Ryan Leslie signed his recording contact three years ago when he was an unknown artist looking for his big break. Leslie figured he'd have plenty of time to work on his debut album with no outside distractions.
The problem was, his label didn't consider him a priority at the time and so he sat on the shelf. The problem now, however, is that as a producer, Leslie is responsible for molding Cassie from a print model into an international star with her breakout "Me & U"; has crafted additional hits for New Edition, Donnell Jones and others; and takes daily meetings with labels to see who will house his company, Next Selection.
Now executives at Universal Records are pushing for his solo debut, which is currently untitled and expected to be released this spring. The first single, "The Way That You Move Girl!," recently leaked to radio.
"I definitely am [busier]," Leslie said of his recent success. "I'm finding ways to better manage my time and really maximize all the opportunities that are happening. It's only once in someone's career when the type of magic that just happens, happens. And your future really depends on your ability to make the most out of that opportunity and really do something explosive. So in order for me to do that, I have to [learn to] multitask. I just did ['American Idol' runner-up] Katharine McPhee's record, I'm signing acts, I'm developing acts."
Though he's worked with an eclectic string of pop acts as a producer, Leslie said he wanted to pattern his career more after soul singers like Prince and Stevie Wonder. Leslie said it's their artistic vision and control of their music that he has found most inspiring — particularly Wonder, who Leslie discovered as a teen prodigy attending Harvard.
"I wanted to chase his career," he said. "I realized the people that really inspired me are the people who kind of do it all, people that can do everything — write, produce and arrange records. I really do it to an extreme because I've always been an overachiever. I sing all the backgrounds, engineer the songs, mix the songs; the whole Cassie album was done in just one room by me."
Leslie was tight-lipped about collaborations on his upcoming album, but the producer admitted he's still discovering what type of artist he is. Although most of his hits are sparse and commercially viable, Leslie hopes all his time in the studio will result in music that's outside the box, yet still conventional.
"'I'm not gonna turn my back on the commercial success," he said. "But I wanna do music that's progressive, that's kind of cross-genre, beyond genre-specific and multidimensional and allows me to express and put into words and music just the incredible things that have happened to me in my life.
"Me as an artist is me kind of figuring out the best way to express myself using the tools that I have," Leslie continued. "So you may find — as crazy as Prince's music is and as crazy as Stevie Wonder's music was and continues to be — that's what you'll really find when you're working with someone that's 100 percent self-contained. There's no boundaries, no limits."