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Ryan Leslie is possibly my favourite artist out there. He isn't that famous and from his three albums he hasn't even totalled a million sales yet, but his music is as good as it gets. Transition was his third official album and was released back in November 2009.
Before I go in to the album I want to give you a quick breakdown of Ryan Leslie and his background as it is a unique story for an R&B/hip-hop artist. Ryan Leslie was a very smart kid. By smart I don't meant normal level straight A student, this kid was a genius and scored a 1600 on his SATS at the age of 14 which is the highest possible mark you can get. He was offered a place at Harvard in Political science and macroeconomics at the age of 15. He dreamed of becoming president. He graduated by 19 and during his time at university he started to hone his musical talent. After university his parents wanted him to become a banker, but he said to them to give him one year to see if he can make it a musician and if he doesn't make it, then well I guess the rest is history.
Ryan Leslie composes, plays every instrument for his tracks, writes the lyrics, raps, sings, edits his own music videos, directs them, as you can see he really does it all and this can be seen on his more recent album les is more which I will be reviewing soon. It is quite rare to see someone this smart in the music game, when you consider than 99% of his fellow R&B standards are hardly role models to follow (yes I'm talking about you Chris Brown).
Ryan Leslie's previous album earlier in 2009 had a bit more soul to it and I found Transition to be a bit of a downwards step and I remember at the time he wanted to make a ballad as he felt ballads is what usually makes you big. I kind of agree remember Enrique Iglesias only become big after he made Hero and Rihanna after Unfaithful. So Transition contains quite a few ballads namely I choose You. Actually that is a bit of an exaggeration the earlier self-titled album also contained a few ballads like two of his most popular Valentine and I.R.I.N.A. For those of you who know who Cristiano Ronaldo is, I am sure most of you do, this track is about Irina Shayk his girlfriend, however of course before Cristiano had met her. It is about when he first met her and he was so infatuated with her that he wrote a song about her.
Instead of looking at every track on Transition I will just focus on my favourite tracks and why I love them. The album kicks it off with Never Gonna Break Up. I think this track was mainly created to show off his vocals. People often respect his creative skills at creating music, but criticise his voice saying he should stick to being a producer. Here he shows he can sing, and that he can sing to a recording artist standard. OK he can't sing like Usher or Mary J Blige, but he displays his vocals hear reaching higher pitched vocals for the vocals. The album is about he wants to find the ideal girl, one that looks good with no makeup and that he will never break up with her. It has a very funky beat and a solid beat. It is one of the stronger tracks on the album.
Something That I like is the next track on the album and he rarely features artists on his album but Pusha T does a rap here which complements well. This is more of a club anthem and about where you find those girls that you like but you can't just put your finger on what you like about them. I am not the biggest fan of Pusha T and to be fair I haven't heard much of his stuff but his flow suits the track perfectly. That's what is good when Ryan Leslie features artists, he doesn't feature them for the sake of it, but only if they add something to the track.
Next up is one of my favourite tracks on the album Zodiac, and similar to Never Gonna Break Up he shows of here with his higher notes. This is definitely a more intimate track but not a ballad, talking about how he can get close to a girl and of course if there Zodiac signs are compatible. This is the first track on the album where he shows he can rap as well as sing and he shows his flow towards the end of the track.
Now for arguably my favourite track even more so than Zodiac, called Is IT Real Love. This has the most funkiest beat and an awesome guitar backing. I heard another version of this Ryan Leslie did on YouTube with his Adidas partnership and I highly recommend checking this out. The drums here are awesome and it is a track about waiting on a girl to find him and hoping it is real love because it could be hypnotising.
Possibly the best beat on the album is You're Not My Girl and a lot more of a club track and more upbeat than previous tracks on the album. Ryan Leslie really turns up here. This is an old school 90's beat and Ryan Leslie definitely modernises it. The hook is awesome and it is a track about how he is clearly still with this girl, but she isn't his girl. Not that I agree with the material at hand and someone shouldn't be friends that sleep together, but I guess each to their own. It does make a great track.
Guardian Angel is a very heartfelt track and one of the ballads in the album. It is about how he has found a girl and wants to protect her and is so glad to be with her. A little soppy but the hook is very catchy, it isn't one of my favourite tracks of the album but it deserves its place there. The next ballad is I Choose You. The problem for ballads is you need a very strong voice and Ryan Leslie can get away with normal tracks due to his beat, but this ballad doesn't quite hit the spot as he is relying just upon his voice. Others may love the track but for me it is one of the weaker joints here but a good track nonetheless.
The final track I enjoyed in this album was Rescue You. This is just a chill out track. It is the best way to describe it. A soothing beat and lyrics that complement it perfectly, the track is just about going with your instincts and sometimes what seems right isn't quite so and with time everything will be fine.
