It's 3:57 P.M. Central Time and YouTube says that Ryan Leslie's making of Addiction video has 2,573,928 views since it was posted on April 27, 2008, just a few days after I turned 25. Well, I know I'm responsible for the last 50 or so of those views because everytime I watch it, I'm inspired.
Since turning 25 two years ago, I've been doing my best to match up my interests and talents for the most positive and meaningful result. That's why I have my hand in a lot of pots as people keep telling me. Sneak Attack, Real Role Models, social media consulting, speaking in public schools, writing a book about Austin's live music scene...all of it adds up to some result that will hopefully give me the same feeling that Leslie has by the end of this video. I can't be put into a box.
I only write that to let you know that I am extremely inspired by this video on a personal level. Why? Because Leslie's backstory isn't typical for a music talent such as he.
As this New York magazine story states, Leslie went to four different high schools in less than two years because his parents were Salvation Army officers, he decided that rather than go to another new high school he'd rather start college, he scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs, he applied to Harvard, and he ended up graduating from the university at 19 years old.
Even though his music dreams often interfered with his school work (he said he often got only two or three hours of sleep a night), he still was given the opportunity to deliver the highly-coveted Harvard Oration at his commencement. Rather than work in the lucrative corporate world for a firm like Goldman Sachs as some of his former classmates did, he toiled away in the Boston music scene then was forced to move back home, take a loan from his parents, and eventually scored an internship with Sean "Diddy" Combs.
Today, Leslie is known by most as the producer/writer of the mega-hit "Me & U" by model-singer Cassie, but in the music industry he's known as a guy whose utilized his academic genius and musical gifts - he first played trumpet then taught himself piano and other instruments - to develop a cult-like following in the urban music scene. As of this writing, Leslie has over 80,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel compare that to around 92,000 for Justin Timberlake who is a megastar by anyone's account. Twenty-four million views of his videos on YouTube dwarfs those of pretty much any corporate client I've ever worked for so there's plenty to learn from him in terms of the ability to create a viral following.
Similarly, Leslie has 81,000 fans on Facebook, 157,000 followers on Twitter and has received media attention from The Washington Post, Boston Globe and Yahoo.com for his social media savvy. So many of my corporate clients fail to leverage the full power of their content and resources to build a following like this yet they have billions more dollars at their disposal and dozens more employees.
So what can we learn from Ryan Leslie?
1. Do what you love. Leslie could be doing any number of things for a living, but he's doing what he loves which is why watching that video looks so damn fun.
2. 10,000 hours takes sacrifice. By all accounts, Leslie has been working on music since his adolescent years and now that he's 31, you can be sure he's logged the hours behind his craft even while being a model student at Harvard and paying his dues under the likes of Diddy.
3. DIY. He didn't wait to get a label's marketing push to make a name for himself. Corporations shouldn't wait for approval on every little idea...they need to start now. It's easier to build on early trials and successess if you've already started to build rather than wait for the perfect blueprint.
4. Don't box yourself in. Yeah, he's a musical talent worth watching, but it's his groundbreaking use of social media - even more so than more successful artist - that allows him to sell out shows at places like New York's SOBs on back-to-back nights.
5. Self-promotion is 21st Century friendly. I hate when people say they don't want to be self-promotional. That just tells me you don't have enough confidence in what you're doing. That tells me you're probably not good enough at what you're doing to showcase it broadly. Notice that this video would look very self-promotional if not for the fact that the music Leslie makes is worthy. You can't look at what Steve Jobs does with Apple or what Jay-Z does with his music or what Oprah does with her profile and say that their self-promotion isn't backed up by hard work and legit credentials.
Whether you're an individual or a corporation, you should watch this video and read Ryan Leslie's story because it's a reminder that America is the land of opportunity, but opportunity requires passion, hustle, sacrifice, risk-taking, dedication, creative thinking and, yes, talent helps.
I know this is an extra cheesy way to kick off this post, but I know ya'll remember the line from Jerry McGuire when he says "you complete me..." The amazing thing about that whole scene wasn't how perfect that particular line was at that point in the movie, but how he started off..."we live in a cynical world...with tough competitors."
