Transition – Ryan Leslie

Ryan Leslie is back after with his second album just nine months after his self-titled debut. Granted, Ryan Leslie was received quite well by critics, but wasn’t exactly a chart-shattering record like something Ne-Yo would have been expected to conjure up.  Just like the first album, Transition is a one-man show in terms of songwriting and production, although I would venture to say that this is only a slight improvement. Listening to the album, you get the feeling that the level of Ryan Leslie’s musicality is higher than what his two albums so far have revealed it to be; other than a few standout tracks like “Addicted” and “You’re Not My Girl” (the lead single), he’s somehow failed to make a splash in the urban scene. Is he just out of sync with what kind of music is hot right now? Or is it because so-called R&B fans are hopping on every auto-tuned song that sounds hot in the club when everyone’s tipsy?

Transition has a couple of playlist-worthy tunes, but most of it is midtempo fare that is so chill and laid-back that it risks sounding just bland. Songs like “Never Gonna Break Up” and “Is It Real Love?” would fall under this category, although oddly enough, the instrumentation on “I Choose You” is so sparse that the song itself is really allowed to shine through – until you realize about a minute into the song that the repetitiveness actually isn’t going anywhere. There are definitely Stevie-Wonder-influenced moments, with breezy synths on songs like “To the Top,” but after the first few minutes into the album, you can see why R-Les can’t find his place in the club – the only exception may be “You’re Not My Girl,” which has a thumping beat that sets it apart from the rest of the album. Other tracks that save the album from downright mediocrity include the island-flavoured “Nothing” and “All My Love,” which has an insanely catchy hook.

If this album is proof of anything, it is that Ryan Leslie has heaps of talent. Unfortunately, he just needs to harness it better and channel it into a larger variety of songs so he can branch out from the laid-back-midtempo-ballad sound. A club-banger or two along with a couple truly soulful slow jams would have definitely raised Transition from a decent/good album to a smash record.


The Problem with Leakage

It seems like no one really has to wait until official release dates anymore to get a listen to new albums. The rule of thumb is: the more popular the artist, the earlier his or her tracks leak, and the faster they spread. Just ask Ciara. While her latest album can’t exactly be considered a flop, it’s definitely no fantasy ride, as pretty much the entire project leaked to the internet weeks and weeks before it was due to be released. You just can’t hit them listeners like you used to – and when it comes to responsibility, again, larger projects means more people being involved and more people being involved means a higher chance of someone letting something slip.

Then again, leaking one track early has the potential to make your entire album – if it’s good enough. Usher’s “Yeah!” (how could we forget?) lit everything on fire when Lil’ Jon, its producer, deliberately let it loose while Usher was prepping “Burn” as the lead single. Fans loved it, critics loved it, and Confessions went Diamond in the US (that’s Platinum status times ten for you people who’ve never heard of it). Brilliant marketing tactic… or just crazy luck?

Off the top of my head, upcoming artists whose albums in danger of pulling a Leona Lewis include: Ryan Leslie (although it’s doubtful because he’s writing and producing everything himself); Rihanna (although it’s unbelievable how tightly under wraps her new project is); Mary J Blige (she is working with quite a few producers); and of course, Usher (can you say high-profile??). While fans who just can’t wait for new music may benefit from all this lack of discretion, admittedly, it’s pretty damaging to the artists themselves. You’ve got artists like Cassie who are leaking songs every day, and although it’s not clear whether or not this is being done deliberately, it’s definitely not helping their careers – from what we’re seeing now, at least.

Rihanna’s new album is by far the most interesting out of the upcoming releases; she may not be the best singer, but everything she touches turns to gold. What I can’t fathom is how no one, apart from her camp, has any information whatsoever about her fourth album. It’s slated to drop in November, but as of right there isn’t even a hint as to what the name may be. Impressive. It’s doubtful that she’ll last all the way to the day of release without at least a song leaking (apart from the lead single), but the building anticipation promises pandemonium – could this be the antithesis to Usher in 2004? Or will a major leakage happen and make this just another warning for artists and producers who want to leak tracks without knowing what they’re doing?

Press Releases

Top 5: Albums to Look Forward To Before 2010

1. The Element of Freedom – Alicia Keys
Projected Release Date: Dec 1/2009
First single: “Doesn’t Mean Anything”

Alicia Keys is back with her fourth studio album, and even though we’ve been wondering “How could she possibly top what she did last time?”, she has always managed to do it. She went all for the Motown and old-school soul on As I Am, her last album, and on this one, she has said that she’ll be experimenting with new sounds as opposed to old – everyone seems to be saying that about his/her album these days. Let’s just hope she doesn’t abandon what makes her stand out from the typical R&B we hear on the radio.

