Ryan Leslie is a key pioneer in the music-media movement. By harnessing and utilizing the power of the Internet, over the past few years, he has become one of the entertainment industry’s in-demand music producers. To date, his production credits include songs for pop stars—from Beyoncé to Britney Spears—and rappers—from Fabolous to LL Cool J.
Ryan Leslie’s claim to fame came in 2006, however, when he wrote and produced Cassie’s platinum single, Me & U, which topped Billboard’s Pop 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. As soon as Leslie became an established producer, he released his debut album, on the strength of three singles: “Diamond Girl,” “Addiction” and “How It Was Supposed to Be.”
Upon the release of his sophomore effort, Transition, Ryan Leslie managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry—reflecting on Stevie Wonder, “To the Top,” and the symbolism behind the NextSelection crest.
In almost every interview that I have come across, you pay your respects to your parents, who undoubtedly helped shape you into the man that you are today. It is unclear, however, how they shaped your early musical passions.
Well, my mother is a classically trained pianist. My father is a multi-instrumentalist. His instrument of choice would be trumpet. I grew up listening to their musical influences, great piano composers like Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Beethoven, Bach — and those composers are actually the pieces that I used to teach myself how to play piano. I grew up in a musical household and I was surround by music at all times. So I had no choice.
A feature in New York Magazine said that a friend introduced you to Stevie Wonder during your freshman year at Harvard. Which album introduced to the “wonder” of Stevie, and what elements from his career did you wish to translate to your own?
The album was Songs in the Key of Life. And it had “Love's in Need of Love Today” – which was a record a black student covered and that's why I actually got interested in Stevie Wonder. I was running around singing and lauding Teddy Riley for being a genius. [Blackstreet covered the song on their 1994 debut.] Someone said, “Look, that's actually a Stevie Wonder song.” In terms of Stevie's career, what’s really inspired me is that he is the creative director. He's in control creatively of the music that he wants to expose to the world. And so the fact that he was singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist — those are the elements that make Stevie an icon, in my opinion.