Word on the street is Ryan Leslie delivered quite the body of work in his new album, Les Is More. After delivering two well-received offerings in 2009 with his self-titled debut and Grammy-nominated Transition LP, the musical maestro, who also goes by R. Les, switches things up on his latest offering—trading in his melodic vocals and mid-tempo ballads for quick 16s and ballerific rhyme slinging (On "Swiss Francs" he raps, "I can see right through these haters, fish tanks/ Plus they frowning at my watch like my wrist stanks"). A full-blown rap album, Les Is More finds the man, who's produced for everyone from Diddy to Kanye West, Fabolous to Mary J Blige and many more, exercising his rhyme skills over lush instrumental that ultimately makes the album a magnetic listening experience. Speaking to XXL about the new album (which is available now), Ryan breaks down and details the background story behind some of Les Is More's many highlight tracks. "You ask me why I’m rapping, well I’ll give you the reason...So yeah I’m rapping now, let the hating begin...”—Ralph Bristout (@XXLRalph)

"Beautiful Lie" ft. Fabolous, Les Is More (2012)


"Beautiful Lie"

I mean its pretty self-explanatory. I spent a lot of time in Paris and I actually spent my eight-grade year in Brussels, Belgium. I learned French while I was there and being that I loved it so young I actually retained a lot of it. Being in a place that that’s overseas and that has so much history and so much culture, also one of the [hotspots] of fashion as well, it was only right that I make a record that pays homage to a city that has embraced me. Every time I set foot there, they make me feel like the biggest star in the world. Fab [is on the record] and we definitely have a amazing collaborative relationship, even despite that we never traded bars on a record before. He’s always come on and actually spit something on a record I was singing on. He’s somebody with lyricism and his contribution to the game I really respect. So I actually just took a day, went out to his spot in New Jersey and just went to him and played four or five music videos off the album, and I said “Yo man I would love to have your support and have your co-sign on this especially given that I know the backlash I’m going to feel since it’s a rap album.” He said “Yo homey, whatever you need just let me know,” and so that was the record that he responded to.

"Good Girl", Les Is More (2012)


So as you listen to the album and as you watch the videos you see it’s a progression. The progression is actually like a story. I think that “Beautiful Lie” is an introduction to a lifestyle and “Good Girl is a continuation of that and really more about the sacrifice sometimes you have to make when you’re in a relationship and you’re on the road. You just hope that your partner, your significant other can be understanding and will bear with you for all the times where you just can’t be there. So that’s why the video is on New Years Eve and true to life because I had to do something in Vegas on New Year’s Eve and so all the videos are actually documentary as well. I had to be apart from my girl over New Year’s Eve and on New Years you’re always thinking about reflecting on the year that you had and look forward to the year you’re going to have in front of you. That’s what I’m really inspired from. I look around and hope next year the people that I really care about in my life and not only are they still in my life, I just hope they’re living better than they did this year. Not that there’s anything bad, but we always want to live better and live good.

“Five Minute Freshen Up," Les Is More (2012)


As you look at the progression of the videos, “Five Minute Freshen Up” is when we actually reunite. And you know “Five Minutes,” I definitely had to do that in Miami just because of the lyric and the video. There’s a bunch of lyrics in the song. I initially came up with that concept while I was just traveling home from overseas and the minute I came up with the concept I knew it should be a Miami video and it was wintertime. When I talk about “Vacation in Winter, we rocking summer linen,” my white Tom Ford jacket had to be a staple in the video. Also at the same time that was the moment I received notice that someone was filing a lawsuit. I had to go to court. This was not anything that was new to me, this is why in that third verse I say, “It’s not a big deal, I’m used to being sued.” Just don’t believe everything you read in the news because especially in tabloids or even real news its skewed and it’s sensationalized for entertainment purposes. So originally that song was only going to be two verses long but once I was going through that moment in my life I had to respond. So, we’ll see how all of that actually turns out. [Editor's Note: Ryan went to trial on for the lawsuit on the day this album released (October 22nd)]

"Maybachs & Diamonds," Les Is More (2012)

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Well I mean, I made the beat [for Rick Ross]. I actually made that and he came up with the title already. It’s a dope record. I really love that record and for whatever reason Ross creatively was kind of moving away from that direction. I thought that it was too good of a record to just leave on the shelf and it just so happened that I was going through situations that applied and so I just wrote it from the heart and that video was done. [The song] is a moment in that story where the situation starts to break down and its just a reminder that even with all the great perks and all the great pleasantry and luxuries in life, its not substituted for real emotional connections. So that’s what that video chronicles, it’s that breakdown.

