Ryan Leslie Talks ‘MZRT’ Album, Giving His Phone Number Out to the World & Bobby Valentino’s Hustler Spirit [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
R&B crooner Ryan Leslie is full of ideas that go beyond the typical haphazard stylings of creatives. The Harvard alum is meticulous about what he's planning every time he's in the public eye. Recently, the Stockton, Ca. native made a stop in Atlanta for the Tanqueray Trunk Show, which featured a few other innovative thinkers from Strivers Row's Jason Geter to Kith NYC's Ronnie Fieg. After a brief panel discussion that touched on the idea of influence and style, there was no better musician to pick up on the conversation than Ryan Leslie and his live band.
As an influencer, Leslie most recently created a sort of portal called Future Music Business Scholars for up-and-coming artists and industry hopefuls in need of advice. "Anyone who really wants to get in touch with me can reach me directly," he explains. "My personal phone number and email are public and displayed on my Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube."
Leslie says the questions that he's heard over the years tend to be the same queries, so now that he has over 30,000 contacts in his personal phonebook, he's putting in work, trying to help others understand industry logistics.
“Artists out here lost, man," he starts, quoting the lyrics from "Never Break Down," a song from his upcoming MZRT album.
"Looking for advances / Come sit at my roundtable / I got all the answers / Teach you how to hustle, boi / Put you in the trenches / Don’t you see this money from these labels too expensive? / Take they money then they put you on the f------’ shelf / You’d be better off to do that s--- your f-----’ self / One to one homie - move that music hand to hand / 18 months, I was looking at 400 hunnid grand...,” he delivers on the track.
Beyond being responsible for his own career while signed to a major label and now as an independent artist, the "Black Mozart" creator has also had a hand in providing other artists with online marketing strategies. So it only made sense for him to go a little farther in that direction. "I have felt firsthand the challenges of the music industry’s business model declining. While everyone is scrambling, trying to to figure out the new business model, I created my own based on what I was seeing. The new system and principles I’ve developed have allowed me to do more revenue the last year than I’ve ever made on a major."
Watch Ryan Leslie's Black Mozart Documentary
He's talking about his #Renegades music membership club, which only allows members to access his new music, for the same price they would be paying had it been released through a music label. It's an intuitive idea and very necessary in these tumultuous music business times.
Things have certainly changed since 2007 when Leslie released his first smash hit, "Diamond Girl" while on Universal. Major label deals aren't necessarily the goal in 2015. With the advances that social media and technology has made, artists are consistently creating their own lane, promoting their own product and building their own fan base. Even announcing prospective projects.
Just a few days ago, Leslie hinted at a potential collaborative project with Atlanta singer Bobby Valentino on Instagram. "The beauty of being independent is that the time needed to get from idea to execution can be extremely short," Leslie shares. "This means that by the time an update hits my social media, I’m already halfway through materializing the thought."
"Bobby is a hustler," he says. "He showed up at midnight at the studio in Paris after an 18-hour trip from Atlanta and cut a hook for my album in 45 minutes. I told him at that rate we should just do a whole EP and release the record on my platform. I showed him how Talib [Kweli] and Nipsey [Hussle] were killing and he agreed. We’ve already linked up in Atlanta and traded ideas.
"To date, I’ve built great solutions for rap artists and Bobby hustles like a rap artist. He'll do a quick $500,000 on this EP. I just sat with YG in Atlanta too. He understands the power of the direct fan relationship. We'll supercharge his next tour with that knowledge."
It may seem as if the singer has more than enough on his plate to continue with his own solo music career but that isn't the case. In 2013, the singer-songwriter-producer dropped his Black Mozart LP exclusively to a group of members that signed up to join his #Renegades club online.
Although the last two years have been relatively quiet for Leslie on the national platform, he hasn't stopped working. Now, he's finally putting a few last touches on his sixth studio LP MZRT. He reveals that a lot of time was spent across the pond putting the project together, then debuting certain tracks for fans in Paris, London and New York City. "I locked myself in a studio in Holland and recorded the vocal performances for this entire album during a marathon 63-hour recording session in December," he divulges.
Watch Ryan Leslie's 'New New' Video
"I set the mic up in the control room and recorded it myself," he continues. "The same way I did the 'Ryan Leslie' album when I lived in my one bedroom apartment in Harlem. People came and left the studio. I recorded. People slept. I recorded. Now it’s about tweaking and finishing and the most incredible special guests are the fans and supporters who come to the studio to sit in and watch this process."
Over the course of constructing MZRT, slated for release in late March via the #Renegades online club, the singer says that most nights he only slept for two to three hours. "The remaining time is split between investor meetings, responding personally to fans -- I’m currently managing over 15,000 WhatsApp conversations," he offers. "I'm a start-up founder, mentoring new producers though my Black Phoenix Beat Club, finding time for a personal life, recording, mixing and mastering this album. It all bleeds into the music."
Fans and supporters can text or WhatsApp Ryan Leslie at +1-915-600-6978. His next Future Music Business Scholars roundtable is in New York City on March 22.
Watch Ryan Leslie's "From Sofia With Love" Video