Sunday, July 13, 2008

Exclusive Interview With Singer, Songwriter, Producer RYAN LESLIE

Ryan Leslie is the new breed of entertainer. He has delivered hits for everyone from Beyonce to New Edition and he took the world by storm with his production on the #1 hit single "Me & U" by Cassie, the first artist released from his entertainment lifestyle platform, Next Selection. He is an established producer and a successful record executive, but now he is stepping into new territory, as a recording artist in his own right. With the fast approaching September 16th release of his self-titled debut, Ryan took the time to sit down with the Ant & Mike Show to talk about his take on his music, his peers, and what he is looking for in a "Diamond Girl." Read this in-depth interview and be sure to comment!

Mike: Where are you at today?
Ryan Leslie: Just got back into New York City from Milan.

Mike: Wow – What were you doing in Milan?
Ryan: I was out there for Men’s Fashion Week.

Mike: Cool. Cool. Well, first off, wanted to start out by letting you know that the Ant & Mike Show Blog is a social commentary. We are two young black males who just wanted to have our voices out there, and speak since we aren’t heard from that often. So, hopefully our readers will come away from today feeling that they know you better too.
Ryan: Certainly.

Ant: Everybody knows your story. You got a 1600 on the SAT, graduated from Harvard. Talk about your parents' reaction when you said you were going to pursue music?
Ryan: My parents initially… were extremely encouraging, always. They were the ones who encouraged me to start my academic career as early as I did. You know their initial reaction was one of concern because of the personal and financial risk associated with making the decision to pursue a career in an industry as volatile as the music and entertainment industry. I believe that initially in order to protect me from some of those risks, they initially advised against, not my pursuit of music in general – because I had grown up in a music family, but just against the idea of depending on an industry or depending on my talent, and depending on my desire, discipline and drive to provide me with a decent living as a musician.

Mike: What’s your take on formal education? Do you feel like you needed to go to college to have the experience you are having now?
Ryan: I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything in the world. I encourage anyone to not only take advantage of the opportunity, but to vehemently pursue the opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning. The reason is twofold - number one is the network and social relationships that you are able to forge at those institutions. I can name quite a few of my colleagues and peers who graduated from Harvard with me that now serve as invaluable resources in the various industries that they have gone on to be successful. The second reason that I believe a formal education is important is that a rigorous academic environment trains your mind to be a problem solver and creatively look at ways to overcome challenges and obstacles in your career path. For me it was an entrepreneurial pathway that is changing drastically and the climate changes and the ways that music is monetized and the ways that people are exposed to and consume music is changing. It was my responsibility to find ways to take advantage of the advances in technology and media to present my music, my artistry, and my entrepreneurial vision to the world. Cassie, I believe, was a great example of this. To bring it back to your question, those problem solving instincts were honed, natured and developed thanks to the fact that I was able to subject myself to a rigorous academic environment, like the one I was privileged to have at Harvard.

Ant: With everything not taking off immediately after college and you having to move back home with your parents temporarily, what kept you from not giving up when everything wasn't coming together, musically?
Ryan: Really, what kept me motivated was the belief that the product I was putting together was definitely sellable and that I could earn a living from it. That motivation combined with the belief of my father and other folks that have been on my team since day one. That encouragement, coupled with my own belief, was the foundation of my motivation.

Ant: Describe the new project. What does it sound like? What we can expect to hear in the material?
Ryan: To do an album and this album is a personal testimony of all the human experiences I have had to date. To do an album, when it’s personal, requires you to do some living. It requires that you do some soul searching. Requires that you experience some things. I forwarded a lot of my experience in the lyrics and music of this album and I am talking about a lot of different concepts. Whether it is the idea of falling for a girl who is coveted or whether it is losing love, falling in love, new love, all the things that make the world go round when you are not buried in your work. It is an interesting paradigm, because my work is my love and my love is my work, but I have taken the time to forge some meaningful relationships and I have invested too much time in my career and lost some meaningful relationships, so all of those concepts are touched on and I wrote songs about on this project.

