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Ryan Leslie Explains How He Makes More Now without a Major Label (Pt. 1)

The first time I learned the name Ryan Leslie was when my buddy Brandon showed me a sweet beatmaking video back in my dorm at UCLA where he was seen recording a cup full of coins for a hi-hat in a song (I'll embed it below).

"This guys is sick. Watch this," he said -- I'm paraphrasing.

And it was sick. We loved watching producers doing their thing. We were making our own music at the time and looked up to great beatmakers.

Then I found out the dude was the producer of Cassie's "Me & U", a banger from the early 2000's that I still pull up to this day. That's two for two - this guys is dope.

But then things went quiet, and I didn't hear much from Ryan for a few years.

A little while back I saw something about him starting his own messaging platform called Superphone so he could communicate with his fans.

I don't remember if it was an interview (probably was) or what but he was talking about bypassing the industry and having 1-on-1 connection with his people -- using the #1 communication medium of the day -- text.

I remember he said he got (or was getting) Silicon Valley investors for it.

That was cool and unusual to me -- most hip-hop artists didn't mess with tech at the time (largely, they still don't). But Ryan was hanging out with nerds and venture capitalists while others started liquor brands or opened restaurants.

This was before Jay-Z came out with Tidal and before Chamillionaire started showing up on tech investment panels (Ashton Kutcher was the first entertainer I remember getting heavily into tech, and everyone thought it was weird). 

But Ryan seems to have this in his blood.

From the way he talks in this new interview (it's from Dec 2019), you can tell he's really about this entrepreneurship life.

He's not just a musician. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I tend to look for big thinkers, not just amazing craftsmen (which he is -- the dude sings, raps, plays drums and keys, and makes amazing beats).

But I care about more than just making the product -- are you a visionary? Do you get culture and communication? Do you get human relationships and lifestyle and business models? This dude does.

I just went back to find that coin cup video so I can add it here.

He was making a song appropriately named "I Gets Money", which I played the studio version of just now for the first time.

In it, you can hear him say, "we entrepreneurs, baby," at the top of the interlude before the last chorus. The song -- which is sick btw -- came out in 2007 (Superphone was launched in 2013), so this whole mindset is nothing new. 

I say this to provide some context for this Breakfast Club interview right here.

He's a rare breed of person, who's great at art AND business and definitely someone for me to look up to.

In the interview, he'll explain why he only made a few hundred thousand from his sales at his peak popularity, even with Grammy noms and radio hits -- and why he's making millions from his music now that he's "fallen off" -- all through direct relationships with his constituency.

I used to wonder how one could make a living from their art without having to act a fool on the cover of Us Weekly. Well, this is one way.

Check out the interview below and some more related videos:

Ryan makes "I Gets Money":

"I Gets Money" final product -- damn this is sick:

Cassie's Me & U (for good measure):

Notice the harmony on the line "if it's true". It's amazing.

Also, side note, as good as the song is, it still has 13K dislikes (albeit with 58 million views, so who cares), but just goes to show that no matter how good what you do is, someone out there is still gonna hate it. God bless everyone.

And finally, one more beat-making video of Ryan, for those of us like me who binge watch these things:

Some of these are on unofficial channels, so even though they've been up for 8 years, you never know if they'll go down. If a link's broken, let me know and I'll replace it.

Hope you get some wisdom, inspiration, and practical business tips from this.

Peace out, and I'll see you in the next one.

- Pavel

P.S. - I texted Brandon (my friend who showed me Ryan) this post, and after his response, had to write a Part 2.


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