Ryan Leslie Delivers ‘Transitions,’ Recommends Polyphasic Sleep for Success
Enter Chung King Studios in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood on a busy Tuesday afternoon to find Ryan Leslie completely absorbed in his work, surrounded by music equipment. The writer, producer and singer looks weary but focused as he pulls himself away from his work to chat for a few minutes.
In addition to single-handedly kick-starting the career of Bad Boy artist Cassie through his own music-media company, NextSelection, Leslie can claim production credits for a slew of artists including Mary J. Blige, Fabolous and even Britney Spears.
In between writing and producing for other hit-makers, the man of many talents managed to secure some time to put out his third solo album, ‘Transitions,’ via Universal Records. But, even before today’s release, Leslie is already back to his lengthy “work-list,” which includes conjuring up ideas for his next album.
With so much on his plate, it’s no surprise when his publicist informs us that he barely finds time to eat or sleep.
The BoomBox: If you don’t find time to eat or sleep, how do you manage to stay alive and functioning?
Ryan Leslie: Well, I do eat. And actually, if you look up Dymaxion sleep [more commonly known as polyphasic sleep], it’s the idea that humans only really need two or three hours of sleep. And that can be achieved by taking a nap anytime you feel tired for half an hour. Look it up, link to it, it’s interesting, explore it.
The BoomBox: You were recently featured on BET’s ‘Rising Icons,’ what did you think about your segment when it aired?
I really liked the documentation of my life that went on during the actual day but the time constraints really pulled back a lot. We shot 18 hours that day and they had to condense it into 20 minutes — I realized that it was going to really be condensed. But to even be on that program, you have to just be thankful and grateful, that BET or any TV network is featuring you.
The BoomBox: If you had to edit the 18 hrs down to 20 minutes, would you have done it differently?
Yeah! Ah man, there was so much that went on, really a lot more dialogue than they could afford to put in because it was really supposed to be about the performance. So on RyanLeslie.com I’m going to be putting up some outtakes.
The BoomBox: During the performance there was one insane spinning dance move. What was that?
The BoomBox: Post-Harvard you landed an internship in the music industry that boosted your career. How important are internships in the scope of getting your foot in the door?
I think that if there’s any opportunity to learn, one should take it. You’ve got to think about it, if you went to college – Harvard, at least, cost $120,000 if you want to go – it costs money to learn. So if you can actually learn for free and the only investment is your time, then I think you should do it.
The BoomBox: You’re a self-declared “social media entrepreneur,” and you give lectures at schools like Harvard about the benefits of the Internet. Why is that something you dedicate your time to?
I spend my time doing that because I found that I was frustrated, and that’s the reason why I turned to social media to distribute my content. I speak to young people and to people who may feel like they’re hitting a wall in terms of marketing or distributing their content. It’s just to give them some insight into my blueprint. It’s a blueprint that’s yielded me millions of dollars — not that that should be anyone’s end goal, but it doesn’t hurt.
The BoomBox: What are some of the benefits of social media that you pass on in your lectures?
Social media allows you to have a distribution channel that’s dedicated to whatever message you want to convey to your audience — and it’s a global audience. It’s for little to no money, so it really comes down to a function of what content you want to use to convey that message, how strong that message is and how hard you work to promote that message across different platforms. Our first success story was Cassie. We used Google, we used Myspace and we used a combination of video and music to advertise that she had a product — which was her music and herself — and people responded to it. There have been a lot of great success stories like that one since then, one of the more recent ones being Soulja Boy.
The BoomBox: Without Twitter, Facebook, Google, do you think you would be where you are currently?
I would be where I am right now, but it would’ve just been a lot more expensive to get here. I wasn’t going to be sitting somewhere not getting to where I am right now.
The BoomBox: On your MySpace page, you posted a video clip with a concise message: “You may have no clue who I am or what I do so I put this video together as an introduction.” Is that humility or just you being realistic?
I think that nine out of 10 times most people who claim to be humble are not, so I’d rather that humility be a title that’s conferred on me by someone else. But I definitely know and I’m realistic about what my reach is. I have 117,000 followers on Twitter, but there are 200 million people in the U.S. if not more, so I understand that I have reached a very very small percentage of that audience. And if we want to talk about the billions of people that populate the earth, I realize that someone who randomly came across my Myspace page may not know who I am.
The BoomBox: Did you write, sing and produce on the new album or did you enlist some good help?
I had some help and I also had some help on the self-titled album, which was my second. This will be the third album that I’ve turned into Universal Records and it’s called ‘Transitions.’ Pusha T of the Clipse helps me out on a record called “Something That I Like,” and I brought in some of the players in my band to do some live overdubs. When we started to perform some of the records before the album was done, I realized that I liked how it sounded and I liked how it felt when their talent and the live instruments were infused with the songs I had written, so I had them come in.
The BoomBox: What’s the most noticeable difference on ‘Transitions’ from the previous albums?
This album is really song-driven and the songs are very personal and very specific to the experiences that I had over this summer.
The BoomBox: While you’ve been working on the new album, have you had time to write and produce for other artists?
Of course. I’ve got a new single with Mary J. Blige called “Said and Done,” we’re talking about a Fabolous/Ne-Yo collaboration album that I could produce, I’ve worked with Jazmine Sullivan and I’ve been in the studio with quite a few other artists. There’s a few others that are on my current work list, so I’ll be doing that as well as working on my next album.
The BoomBox: A lot of your songs are about your personal life. How do you separate that from your music career? Is there a thin line or are they one and the same?
I was just talking to a friend of mine who told me there was actually a site that existed where two people were blogging about their relationship everyday. Now, I haven’t taken it to that extreme. Besides a song like “Irina,” where her name is in it, most songs are just about the feelings that you have in an experience and hopefully that experience and therefore the lyrics are relatable because they’re not so specific. Maybe as a social experiment I might change that, but I don’t know if I’ll ever take it to the point where I’m blogging about my relationship. I did once have to deal with a news outlet saying I was engaged and my mother called me and said, “Why didn’t you tell the family!” So I don’t know, that may be crossing the line.