Transitioning from in-house Bad Boy beatsmith to solo artist, Ryan Leslie earned a cult following with his super melodic dual efforts, 2009's Ryan Leslie and Transition. Surprisingly, though, he wasn't completely happy with them. Besides collaborating recently with other producer heavyweights, he's begun laying the foundation for a third less love-focused disc. VIBE chats with the Harvard alum about his new creative direction and the work he's been putting in. —Clover Hope
VIBE: You’ve been in the studio with Kanye West, Swizz Beatz and Lloyd Banks recently. Where are you at with your solo material?
Ryan Leslie: My solo album is called Les Is More. I premiered one record called “The Glory” at my Bowery [Ballroom] show [in New York] this summer. I have such a specific message that I want to get across musically and lyrically, so I’ve been doing a lot of more writing from the piano in terms of the chords structure, and I’ve also been searching for the right sound. And that’s why I started doing a lot more collaborations, just to sort of play my ideas for Kanye or Swizz or whoever else I’m in the studio with. Just to get some feedback from people I really, really respect, because this project is really special for me. I walked away from a fourth album at Universal [Motown]. Even though they offered to do it, I walked away from it because I really believe that we’re in a crazy, amazing, exciting place as artists, especially artists that create all their own music and visual media, you know? I have some respect as a producer, but I've really started gaining the respect as a collaborator, as a voice on a track or as an artist that’s actually contributing something to the record.
What’s the message you’ve been working on?
Well, my last two albums were very, very focused on relationships. And I think you can listen to my verse on Kanye’s record ["Christian Dior Denim Flow"] or you could listen to—if you were at the Bowery shows—you hear what I’m talking about on “The Glory” or you listen to my voice on a record that I originally had done for Rick Ross. I actually still haven’t spoken to Rick about why we didn’t put that record on his album, but I’m gonna finish the record and I have something to say on that one. The record is called “Maybachs And Diamonds.” I did it at the Bowery with Cory Gunz. I think the final version with Pusha T and Cory. But I just wanna talk a little bit more about, instead of just love and being in love and falling out of love, the human experience that I've observed living in New York City and dealing with the type of girls that I like to deal with, which are really beautiful and may or may not have the same sets of issues that everyone else has because they’re models.
I'm just really being a lot more introspective. Is it really important to date a beautiful girl? What are the drawbacks of it? What is it that you miss? What is it that you should look for? Why is a really beautiful girl so powerful? If we could actually reintroduce people to inner beauty, would the exterior of a really beautiful woman be less powerful? Or do those really beautiful women really understand their power? Why are they so insecure if they’re so powerful? You know what I mean? So, I really just wanna deal with a lot more human issues on this record and I think that’s really why I moved to not just being so melodic and lyrical because some of the stuff I wanna talk about is not really poetic. I mean, it’s poetic, in terms if I’m rapping about it, but it’s not as poetic if I wanna put it into the format of a Stevie Wonder melody or something.
So are you a recovering modelizer?
No, I’m not a recovering modelizer. I mean, I’ve been in a very happy relationship with a Vogue cover girl.
But you’ve learned a lot of lessons from dating them?