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R&B

Ryan Leslie, 'Ryan Leslie'

February 9, 2009
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Universal Motown

ESSENTIAL "Irina"

Ryan Leslie opens his first official release with a declaration: "They try to put me in a box, it's impossible/ This time it's all or nothing." He's clearly referring to the unfortunate shelving of his debut in this country and how much is at stake here. Leslie, a Harvard graduate, was the producer behind Cassie's delicious "Me & U" from 2006, but three years in pop music is a lifetime (Cassie, anyone?), and these 12 songs rely on similar production tropes. The disc is supposed to present Leslie as a compelling new pop voice (he's also a marketing guru), but the material is just too light to leave any real footprints. The tracks are tuneful and bounce in all the right fluffy ways. But the songs - most are three minutes - are unmemorable, and Leslie, who comfortably shifts from lower register to a sweet falsetto, isn't a commanding vocalist. He's clearly studied his early Prince with the emphasis on sleek keyboards and the guy really wants to be your lover (the thin "Valentine," "Wanna Be Good"). The album needs more of the depth and sweep of the multi-dimensional "Irina." The song has teeth while the rest of the album licks you for approval. (Out tomorrow) - KEN CAPOBIANCO

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