Mike: Are there any songs from your original album on this new project?
Ryan: Yeah, I want the album to be a complete thought so where those records that I feel are appropriate in the sequence, will appear on this album.

Mike: What was the inspiration for the Diamond Girl video? It had a really different look visually.
Ryan: Well, I actually shot two videos for DG. One was a long-form video, which is a short form movie, an 11 minute short film that I shot initially. It has an entirely different concept. In it I play myself, as a producer who is recruited into the service of military intelligence to retrieve a diamond from a Russian superstar. It was an ambitious undertaking and I will be releasing it in the coming weeks online. But for the music video, which you have seen - that was inspired by a performance that I saw by James Brown on the Ed Sullivan Show in the '60s. I wanted to reintroduce that sort of Big Band, Live performance feel. I wanted to perform on a stage like he did. I actually commissioned a production company to rebuild that same stage and I worked with my friend and choreographer, Anthony Rue (?) to put together the movements of the band and myself for this video. Then I went to Connecticut and shot it. I brought it to the label and said this is my vision and let’s work with a director to weave a story around. We got with Chris Robinson and that’s how the video came about.

Ant: If you could do a song with any artist past or present who would be? And why?
Ryan Leslie: James Brown. Just because I believe his performance, his songwriting, his musical sensibility is incredible. Prince, Stevie Wonder - All just amazing musicians and artists. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix. All for the same reason, because I have been inspired by the music and by their recording techniques, because I am a recording engineer as well. I believe that they all have contributed so much. Queen, as well. I would love to learn and soak up their techniques and weave them into the fabric of the music I am creating.

Mike: Speaking of Prince, one of our loyal blog readers, Sabrina, made a comment on one of our posts about you in which she said, “Is Leslie the ‘Artist formerly known as Prince’ 2008?” How does it make you feel to hear a supporter compare you to an artist that you admire so much?
Ryan: I would just say that I appreciate it, I definitely appreciate it. I appreciate it and knowing full well in terms of the way that I look at Prince, and the way that I appreciate his music ability and talents. I feel like he is light years ahead of where I currently am [musically]. It is encouraging and it lets me know that is the level that I can aspire to musically. But in the mean time, it is definitely rewarding that people are responding to what I am doing. I think that is encouraging to everyone who wants to pursue music, because it let's them know that if you put out your best and put your heart into it, people will respond.

Ant: Who would you like to work with in the music industry that is out currently?
Ryan: Out Currently? I feel like I have had the privilege to work with a lot of the artists I have always wanted to. Whether it was Usher or Beyonce. I would like to work with Chris Brown ‘cus I think he is dope.

Mike: What is coming up for the Next Selection brand? Is there anything in the pipeline besides Cassie's new record?
Ryan: Definitely. We have a new site that we are building. It will be a content aggregator of some of the most influential and talented content creators online. We have albums coming form Uness, Nia Rose, Cassie new album is coming, also Chris Ivory. Definitely a lot of fun projects on the horizon, as well as few film projects in the pipeline.

Mike: What drew you to Cassie? What made you select her as the artist to launch your record label?
Ryan: I would say this; Next Selection was launched and continues to be representation by the artistry of myself. I saw Cassie as a vessel, as an accessible, magnetic, and charismatic vessel, to drive people to the music I was creating. Our first studio session showed that the chemistry that we had was magical. The response to those records online showed that the music we were making, with her as a vessel performing that music, was viral, impactful and influential. There were legions of people responding to this music and for me, I respond to the response of people. The way they responded to Cassie, it was clear that was a project I need to pursue and that was exactly what I did.

Ant: How will the new Cassie project differ from the first album?
Ryan: The first project was really her absorbing, from a musical standpoint, what was my influence. On this record she has taken it upon herself to grow as an artist. She worked with a lot of producers. The names of which reads like a “Who’s Who” of the music industry – Eric Hudson, Kanye West, Swizz Beats, Chauncey & LV, Bryan Michael Cox, 7 Aurilus, Jim Jonsin, Rodney Jerkins. So, she definitely has spread her wings as an artist. You will expect to hear a lot more from her as an artist. The first album was really all me. So this one is her. She played a huge role in the selection of songs and a huge role in the execution of this album. So it will be interesting to see how people respond.

