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Ryan Leslie steps into the spotlight

Ryan Leslie is best known as the man behind Cassie’s 2006 smash “Me & U.” He not only wrote the song, he helped build Cassie’s career, thanks to a deft online marketing campaign.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ryan Leslie is best known as the man behind Cassie’s 2006 smash “Me & U.” The Harvard-educated music man not only wrote the song, he helped build Cassie’s career, thanks to a deft online marketing campaign that included YouTube posts and MySpace update.

Now, Leslie is hoping that same strategy helps propel his own solo career. His self-titled CD was released this month, and he’s already had success with songs like “Diamond Girl” and “Addiction.”

In a recent interview, the 30-year-old talked about stepping into the spotlight, dedicating his life to song and why President Obama is following in his path.

AP: Tell me about the album.

Leslie: I’ve been making so much music for the past six years since I’ve been signed — I actually got signed in 2003 — so ... it was a real challenge to pick the 12 songs that would serve as a snapshot of all the music that I’ve been creating, and all the music that I will create. Hopefully this album foreshadows the musical contribution that I’m going to make in the future.

AP: Where are you as an artist?

Leslie: (My) life from the time I graduated from school has been very patterned. It’s almost the same schedule every day. Which is wake up and chase the music that’s in my mind. So I took some time out in 2007, just to be a boyfriend. Or be human, you know? Have those human experiences. Needless to say, it failed miserably. I was juggling between my passion for music, and my career. And trying to maintain some sort of relationship really did not work out at all.

AP: Why didn’t it work?

Leslie: ’Cause I was so consumed. My imperfection or my fatal flaw was that I was very self-absorbed, and self-centered almost, because my career took precedence ... So it’s a very personal album in that regard.

AP: What’s the difference between being the man behind the artist, and being the artist?

Leslie: When Cassie really started to blow up I went on the road with her as an unpaid employee. I could have been making however much as a producer. And I was definitely in high demand because she had a huge hit and I said ... “Clear my schedule. Clear my calendar. I’m going on the road with Cassie.”

I (wanted) to evaluate my ability to take on this responsibility should I ever be so fortunate that I have a record deserving of (that) support. And what I mean (is) the touring, the videos, the performances the television shows, the press, the grueling rumors. Me going on the road with her allowed me to prepare myself for everything that’s happening and so the difference is sort of the difference between learning it in class and doing it.

AP: What’s going on with your online campaign?

Leslie: I’m really on my campaign to be a great example of an accessible artist ... allowing my audience to have a look into my day-to-day journey.

AP: Well, you’ve got your Blackberry. You’ve got your online campaign. You kind of have a Barack Obama thing going on, huh?

Leslie: I would say Barack really has a Ryan Leslie thing going on. No — but, one of the things that’s interesting to me about all of this is, the credit is attributed to ... the person who exposes it the most. Before Michael Jackson did the moonwalk, there was a guy who taught Michael Jackson the moonwalk, but the credit is attributed to Michael Jackson. ... So it’s very interesting for me because I actually started video blogging in 2005. Clearly, Obama’s campaign really came to light in 2008 — which is two and a half years later. ... M desire is to just continue through the example that I’m setting — earn some sort of credit, or have some sort of credit attributed to what I’m doing.