In naming his album Black Mozart, its clear that Leslie is confident in himself! After much delay, Ryan Leslie has released his fourth album. Unfortunately, the album itself does not live up to its grand namesake. For all of Leslies arranging and other musical talents, this piece is in no way distinguishable from other music offerings of the times.
The first unsettling observation of this album is that Leslie has made the full conversion to rapping. This seems like an effort to keep his music vivacious and current, but he comes off as out of his element. In fact, the best numbers on the album are when Leslie lays down the MC mic and decides to tack to that with which he is familiar.
Leslie opens up with an ambitious, artistic note, referring to his album as the Carnival of Venice. Replete with witty lines and evocative imagery, it sounds like Leslie is attempting to set a tone that this work would be an artful, masterwork. But the song slows itself down with its overreaching metaphors and obscure references. Its not that his clever references are unappreciated (indeed, we all love-or should at least love- arugula); its that his rhymes come off as pretentious.
The title track, Black Mozart, is full of swagger and bravado, in step with much of modern day hip hop. Unfortunately though, this song has a beat and sound that feels recycled. Lucky for us, Leslie does channel a bit of the great musical virtuoso for which the album is named when he plays a few keys at the end of the song. But its only enough to tease us.
And despite that brief display of Leslies musical talents, most of the album sounds the same as Black Mozart. With standard beats and pedestrian lyrics, most of the album drags. Higher is especially a song that comes off as nothing but trendy, with lyrics that cover nights in the club, bottles of Rose, and the various women Leslie has made into paramours.
In listening to this album, you have to wonder if Leslie is displaying his true artistry or if he is simply making an effort to create commercial success. Its not just the beats and lyrics though that seem borrowed; its even his cadence. Without a signature rapping style, Leslies flow imitates currently en vogue rappers, particularly Drake with the occasional Rick Ross grunt. Its almost as though he is co-opting the sounds of hip-pop in order to make himself garner more respect (or record sales).
The album songs are most special when he incorporates his mellow vocal style with his wide-scattered rapping skills. Full Moon ends with Leslies signature crooning and piano playing that makes you forget you spent the first half of the song listening to him rap. Bad Chicks is another example of how he oscillates from rapping to singing on one track. And while the song should be sexy, the bipolarity going from grunting a young G about to cut, God willing to singing baby, wont you carry my love child feels hollow.
The strongest selection the album presents is Lay Down. Coming in just over 8 minutes, this song has a sensuous vibe that boasts more of Ryans vocals, with just the right amount of rhyming. It gives allows us to envision the force Leslie could be if he learned to hone his skills and dedicate the time to making his own aesthetic.
Ryan Leslie is definitely one of the most musically inclined artists on the scene right now. Whats clear though is that rapping is not his strong suit. Few artists can bill themselves as a record producer, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and rapper. However, this album just does not do justice to all those many skills.
Tracks We Like: Lay Down
Black Mozart Track 5- Lay Down
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