Mike: What's an off day like for you?
Ryan: There are no off days. If there is something that people should know, if you are pursuing a career that is as engaging and demanding as the one I have chosen to pursue there really are no off days. So everyday, me and my staff are on board and we’re working and doing this.

Mike: What is your favorite restaurant?
Ryan: my favorite restaurant? I would say I frequent a restaurant called Perlay (?), which is on the Upper East Side. My good friend Enrico owns it, Perlay Italian – It means “For Her”. I’ve had a few nice dinners there.

Mike: What kind of car do you drive?
Ryan: I actually have two Mercedes Benz G Class Trucks, and a 1967 Classic Dodge Charger.

Ant: You are a real fashionable guy. Who is your favorite designer?
Ryan: I like a lot of designers but a lot of my fashion is personal. All of my suits are made in Naples, by my own design. Including, all my denim and jeans - [they] are made personal for me by my tailor in Boston. If you were to gauge a favorite designer by the one I wear the most, I would say myself.

Ant: What was the first major purchase you made?
Ryan: What would you consider a big purchase?

Ant: [laughs] A Car, Condo, A House.
Ryan: I got my Mom a car. I bought my Mom a Mercedes Benz.

Mike: We loved the "Mother" video that you posted to Youtube man. We sent it to our Moms!
Ryan: [Laughs] Yea man, I love my moms. I was in New York City for Mother’s Day. I wasn’t able to get home, so I thought I could send her that. The reason I made it public was so that I wanted her to see people's response to it. That proved to be just as much a gift as the song itself.

Ant: You have a lot of female fans. I am sure they want to know; does Ryan Leslie have a “Diamond Girl”?
Ryan: I am trying to actually avoid that. A lot of the heartbreaks that has resulted from my pursuit of Diamond Girl conflicting with the pursuit of my career is embodied on the album. Having a DG is diametrically opposed to pursuing a career the way that I pursue it. This is an open call to any young, fashionable, smart, energetic, charismatic, and understanding young lady who believes that they would be able to tolerate a relationship with me.

Mike: What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
Ryan: Honestly, this is the only business I have ever dreamed about being in. I went into college pre-med, but I could only do that which I am passionate about. That’s why when I took that break and went home, and came right back [to this]. I really wouldn’t be doing anything else other than what I am doing.

Ant: How do you plan to combat the changing state of sales in the music industry?
Ryan: CD sales may be declining, but the consumption of music is more widespread than ever. There are various other ancillary income streams when you are creating good music, ticket sales being one of those. The artists that are able to get on the road and present their art live; those are the ones who have sustainable careers. I have created a blueprint in my artist career, so I can be one of those acts.

Mike: Speaking of touring, do you have any tour plans for this summer?
Ryan: I am headed to Europe in two weeks to do a run of dates. I will also be stopping in Dubai. We are also working with CAA to develop a tour for the States in the fall.

Mike: When is your album coming out? Is there anything you want to say to your fans?
Ryan: My album is coming out September 16th. I would really just like to say Thank You to my fans. Their encouragement and support is the reason why I am as driven and dedicated to my career as I have been and I will continue to be.

Ant: Ryan, We want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. The next time you are in Atlanta, hit us up and we will show you the city and introduce you to some "Diamond Girls"!
Ryan: That’s what it is. We will make it happen.

Mike & Ant: Thanks for your time. Have a good day.
Ryan: God Bless.

Ryan's new single "Addiction" featuring Cassie is available now on iTunes. Check Ryan out at and let him know you read the interview at The Ant & Mike Show!


  1. Mike & Ant,
    Thank you both for the Ryan Leslie interview! I am thrilled you two made it happened!!!!!!
    You asked questions about topics that I was curious to know about. Reading this was like eating my favorite dish!! lol...

  2. Ah man... you stole all my questions! LOL
    I'll do an interview with Ryan next saturday here in Germany. I guess I won't understand shit... I understand english, but he uses vocabulary I've never heard of^^

  3. Yay guys. Congrats on the interview :o)