’m putting Leslie in “in a box.” What makes this album enjoyable is its diverse sound, but not all boxes were created equal. For example, put me in a writing box and I’m gonna crush it, but put me in a singing box and things will go downhill faster than Oprah’s waistline. The simple truth is that when Leslie’s in his pop/R&B producer mode, like on How It Was Supposed To Be, he’s a hit machine. When he steps too far out that box, like on the piano ballad I-R-I-N-A, he’s suddenly unremarkable. And if that sounds complicated, that’s because Ryan Leslie is complicated. All talented people are.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted February 3, 2009
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