"Ups & Downs," Les Is More (2012)


"I used to be homeless behind the barbershop…"
After I graduated from Harvard I didn’t have a job and even though I got a few odd jobs here and there I was fortunate enough that one of my friends Corey Keith Williams actually got signed to Motown. That was my first big industry job. But, I was sending money home to my boys and my people who have been holding me down and I was trying to make it in music. By the time I sent it home and paid off all the deals, I found that I just didn’t have any money and it just so happened that one of my brothers, not a blood brother, was somewhere from Boston, he used to be at a barber shop and basically just gave me his storage area in the back and said “Yo, if you want to crash there you can.” And that was really the only place I had. So in the video, we pulled up at that barbershop in the black truck and that’s how we roll now. One or two guys and security detail and I wanted to show him the significance of our lives and the guy at the barbershop was like, “Yo, man! I thought you were the feds!” We rolled up in the trucks with just my guys with me. But it was an incredible and overwhelming g moment to actually go back to that place where I had actually hit rock bottom and be able to invite my man to come see the show. So that’s a crazy line and it was just crazy to actually go back and revisit that place. I think it’s always good to revisit places because it keeps you grounded and cognizant of that idea that no matter where you are in life you can always return there and it always reminds you that those are the people that you should really appreciate.

"The Black Flag," Les Is More (2012)


“The Black Flag” is the only outside production on the album. I was doing some records with Jeezy and I really had just always enjoyed working on the “Start It Up” record which a lot of people have mistaken as a Swizz record or one of my records but it was a Cardiak-produced joint. I just wanted to link up with him and basically I like to see young producers that are hungry and doing it so, I invited him to a few of my rehearsals so that we could vibe musically and when I was doing the Jeezy sessions I invited him to come through and he played a couple of joints. One of which is a record that will be on Jeezy’s record featuring myself and it’s called “Versace Life.” He played another joint that kind of had a great loop to it and it starts switching up. He went back and he sent it to me and I knew that there was something that I wanted to do with it and I didn’t get to fully finish the record until I went out to actually work with Jay Electronica. Making a rap album, I knew there was going to be a lot of backlash and even my own interns and staff were like “Ryan, you crazy! What are you doing?” But I wanted to get the opinions of people that I really respected So you know Fab being one of them, Kanye obviously being one of them, Pusha T, Raekwon, Jeezy—you know playing him the records and videos and seeing his response to it.

Then when I got the tweet from Jay Electronica, I had just been such a supporter of everything that he is doing and his movement and his art that I responded and went out to that studio out in the outskirts of London and I didn’t know that the “Black Flag” was going to be on this album until I was sitting in the studio with Jay Electronica. I played him a few records including “Joan of Art”, “Breathe” just records that had a little bit more lyricism just because I respected his stature as a lyricist. I had put on the beat that I had been working on with Cardiak and I was like “Man you know, I had this idea that it should go like this” and he said “Yeah go in the booth and lay that down right now.” That’s what I did man and that record just came right in right at the tail end. And I also realized as well, in addition to the “Black Flag”, that’s a record where you know just being in that environment with somebody so accomplished and proficient as a lyricist really just—when you listen to what I’m saying in that song and the way that it’s put together and the references that I’m making, not many can say they played Jeezy, Yeezy you know references to real moments and real occurrences in life where people who are respected in this platform have shown be the same respect. And I showed them, in it’s art form. If anyone has any questions, I just wanted to put a checklist of references so people can feel free to speak to those references about the work ethic, musicianship and respect for this art form that I have.


#Ryan Leslie Video Shoot - March 13, 2008


Ryan Leslie - "5 Minute Freshen Up"


"30 grand for a show, that keep me independent / She into money, she ain't into you. She into spendin'."