It's true, you know. We are at an all-time high when it comes to cynicism in this country. Think about it, we have people still calling Obama a socialist just because he wants uninsured people to be able to go to the doctor. There are people out there who think David Stern "fixes" the NBA playoffs to get these Lakers-Celtics matchups, nevermind that the two teams have several All-Star players between them. These are just two examples. It looks like those tough competitors are amongst us every single day. They are the people we now refer to as "haters".
And something dawned on me today...what if all this cynicism and hate is good?
We're getting to a point where Americans are paying more and more attention to complete BS like "Jersey Shore" and "Jon & Kate Plus 8" while simultaneously becoming more and more polarized on what we like. Part of the reason the Lost finale ratings didn't impress people was because the people who loved it (myself included) loved it enough to put up with tons of people questioning that very love. Maybe it's a good thing that we're not all tuned to the same channel, rooting for the same team and voting for the same guy (or gal).
I got to spend an hour-plus listening to Malcolm Gladwell speak at UT the other day and one of the things he mentioned was the notion that certain people become outliers, the Michael Jordan's of the world, because they are compensating for things they lacked. Jordan used to be a dunker/above the rim scorer then he compensated for his declining athleticism to become the league's best fadeaway shooter.
In the last few days, some very sensational things have happened that have further demonstrated what I'm getting at.
#1 - The Lakers beat the Celtics giving Kobe Bryant his 5th NBA Championship ring and leading some people, most notably Washington Post writer/Pardon the Interruption co-host Michael Wilbon, to call him the "greatest Laker ever" which certainly brought all the Magic Johnson and Jerry West lovers out to protest.
But think about it, in the '80s everyone loved Bird and Magic and in the '90s everyone loved Jordan. Now, we're in an environment in which the best basketball player can't even walk three feet or take three shots without "haters" showing up and saying he either played too passively or aggressively or didn't lead enough or was too demanding of his teammates.
Regardless, Kobe's biggest fans (of which I am one) are willing to compensate for all the hate out there and love Kobe's game even more because of it...so while he doesn't have fans out of every 100 people out there, those 40 people who love him love him enough for the whole lot.
All the cynics out there say Kobe could care less about his team winning and that he's just a selfish player that they'll always hate. The rest of us are happy to see the best player in his sport be rewarded both individually (he won the MVP) and historically (one more closer to Jordan's six rings).
#2 - Drake's debut album Thank Me Later was released. As my last post suggests, I am a fan of Drake's and I thought his album was a solid effort. As the comments on blogs on XXL and every other hip hop blog suggest though, it's about 60 % haters and 40 % appreciators for Drake's music.
Why? Because the cynics out there question whether or not he's real hip hop. They don't believe he's really the next Jay-Z...many of them don't like Kanye West or Lil' Wayne either so they especially hate Drake.
So rather than championing the rookie's contribution to a music scene that hasn't seen a major new figure since Kanye West and 50 Cent, considering Lil' Wayne has been around for awhile and T.I. has spent two of his last 9 years in prison, we're spending time either defending or disregarding it.
But not to fret because Drake has enough fans out there to overcome the hate that populates the airwaves, blogs and message boards. Keep in mind, people used to think Jay-Z should retire and now they're the ones talking about how they've been his fans the longest.
#3 - Obama's Justice Department is preparing to challenge Arizona's immigration law. Republicans, in large, support Arizona's attempt to stifle illegal immigration while Democrats detest it.
The cynics think Obama is meddling in a state's affairs in a dangerous way by bringing suit against the state, but they completely overlook the concerns millions of Americans have with the law namely the high probability of racial profiling by law enforcement officials as the law is written.
Whether or not the law is stopped before its late July implementation isn't as important as the fact that Obama realizes that we live in a hate/cynic-filled society and he can't pull a Bill Clinton and govern with 70 percent of the people behind him...especially on this issue. He has to take a stand and know that there are people willing to stand up for him and against this flawed law regardless of the opposition's numbers.
My brother made the point to me that many people, like the people I mention here, have given some of their cynics reason to hate them. While I partially agree, I fully believe that many of these issues have little to nothing to do with their actual bodies of work: most of the hate is personality based rather than performance based. Because we all know Kobe is the best basketball player in the world. And Drake is the hottest guy in the game for like 16 months now. And Obama is doing better than his predecessor thus far.
