Over 30 million youtube views, industry buzz out the ears, critically acclaimed albums, and never had a top ten record. Despite never having the outward success, I still debated whether or not I should classify this artist as truly “unsung.” So I actually started bringing up musician names around my friends at various levels of fame and it all became very clear. There’s a definite difference between success and true stardom. I realize that you’re never really forgotten if you reach that star status. I believe all of the artists in this series deserve to reach that star status. I mean If my friends still know who “Ginuwine” is, there is no way they shouldn’t know who Ryan Leslie is.
Ryan Leslie was a Harvard graduate at 19. I feel like that really says it all about him. The guy is a genius but at the same time a hard worker. The guys turned a measly production internship into a management deal contract under Sean “you know what his name is” Combs. Long story short, through sheer hard work and years of making beat for your favorite artists, Leslie inked a deal with Universal Motown. It seemed like things were looking up for Leslie, but you know how it is in the industry.
Now it’s really hard for me to say I feel sorry for a world touring, Harvard grad, who dates models, and get to record with every Rap and R&B artist you can think of, but I truly do feel bad for Ryan Leslie. This guy works hard to come up with legitimate material which is one of the hardest thing you can do when it comes to R&B. Ryan Leslie stands out among the rest simply because he does it all. Songwriting, production, playing all of his own instruments, the guy is pretty much the R&B Kanye West minus the <insert joke here>. The guy is a genius in multiple ways including self promotion. Remember that whole “over 30 million youtube views” thing? Well over the years Ryan made stylized videos of the production of a number of his songs. Millions watched as this young guy took the soul crushingly frustrating process of music production and made it fun to witness. Every video showed a heavily streamlined and thoroughly entertaining story headlined expertly by Leslie in pure “tortured artist” mode. I know sounds like I’m exaggerating, but check this video out tell me I’m wrong.
Leslie was making serious waves all the way up to the point when his self titled debut released in 2009. This album was well received by critics but suffered in sales, because well, to me Leslie’s sound, by itself, takes a minute to get into, and that’s one minute too long for the viewing public. A new sound without a familiar face behind it will typically go unnoticed which was why Leslie’s production videos were so successful in the first place. The act of showing the production process also got people to sit and digest his music while at the same time getting comfortable with Leslie as an artist. Unfortunately, the official videos for the singles on Leslie’s debut did the exact opposite.
For example, The official video for my favorite track from Ryan Leslie, “Addiction” plays him up as this musical superstar that a lonely (but gorgeous) fan is obsessed with to the point of stalking him and poisoning his supermodel girlfriend. Now I get it, I really do, the whole bravado thing is important because you’re building an image. But imagine if you will, that you’re sitting at home and a music video comes on where the singer in it is acting like he’s the man and you better ask about him if you don’t know already. Now be honest, the first thing you’re gonna do is stare at him for a good thirty seconds, realize you’ve never heard of him until now, and ask yourself one thing:
And then you’d changed the channel. Now I’m not saying that’s what happened but, okay, yeah, I’m saying that’s probably what happened.
Now I understand why Leslie took this route. Ryan Leslie was, before his debut, and will most likely for the rest of his life, be a self made success. In the music industry the guy is highly regarded for his production so you can’t blame the guy for coming out guns blazing figuring the industry buzz along with the youtube views would speak for itself even though it didn’t. You see, people don’t take kindly to new artists acting like they run things from the beginning. If you go back to any artist’s first videos and they almost never stray from any imagery other than “fun parties and happy times.” Not to mention, playing the superstar angle doesn’t really highlight Leslie selling point which is that he is the “complete artist” but you know what did? The youtube version of “Addiction.”
I dare you to watch this video and tell me this song isn’t amazing.
In my opinion, if Leslie had released these videos as the “official videos” and had them marketed as such, he would have had his true exposure to the public and a real chance at making that mark on the industry with his debut. Leslie’s second album Transition was released nine months after the release of his debut. Though to be fair, may of the track on his debut were released years before the full release which is a whole other bit of mess. Transition is a beloved record of mine both for the music and the story behind it. The whole album tells the story of a women Leslie had a summer relationship with that year. There’s a very personal edge to it that as someone who’s had such relationships, I can relate to and just vibe with. Unfortunately, a deeply personal sophomore effort won’t do much for bringing in new fans.
These days, Leslie is working on his third album Les Is More. At the end of the day, the guy is big time off of sheer talent alone, and with a net worth reportedly valued over 35 million, is in no way hurting for money, but with the passion he has and the substance he brings to a currently very diluted genre, he deserves the top spot. In my honest opinion though, it’s only a matter of time before he gets it that glory.