In her own words: “The way that the songs progress [on the album] are gonna take you on a natural high. I just want you to feel a sense of freedom, I want you to feel out-of-the-box, feel inspired… you’re going to hear things that you probably didn’t think that I would sound like. It’s a journey.” – interview on 106 & Park

2. Raymond vs. Raymond (previously Monster) – Usher
Projected Release Date: Dec 8/2009
First single: “Papers”

After the absolute flop (well, by Usher’s standards, at least) that was Here I Stand, Usher is picking himself up and releasing another album. Amidst rumours and speculation that he had “gone soft” with his marriage to ex-wife Tameka Foster, the title of the first single, “Papers,” is definitely up for interpretation. Now in his thirties, Usher has to prove that he still has what made Confessions the massive commercial and critical hit that it was; two failures in a row would put him firmly in the “Up-for-retirement” class.

In his own words: “Racy, risky, and edgy” – interview with People magazine

3. Transition – Ryan Leslie
Projected Release Date: Nov 3/2009
First single: “You’re Not My Girl”

The strange thing about Ryan Leslie is that his career never really took off, despite lots of solid production work for artists like Cassie, New Edition, and Britney. He has earned the respect of many artists within the industry for his unique musical style, but his fame on the charts (and in the gossip columns) has been surprisingly limited. For a man who graduated from Harvard when he was 19, Ryan Leslie could be doing a lot of other things with his life right now, but his dedication to music is impressive, to say the least – he wrote and produced his entire debut album, which is almost unheard of in the music scene today. Transition is receiving the same treatment, but as of right now the odds of it being either a Confessions or a floptastic Here I Stand are pretty even.

In his own words: “I don’t really get into the idea of making excuses or giving explanations for why I’m not massively exposed… we’re at an age now where if people really want to expose something… they’ll expose it.” – interview with PinBoard

4. D.N.A. – Mario
Projected Release Date: Oct 12/2009
First single: “Break Up”

Sporting a new shaved head, Mario is back with D.N.A., an album that was supposed to be released ages ago, but kept getting pushed back. It’s hard to believe that this is his fourth album (he’s only 23), but Mario’s talent can’t be denied. He’s like a younger, more contemporary-R&B-sounding male version of Alicia Keys. He has all the producers that the hip-hop and R&B singers in the game want on their albums too, and seeing as this is Mario we’re talking about and add to that the fact that he’s been working on this album for so long, this will probably keep R&B afloat until the end of the year when all the other artists drop their albums.

In his own words: “… you’ve got the Trey Songzs, the Ne-Yos , and you’ve got the Chris Browns of the world—you’ve got all these new artists. This is my fourth album, and some of them aren’t even on their third [album]—I’m coming back with something fresh and new.” – interview with

5. Echo – Leona Lewis
Projected Release Date: Nov 11/2009
First single: “Happy”

Is there a more anticipated album this year? Well, there probably is, but this one is up there with the rest of them. Spirit was the hit album that every American Idol winner after Kelly Clarkson desperately tried to attain unsuccessfully (with the exception of perhaps Carrie Underwood), and Simon Cowell is not letting go of the reins on this one, having once again chosen the producers for every song. If the first single is any indication though, she seems to be following the formula for her debut a little too closely – “Happy” sounds dangerously similar to, well, every single on Spirit that featured piano instrumentals. Leona Lewis might be toeing the line with this one.

In her own words: “I’ve taken more control this time and I feel more at ease with everything.” (Don’t make me wish that you pushed yourself more, Leona.)

Fabolous Keri Hilson Videos

Ryan Leslie, Fabolous, & Keri Hilson Studio Session video

Ryan Leslie, Fabolous, & Keri Hilson Studio Session video

Video rundown via Ryan Leslie’s official website.

“Fabolous has always looked out. When my very first official single “Used 2 Be” was released, he lent his talent to a then unknown artist looking for a break. More recently, he featured on “Addiction” and showed up for both videos. When I heard his album was almost finished, I made it a priority to get him into the studio so that I could reciprocate his good will”

“I picked up the talkbox the night before my SOB’s concerts. I’m still learning how to get the sound I want from it, so I’m always practicing with it in sessions. The riff I’m playing was just for fun and is only recorded in the video footage. Keri Hilson happened to be in an adjacent room and stopped in to hear what I was working on. Glad she was inspired to touch the record. Her talent is clearly evident. Shout out to Funk Flex, DJ Clue, Duro and Lenny S for appearing in this post and continuing to support me & NextSelection.”

Fabolous Videos

Ryan Leslie- Addiction video featuring Cassie and Fabolous from his debut album, Ryan Leslie

Ryan Leslie- Addiction video featuring Cassie and Fabolous from his debut album, Ryan Leslie