But it's all good because in today's America, no amount of success is as fulfilling if there aren't cynics and haters to complete us. It reminds us that the success we've worked hard for is merited.
Yesterday I told Charles Attal, one-third of C3 Presents, that the Drake Thank Me Later (Young Money/Cash Money/Universal) album is the best hip-hop album released so far this year, granted Eminem’s album comes out in a week, so I figured I’d write a review to back it up. I should note that I first heard this album a week back when it was originally leaked, but I still went to Waterloo to buy the CD because I’d sure hate it if someone bootlegged Real Role Models…I respect the art.
And obviously Drake’s debut album isn’t much of a debut at all because his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone was damn near a 5-mic classic in everyone’s book. That’s why all the label heads were going crazy as he raps about in many of his songs. Even his biggest haters had to give it up to the Toronto son after that “Forever” track with Eminem, Kanye and Lil’ Wayne dropped last fall.
Still, since the mixtape’s release, while Drake has been given something like $2 million in signing bonus money, praise from mentor Lil’ Wayne and icons Jay-Z, Kanye and Eminem to match oodles of hype you have to understand that the pressure for success was at an unprecedented high. Even 50 Cent didn’t have this much pressure to succeed because albums sold back then even if you put out a half-assed album. If you want to go double-platinum today, you actually have to meet the expectations.
With Thank Me Later, I’m here to say Drake did it. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen anyone meet expectations this high since…well, I was going to say LeBron’s debut in the NBA back in ‘03, but then I remembered Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 batters a week ago. Anyways…here’s the track-for-track breakdown.
Track 1: Fireworks featuring Alicia Keys
I actually like the leaked version more because Alicia Keys’ hooks seem more prevalent than the mastered version, but even the album version is worthy of applause. Drake has established himself as a contemplative, introspective rapper and this song continues that m.o. with lyrics like:
“Yeah, and my dreams who I’m racing with, You
can see I’m pacin’ it so that I’m always chasin’ it, Wayne put me right here,
that’s who I get the paper with,
I hope that my success never alters our relationship.”
Alicia Keys amazingly sounds more refined on this hook than Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Strong opening cut.
Track 2: Karaoke
My second least favorite track on the album...after the ballad-ish Fireworks, I’d like something with a bit more speed here…one can only do 75BPMs for so long. Still has some good lyrics though. Drake is a songwriter if nothing else.
Track 3: The Resistance
Still too slow – I’m ready to bump a track in the car by this point – but the lyrics are very strong and telling about the life Drake is living (if you believe him). Even if you don’t like Drake’s singing, you have to appreciate his thoughtful lyrics…not straight fire like Em or funny/clever like Luda, but certainly a style I can respect.
Track 4: Over
The lead single and the first upbeat track on the album. Very much a fan of this song for commercial purposes. It’s an anthem, swagger-filled track that one expects to hear before a Lakers game.
Track 5: Show Me a Good Time feat. Kanye
Most of the album’s songs are produced by So Far Gone alum Noah “40” Shebib and Boi1da, so hearing a Kanye-laced track is just what the doctor ordered at this point in the album. It’s a change of pace that is neither mellow nor triumphant…instead it’s smooth. The way Drake rides the beat shows that he’s studied the greats like Jay-Z, whom he thanks in the liner notes for giving him direction. My favorite lyric in the entire album is on this song:
“I live for the nights that I can’t remember with the people I won’t forget.”
Track 6: Up All Night feat. Nicki Minaj
Drake channels that So Far Gone swagger on this track and Nicki Minaj, the other half of Young Money’s hyped and ready duo, takes it to another level…you’d almost think she’s responding to criticism recently received from Lil’ Kim when she goes off with these bars:
“Yo, Drizzy sayin' get
her I'ma get her
I get the kind of money that make a broke b*tch bitter
I got that kinda… wait wait fixate!
Which b*tch you know made a million off a mixtape?
That was just a keep sake
Bought the president the Louis presidential briefcase
Never been a cheapskate
We got the hawks I ain’t talking about the Peach State
Man for Pete’s sake scratch that, sweep stakes!”
