This week, I had a chat with Ryan Leslie— we talked about his new independent status, rap album and latest single "Joan of Arc". I for one am beyond excited for more R. Les but that's because I personally find myself clapping my hands like the pastor just testified whenever I hear his wild break downs and magical tinkering on the piano and gazillion other sounds he adds to his beats. I also needed to know about the rumored supergroup between him, Ne-Yo and Fabolous that made me jump out of my chair with excitement. The new album Les is More drops on July 4th in honor of his new independence. Check the interview below!
Why did you decide to go independent?
I came to the decision based on the fact that the label couldn’t afford to keep me on the roster anymore. I had an initial deal where there was a minimal amount they had to guarantee me for this last album and when I went to sit down with them, they weren’t in the financial position based on my prior sales to commit to that minimum amount. Since I had a minimum amount in my own bank account I said, "Can we part ways amicably?" That’s what we decided to do. I’ve always been a self-directed, self-motivated, self-executing artist. I don’t recommend it for everyone [but] it’s extremely liberating creatively. I wouldn’t have it any other way.)
How do you think that changes the music?
For one, my new album is a rap album. I have staff members of mine that think I’m throwing away years of developing an R&B brand into the toilet but that’s what I want to do. I can do exactly what I want to do. I have things that I want to express, It’s amazing the ability to be this artistically liberated, to take whatever risks I want to take. To rap, sing, play instruments. If I wanted to I could put an instrumental track on my album and not worry about whether it sells.
Rapping isn’t totally something new for you, right?
If you look at “Diamond Girl” which was my first single officially, I had a 15-bar rap verse on it, my own feature. I featured myself. It’s something I’ve been doing. If you look at the Ryan Leslie album, “Baby You’re Fly” opens with a rap, “Diamond Girl” got a rap on it, I did an “I-R-I-N-A” remix with two eight-bar rap verses. On the second album, “Zodiac” got a 16 on it, “Something That I Like” featuring Pusha T got two 16s on it. More recently Christian Dior Denim Flow is me, Kanye, Pusha T, [Lloyd] Banks, Cudi all rapping... If I say I’m going to do a rap album, best believe I’m making sure I’m getting it co-signed. I play my records for Kanye West or I play my records for 50 Cent when I go to the G-Unit offices. Line-for-line they give me feedback and let me know that I can get a pass for what I’m talking about.
There were rumors about a supergroup with Ne-Yo and Fabolous. Is it still happening? Was it ever happening?
We have a great chemistry. I just did a week in the studio with Ne-Yo for his new album that’s coming out in September. While we were doing that, in the span of a week I did four records with Ne-Yo, I did a You Be Killin’ ‘Em remix with me, Ne-Yo and Fab and I also wrote and produced and recorded the “Joan of Arc” record. I decided the day I did it that I wanted to release it. As far as the supergroup, the chemistry is awesome in the studio between the three of us. I think that it’s all about timing. We all have our own careers and obligations and when we get a body of work that is representative of what all of us can bring to the table I am sure that we will have no problem between our audiences releasing it and getting feedback on whether they enjoy it.
You and Fabolous bring the best out of each other. Is that a specific chemistry with him or do you generally have that with other rappers?
I think it just comes down to beat selection. I make a lot of different music and a lot of different tempos and feels and he just happens to pick the joints that he responds to. I think he responds to the things he’s going to shine on and I think that’s a testament to him as an artist; the ability to listen to the musical palette that I present and to select the music that brings out the best in him. I don’t sit there and say “yo, you should rap on this.”
Your bridges and breakdowns have a lot of passion to them and a lot of playfulness. When you’re making beats, are you more of an improviser?
I think your instincts are right. I want to have fun with music and I want that fun to be captured on record. How do I expect to do that if I’m taking a methodical and soulless approach to creating it? It’s really extemporaneous and it’s whatever feels good. That’s why I like having boards around. I’m extremely tactile, I like to push buttons and see what different sounds emerge from whatever buttons I press. If it sounds good it’s going on the record.
Is there anything melodically, instrumentally from the older music that you feel like your fans should expect to still hear?
Everything that anyone has ever appreciated from me is what I do. That’s the essence of what I do: Making music that moves me. The music that moves me is very specific, it’s like chord progressions, it’s lush synthesizers, it’s beats that’s going to knock in the club and really get your car shaking, it’s a mood, it’s a tempo. You’re not going to find me doing some super-fast electronic dance music. Even if I appreciate it, that’s not my specific brand of music. I may collaborate with someone who is doing 120bpm four-to-the-floor, and I might lend a hook to a French dance artist that’s doing that but for my album it’s about that emotion, that passion. That’s not going anywhere.
With your previous albums you did a lot of videos of you in the studio working. Are you going to keep documenting your process for this album?
The main issue that I’ve had with that is the distribution of that content is limited. With a music video I can get a lot more exposure because there are more outlets to play it. We just did a video for a record on my album called “Glory” [with my longtime video collaborator Evan Rogers] and I’m proud to say we independently submitted it to MTV and MTV Jams has given a green light that they’re going to pick it up. The studio clips? Yes they’re awesome and yes, we’ve garnered millions of view on them but for where I want to go with my career right now, I need my content to be as easily distributed across as many different channels as possible and the music video format is the best media format for that.
Do you think you will go back to R&B eventually?
I never really categorized myself as R&B. I understand that people want to put categories on music so they can organize it better in their iTunes library, but I’m going to just do music that I feel. I’ll let folks put the categories on it so people can organize it. That R&B is all Les. That’s why the album is called Les Is More. “Oh he can only just sing.” Or, “Oh, he can only produce.” This album is very about the visuals. I have a very clear, succinct creative vision visually that I feel I definitely haven’t expressed in my videos to date. It’s going to happen from the very first video “Glory”. People are going to be like, “Ohhh, we didn’t know it was like this.”
Download: Ryan Leslie, "Joan of Arc"