Overall this is a solid album from Ryan Leslie. A few years ago I may have given it five stars, but after having heard his latest album Les Is More which is definitely five stars, I have to compare Transition again it so will put it at four stars. On the whole there are a lot of great tracks and I really can't get enough of the Harvard grad. Three years till his latest album was far too long to wait and I hope as scheduled he releases his next album in 2013.
Released months after his first, the R&B singer Ryan Leslie churned out his second 2009 album late in the year to get things rolling nicely for him after a slow start in the game with his 2005 debut shelved until he managed to find the sort of fan backing that he is currently work with. "Transition", as with his self-entitled debut record has him bringing forward an album filled with his own production, writing and vocals and all done in a futuristic style unlike any others.
1. "Never Gonna Break Up"
The album kicks off with song hardcore Funk that completely takes you over from the start as you se just how this "Transition" theme on the record has altered his ways from the first time around when it was filled with the spacey synth,. But on this occasion he has taken things back with some live instrumentals to add to this and in doing so, incorporating styles that suit this leads to the creation of a perfect opener.
2. "Something Like That"
With this one we get the one and only guest appearance on the album and I felt that although it wasn't the most obvious choice, I felt that Pusha-T of The Clipse suited Ryan Leslie's work as we are used to Pusha on The Neptunes' beats and they share many similarities. Here. Leslie decides to rap this one and he does a good job at bringing some more Hip Hop-based beats to accompany this turn.
He doesn't stop either of the two main styles being made very prominent here as we see that we get a tune that is built up upon some freaky Hip Hop and Funk. I felt that it was a perfect time to take inspiration from Old School Hip Hop in particular as he bases this all around zodiac signs, commonplace in the late seventies and early eighties stuff in that genre, and it all seems to come together nicely for him as he takes a throwback turn (and manages to fit in some raps here again).
4. "Is This Real Love?"
The Hip Hop breaks comes through with this one and force the atmosphere to get a much more intense, but he finds a great way to break off its power with the light synth and (of course) his light vocals) which give it so much more of a depth that I felt would have made a perfect choice for a single from the album. The tune begins extremely well, and from that point just gets better (as the album up to this point on it).
5. "Sunday Night"
With this one we see that we returns to material that sounds much more like the kinds of things that we came familiar with when he dropped his eponymous record at the start of 2009. Here he makes a smooth tune that has him gently working through the thing as he makes one that is designed to depict a Sunday night atmosphere, just lounging with a loved one, you can't fault it in any way whatsoever.
6. "You're Not My Girl"
Dropping as the first single from the album, this song is simply perfect, it could not have gone any better for him. Upon initial hearing, you are guaranteed to think its a Michael Jackson song from "Off The Wall" with all its Funk and Disco and really I don't see why this should be an issues as he gives you this as intensely as possible with another throwback-feeling tune that forces you to boogie down (though I don't see how its ability to force you to dance relates to the subject matter of the song).
7. "To The Top"
He just doesn't stop laying down the killers as we see that here the Washington, D.C. artist comes out with a tune that find him offering a tune that features what song that features production that takes from Seventies Soul, but it's all twisted in a way that sounds as if it was manipulated by a Hip Hop producer out of the Mid-West (Detroit and Ohio state in particular) for another rather different one from him.
Here we get another tuen that seems to have the cleanness that you tend to expect of tunes that have been made to sound a little more commercial, but when you consider that he didn't hold back in having "You're Not My Girl" as its opener, then I don't see why he'd opt for something that has to sound as if it suits contemporary trends at all. Here he sings desperately about how he wouldn't be able to cope without his girl.
9. "Guardian Angel"
He calms things down further with this one as we find that here he really does make the change towards something a lot more typical of 2009's R&B. we still get lots of his originality past all the conventional approaches where the vocals are concerned, but for the rest of it we get him experimenting with a little rapping on another composition that brings in lots from a variety of sources.
10. "All My Love"
He gets back to the Funk that the record started off with and I felt that it was the perfect time to lay it all down on us as we see that here we have him injecting this through with its synth melodies and he goes over the top of this with some of the hardest Hip Hop beats to punctuate everything along the way. Here we get a nice expression of just how in love he is at this point and how it's affecting him.
11. "I Choose You"
He ends the album on this one and decides to come with one that has him twisting it towards his interpretation of a futuristic ballad. I felt that he did a very good job at it, although I expect that it only sounds this good because of its positioning on the record and all that it comes after. However I think that it draws it all to a close perfectly and ensures that if you don't typically go for this kind of thing, you will fall for it by this point.
Coming right off the back of a highly-consistent debut record, Ryan Leslie still finds it within himself to better it by managing to go just a step further by taking an album filled with lots of very good songs, and making a new one with nothing but killers. I simply couldn't fault it and it competes with records from Trey Songz, Joe and other contemporaries from this year and recent times.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Never Gonna Break Up
2 Something That I Like - Ryan Leslie, Pusha T
4 Is It Real Love
5 Sunday Night
6 You're Not My Girl
7 To The Top
9 Guardian Angel
10 All My Love
11 I Choose You