The beat and chorus on this song are super hard…you can definitely roll the windows down and pump the bass up on this one. Nicki Minaj is so officially official on this track it’s makes me damn near giddy to hear her debut album later this year (hopefully).
Track 7: Fancy feat. Swizz Beats & T.I.
The second I heard the Swizz Beats production and hook I
loved the track. It reminds me of one of those classic Cam’ron joints that made
New York go crazy. Swizz Beats continues to put together radio-worthy tracks
for everyone in the urban music game and throwing my favorite Southern rapper,
T.I., makes it impossible for the fellas to hate this female-focused effort.
Track 8: Shut it Down feat. The Dream
Possibly the two hottest urban music songwriters in the game coming together for a groove track that makes for a nice one-two punch for the women after Fancy.
Track 9: Unforgettable feat. Young Jeezy
Another one for the ladies, which I’m not mad at because the lyrics are pretty nice, especially Jeezy’s:
“The names Young baby
you know I live that thug life
The good die young so I’m gonna need a thug wife
Yeah, I’m talking his and her firearms
Know our jewelry probably louder than a car alarm”
Track 10: Light Up feat. Jay-Z
Having Jay-Z on a track is what makes this Drake’s official debut. A co-sign from the hip-hop king is what makes it official that Drake has arrived. Drake’s verse is up to par, as usual (“Don’t get impatient when it takes too long, Drink it all even when it tastes too strong”), but it’s Jay-Z’s flow that reiterates the message he’s been sending the young hip-hop heads for a few years now: he still has it (evidence below).
“I done seen it all,
done it all
That’s why none of these dumb-dumb could dun him off
The summer’s ours, the winter too
Top down in the winter, that’s what winners do
And to these ni**as I’m like Windows 7
You let ‘em tell it, they swear that they invented you”
Track 11: Miss Me feat. Lil’ Wayne
Another track that was released way back when, but still holds up today. Lil’ Wayne laced the track with a hot verse before he was shipped off to Rikers, literally.
Track 12: Cece’s Interlude
The lowest point in the album…probably didn’t need to have this one on the final product.
Track 13: Find Your Love
The other single off the album and definitely proves Drake’s abilities as an R&B crooner. I liked this song more and more the first dozen or so times I listened to it a few weeks back and the video made it even better.
Track 14: Thank Me Now
A classic album has a strong start and a solid finish and this one holds up. Good summary of the whole album: introspective and swagger-filled lyrics, a synthy beat with some singin’ on the hook.
Don't trust me, check out this review by Pitchfork.
While living in D.C., I had the privilege of meeting and working with some very inspirational people and organizations. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy was one of them. I was able to contribute to a book titled "Rethinking Responsibility: Reflections on Sex and Accountability" with some esteemed people such as E.J. Dionne, long-time op-ed columnist for The Washington Post, Tom Joyner, who hosts a leading African-American radio program "The Tom Joyner Show," and Janet Murgia, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. I also joined my friend Amber Madison, who is a fellow author having written "Hooking Up: A Girl's All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality" and "Talking Sex With Your Kids" received all kinds of rave reviews.
"Real Role Models" touches on important aspects of personal responsibility, but this is one that should never be overlooked for young people, especially young Black students trying to get ahead in life rather than being held back. Here's a snippet of my essay and click the link at the bottom for the rest.
If you spill a drink on the fl oor, do you look for a broom? No and the same common sense should be applied to family planning.
It’s time to stop pretending that the broom — in this case, abstinence-only education — is the most effective tool to prevent teen pregnancies. It’s time to look for a mop, a paper towel, or some other proven method and not the broom that’s only spreading the mess instead of cleaning it up.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some “messes” that certainly can be remedied with a broom here or there. Abstinence is a very essential component of family planning. Teens should learn to treat sex and relationships with a higher level of respect and value. Waiting until later in life to become sexually-active is much preferred. I love the idea of abstinence education. It’s the abstinence-only part that gets in the way of truly making a difference.
Again, you can’t clean the wet floor with only a broom. We also need to use a mop and whatever other methods there are that have been proven to be effective at cleaning the fl oor or, in this case, preventing unplanned pregnancy in America.
Read the full essay @ the National Campaign's site.