Album Preview: Ryan Leslie – ‘Transition’

It’s no secret that Ryan Leslie’s a great catch. A Harvard graduate, singer, songwriter, composer, and sometimes rapper, he’s quite mature, poised, articulate, and not to mention, a sharp dresser. So why does he spend his entire sophomore album trying to “make it official” with a certain someone who just won’t budge?

Transition, due November 3, follows the antics, ideas, and development of Leslie finding inspiration in the women that he meets and courts. He shared the meaning behind his album with a select group of journalists at Chung King Studios in New York City. In a studio seating less than 30, R-Les gave an in-depth look at the makings of the 11-song effort. The presentation also included videos, which showcased the R&B talent’s production behind-the-scenes, as well as him rapping as a 14-year-old.

The follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut is not an unrequited love story. This is the story of a man longing for the girl who’s in a relationship, the girl with trust issues, the girl he just can’t be with. Follow Ryan Leslie as he embarks on his relentless journey to find “the one.”

1. “Never Gonna Break Up”
Mama always said beware of a girl that listens to Feist—she’ll turn your songwriting upside down. A quite eclectic spirit gave Leslie the juice he needed to make this track come to life. The melody for this song summons a ’70s vibe and a fusion of flavors. Crooning falsetto while trashing her house and playing on a burning piano, he sings about how he went all out for this girl. “So I get the finest clothes I could find on retail/ And I try to pay attention to every single detail,” a very naïve Leslie explains before finding out the chick he was with already has a man. He leaves with the lost hope that she will only yearn for him.

2. “Something That I Like” featuring Pusha T
Leslie’s muse for this song was a lady he met at his S.O.B.’s show in NYC earlier this year. She just so happened to raise in him a new melody, a melody he couldn’t shake. After seeing a girl while driving, he wonders if she’s the one, even to the point where he questions his flyness. After deciding he doesn’t want to “spoil” her, he leaves her be. Leslie wanted to choose someone he respected to rap on this mid-tempo, synthesized track. The winning bid went to Pusha T of the Clipse, who further delves into how fly his chick is: “Fly as she wanna be/ Never been a wannabe/ Jealous homies hating ’cause she everything they wanna be.”

3. “Zodiac”
After meeting and having dinner with an actress that is in tune with others’ Zodiac signs and Mercury retrograde (things Leslie admits he’s lacking in understanding), he got the inspiration to write this track where he asks, “What’s your Zodiac sign?/ Are we compatible baby?/ If it matches mine, we should think about dating.” This song sounds like a live band coming through the speakers with a significant bass factor. A more extensive rap can be found here, with him bragging confidently, “I’ll give you everything on your checklist.” Machismo at its finest.

4. “Is It Real Love”
Rhythm guitar and bass blast through this track, where R-Les describes the story of a girl who says she met him once before. But she reveals that upon their first encounter, he snubbed her. “You may be the one I’m waiting on,” he suggests, but does not promise. Originally recorded with a pedal steel guitar, the song had a sort of pop-country feel, but the rhythm and strings kicked the R&B flavor up a notch.

5. “Sunday Night”
While working in the studio with Drake, Leslie got a text to go out to dinner with a girl, but tried to pull it off without making a reservation. After failing to get a table and ending up at the bar, they decided to make it a night in. “Thinking about leaving the lights on,” he sings about their chill Sunday night, watching a DVD and ordering takeout. Leslie wins his girl’s heart by surprising her with 1,000 flowers the next day.

6. “You’re Not My Girl”
The first single off Transition was written in retort to the response he got when playing track #8 “Nothing” to his female counterpart. In short, she said she would like him if she wasn’t snagged by another suitor. “Indiscretion makes this love affair sweet/ Without the secrets it would feel so incomplete/ So we should keep our quiet nights between us/ So we retain our urgency when we touch,” he sings before letting the unnamed female know not to catch feelings because she’s not his girl. Ouch. One can sense a little Michael Jackson in the production of this track, which is reminiscent of “Rock With You.”

7. “To the Top”
“And when we get there I promise you’ll never want to come down, making love on my cloud,” Leslie vehemently sings. The lyrics would initially suggest a celestial sound, yet the production is reminiscent of early ’90s West Coast rap, making it perfect for cruising with the top down in clement weather.

8. “Nothing”
Out of this slow, funky, guitar-laden track slips those vulnerable words: “Without you, I’ll be nothing” in an almost reggae/ska type of beat. “I’m just a wayward son of a preacher/ You are a queen that’s how I should treat ya/ Lessons in love, you are my teacher” shows Leslie’s songwriting capabilities. His flow is so concrete, one has to wonder, “Why couldn’t I think of that?” There’s also a 16-bar rap on the track (and for those who are wondering, he’s been rapping since he was a teenager).

9. “Guardian Angel”
He finally takes a step back and looks at the bigger picture as to why he met this belle and what role she plays in his life. Maybe she was there for just a season, to transition him to his next girlfriend, and maybe he was there to transition her from her ex to her next. In any case, maybe they were supposed to be in each other’s lives to look after one another during that time. The simple melody, based on four chords, makes the song beautiful, as does the concept.

10. “All My Love”
This is an ode to every man that wants to get a woman between the sheets. Leslie’s girl complained that her ex cheated and she had trust issues, so he played this song for her. “I wanna take your love and mix it with mine/ And maybe we can have a cocoa baby,” he boldly sings. Stepping out on a limb, he sweetly but truly proclaims, “I wanna give you all my love/ Even if I don’t have all your trust.” Selfless maybe, until it turns shameless when he purposely uses recorded applause as encouragement for her to “turn the lights down.” Yet after the piano solo at the end, he coyly refrains from giving away if he succeeded.

11. “I Choose You”
Leslie chooses this girl over all the others, a fitting conclusion to the album. With a staggered beat, he sings, “Over the others/ Over my pride because you’re the best thing in my life/ I choose you.” In a disappointing finale to what otherwise would’ve been a fairy tale, he doesn’t get the girl, but learns a valuable lesson. He never actually said “I love you,” anyway.

–Tanya Remekie