I love most things in the 1990s; with the exception that it was a time when everyone thought they could rap. Singers and artists from Prince to Big Bub to Bobby Brown thought they could rhyme. While Big Bub was somewhat endearing because he didn’t take himself too seriously, Bobby Brown was annoying since his behavior was enough to prove how hard or ignorant he was (depending on your perspective), and one wondered why Prince ever wasted his time trying to rap to begin with. Continuing this fine tradition in the oughts is our man, the multi-talented/multi-instrumentalist/multi-millionaire/multi-faceted Harvard educated, Ryan Leslie.
The results are well —um, well—- I’m sure there is an audience for it. I wanted to listen to Les Is More, Leslie’s latest release, because I do respect and appreciate his songwriting and producing talents even if the results from his previous releases, Ryan Leslie and Transitions, were more mixed than Blake Griffin. Both of those albums had endearing and enjoyable moments with songs such as “I-R-I-N-A,” “Gibberish,” “Is It Real Love?, ”and “Never Gonna Break Up.”
I kept trying to find those moments on Les Is More, but simply could not. The album starts out with Leslie sounding more agitated than angry on “Glory,” which he claims that people tried to “put him in a box,” and he has kids looking at him and saying that he is underrated. These are some of the reasons why he is rapping. I never heard any kids checking for Ryan Leslie, and I have worked with people ranging from the age of 12 to 20 for much of the last four years. He continued by bragging that he has dated and is currently dating a supermodel, which will become a recurring theme on the first two-thirds of the album.
“Beautiful Lie” is a nice hip-pop dance song, which was done better by Ne-Yo as mid-tempo soul track, “Champagne Life,” two years earlier. The looping keys and chorus on “Beautiful Lie” are nice, but the rhymes sink the song faster than you can say Rihanna in Battleship. And the second recurring theme occurs here – one realizes that the backing tracks, production, and hooks sung by Leslie range from pleasant sounding to beautifully soulful. I really wish the album was an instrumental with hooks, or maybe, Leslie could do a “production” hip-hop/soul album where he makes the tracks and then brings in guest rappers to do the rhymes. After all, Leslie brags he is independent and cuts his own check, surely, he could pay other rappers to do guest spots.
Leslie continues with the same topics: partying, talking to women, and sex, on “Good Girl” and “5 Minute Freshen Up,” the latter is quite corny as Leslie is talking about how he can get a girl in 5 minutes and the other dude can’t. (I bet Juicy J can, but now, all of us knows this is partly chance and a bit of game, as some women will like you more than others, even if you’re a broke writer for a website.) But Leslie is a “professional.” He did rhyme “B.A. Baracas” with “maracas,” and “on top of my lawyers, I got a loyal crew.” Clever. Most of the album, Leslie comes off as a less clever version of Drake, whose style is not to really say any substantial, relatable or soulful, but just to talk shit and sound clever. Leslie has skills to make words rhyme, but he just sounds like a less funny version of Drake who is trying too hard.
The best moments on Les Is More are the attempts at bland hip-hop seduction on “Dress You to Undress You” and “Maybachs & Diamonds.” The former is more of the same subject matter, sexy models I can fornicate while globe trotting, but with a slow soulful backing track. The latter has an incredible hook, and Leslie sounds great singing over a bouncy pop-soul track with subtle keys, a track that is reminiscent of a slightly less West Coast version of DJ Quik, and that I would love listening to while driving through Long Beach – minus the rapping. This is how talented Leslie is. “Maybachs & Diamond” is the perfect track which shows off his musical virtuosity but is simultaneously instantly likeable.
“Swiss Francs” has a cool title, and that’s about it. “Ups and Downs,” “Ready Or Not,” and “Lovers & Mountains” continue with Leslie romancing the ladies, as he reminds us on the album, he has a couple of supermodel ex’s. As an MC/rapper, these are the tracks that Leslie sounds the best on, but his voice and the hooks are still fifty times better than his rhymes. The album closes with “The Black Flag,” and “Joan of Arc,” tracks that try to be reflective and convincing, but is neither.
While Les Is More is for the lack of a better word, “less,” than the inconsistent Ryan Leslie and Transitions, I will always continue to check out his material (even if the kids do not), waiting for the time when Leslie puts all of his talent together and create at least three-fourths of an album of soulful songs with pop sensibilities – even if he may never create a classic album. Les Is More is like having sex with a girl because you can. It has a few pleasant moments, but at the end of the day, it is somewhere between horribly lacking authenticity and emotion, and bland and forgettable. And I think Leslie recorded this album because – hell – because he can. On this album, Ryan Leslie is that good looking guy at the bar (and he is) who can say all sort of corny shit and get away with it. His talent and looks are sexy, but on Les Is More, his music is just “nice,” like that guy at the bar or at your office who you wouldn’t sleep with – and you knew it after five minutes, now, someone tell Ryan Leslie to freshen up.