One would be hard pressed to find an individual more naturally gifted and hard working than Ryan Leslie. After graduating Harvard at the age of 19 with a degree in Political Science and Macroeconomics, Leslie opted to focus his attention on his true passion: music. After working on various projects under Diddy in the early 2000s, Leslie used the internet (specifically YouTube and Myspace) as a vehicle to showcase his musical talent and wit. Leslie’s initial success can be attributed greatly to the emergence of social media and the exponentially growing digital age. To this day, Leslie still often posts videos to his Youtube page ranging from self-made music videos to behind-the-scenes production sessions in the studio to even videos about his business ventures. This gives his fans a true in-depth look at the life of Ryan Leslie along with every facet of the production process, which is something that most musicians do not offer for their fans. In one video included on his page, Leslie composes the track “Addiction” from scratch, playing every instrument in the song individually and then bringing it all together in the end. In more recent years, Leslie has attempted to break through on the hip hop scene, indicated by his abrupt departure from Universal in 2010, where he had marginal success as an R&B artist. The decision to become independent may have been the first of multiple missteps in Leslie’s career, which have all served as a detriment to his growth as a musician.
Leslie has yet to really make a splash on the mainstream hip-hop/R&B scene. Perhaps his most notable production work is either “You Be Killin’ Em” by Fabolous or the classic club anthem “Me and U” by Cassie. Hip hop fans may have been exposed to him through his verse via Kanye’s “Christian Dior Denim Flow”, where he held his own amongst big name artists such as Kanye West, Pusha T, Kid Cudi, John Legend, and Lloyd Banks. Other than those projects, Leslie’s presence in the hip hop industry has been very minimal to this point. One could point to a couple of factors why he has yet to achieve relevance in the industry. First, his display of lyrical ability most times leaves the listener with a lot to be desired. Much of his lyrics are marred with cliches, including the dropping of designer names, self-awareness of personal wealth, objectifying /degrading women, and the use of hashtag rapping. In other words, Leslie has yet to differentiate himself lyrically from other artists. Perhaps Fabolous and Lloyd Banks are bad influences. The other factor holding him back from relevance is his enormous ego. In an industry characterized by masculine, egoistic individuals, Leslie is second to none in self-confidence. This is evident by the name of his most recent album, Black Mozart. What made his ego more evident was his decision making in distributing the album. The album can only be purchased through his website with absolutely no intermediaries, including iTunes and Spotify. Leslie forgets that sometimes the middle man is the most vital part of communication with the user. Not too many hip hop artists could get away with exclusively relying on users to purchase directly from their website, let alone Leslie. This shows that Leslie would perhaps benefit from more structure and resources provided by that of a record label.
Maybe Leslie is satisfied with his niche within the music industry. Perhaps he perceives his success to be greater than it is in reality. Leslie’s efforts to make it as a rapper further prove that rapping is an innate ability, regardless of how gifted one is artistically. At the end of the day, it is nice to have a Harvard degree in your back pocket. Leslie should feel free to venture into different industries and projects as he pleases. With that said, his raw musical talent indicates that he has the potential to be much better as an artist. His vast knowledge of various instruments (specifically the piano) shows that he is capable of creating a much greater all-around sound. When Leslie figures out what he truly wants to do musically, expect to hear his name a lot more.
The opinions and views expressed here are the opinions of the designated author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or views of any of the individual members of Dead End Hip Hop.