The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Inside the Minds of Two Musical Geniuses

The 2010 Spring Fling Concert brought the upbeat energy from the day’s carnival to the Carnesseca Arena Friday night as students anticipated the Back to Basics 1000C show featuring R&B singer Ryan Leslie and alumni/rapper J. Cole.

The two acts drew a large crowd filled with many donning the black-and-white tee in support of Haraya, the Pan-African student organization who sponsored the event. According to Jen Panzarella, associate director of Campus Activities, almost 1300 people were in attendance.

The Inferno had the opportunity to speak to the performers before the show and delve into the minds of two artists whose names are becoming fairly well-known in the music industry.

The chill of the springtime breeze could not stop J. Cole from having his interview outside. After all, the campus was familiar territory as it had only been three years since Cole was a student at St. John’s.

Tonight, however, he was the headlining performer of the school’s annual Spring Concert.

Cole was a Fayetteville, North Carolina, native who decided that attending a college in New York City was the way to pursue his dream of becoming a rapper. Majoring in communications with a minor in business, Cole was able to stay on top of his classes (he graduated magna cum laude), serving as President of Haraya and performing at small school events. But for the most part, he was aware of his own talent and knew in the back of his mind that he would make it.

“I always knew I wanted to become a rapper,” Cole said. “I can’t see me doing anything else.”

Cole granted five out of the 18 schools on his college tour the time to have a “conversation” with him as part of a video series to posted on The Source magazine’s web site entitled “College Conversations with J. Cole.” St. John’s, his alma mater, was at the top of the list.

As the 6-foot-tall rapper sat beside me in front of Montgoris, the residential dining hall, I welcomed the STJ alumni back to where it all began. He reminisced on his college years, calling them “the best time ever,” filled with partying and having girlfriends. Cole even mentioned dorming in Hollis.

When asked if he ever experienced any type of disappointment that made him re-evaluate his long-term goals, Cole admitted that the struggle for success wasn’t always easy.

“It was tough, man,” Cole said. “My friends were all working nine to five and I had no money.”

While his friends were becoming doctors and lawyers, Cole was making beats with the machine his mother gave him. He abided his time and knew it wouldn’t be long before his career would pick up.

During college, Cole wrote and produced the song, “Lights Please” which caught the attention of music mogul, Jay-Z. Soon after, Cole was signed as the first artist to Hova’s new record label, Roc Nation.

Within a short amount of time after graduation, Cole got the chance to work with some of the biggest names in the business, such as Jay himself, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def. When asked what his favorite collaboration was, Cole named “Beautiful Bliss” with Washington D.C. rapper, Wale. Cole. He said he hopes to work with more artists in the future, like Andre 3000 and Alicia Keys.

With two popular mixtapes The Come Up and The Warm Up on his repertoire, what makes J. Cole worthy of the attention?

“I have a different story,” Cole said.

Cole never thought that he would return to St. John’s as a performer but worked the young crowd with songs from his mixtapes based on experiences he had gone through as an undergrad. The set included the song that landed him a record deal as well as the popular tracks, “Dead Presidents 2,” “Grown Simba,” and “Losing My Balance.” At one point during the show, he invited one of his female fans on stage to sing the catchy chorus of his single “Dreams.”

Another characteristic about Cole that makes him unique is his ability to remain humble in spite of his accomplishments. He said that he doesn’t let being on the cover of premiere hip-hop magazines such as XXL and The Source “gas him up.” Instead, he continues doing what he has been since he was a college student: making music.

When asked if he felt any pressure to be better than anyone else in the business, like other up-and-comer Drake, Cole said that he doesn’t see music as a competition.

In the next five years, he hopes to still grace the covers of magazines and become recognized as the artist responsible for bringing the rap genre back to life.

Nearly a week after the concert, Cole released his first official single, “Who Dat,” off of his upcoming album due out in summer 2010.

It’s almost impossible to imagine Ryan Leslie walking into a room, calm and collected. From his YouTube videos to his live shows, the NextSelection front man always seems to be rocking out to a self-created masterpiece.

However, the setting for the press conference was no studio but instead a room filled with a group of college students eager to hear what the music man had to say. As Leslie quietly sat in a corner, everyone could hear the silence, a sharp contrast to the loud music blasting throughout the arena.

But as soon as Leslie took his seat at the front of the room, he did not hesitate flaunting his Harvard-groomed intelligence and evident passion for the music business.

Leslie was raised by two parents, both musicians, resulting in a childhood centered on performing. His graduation from the Ivy League school in Boston at 19 years old allowed him to concentrate his efforts on becoming a major producer in the music industry early on.

When asked what the deciding factor was for his record label to support his transition from producer to artist, Leslie said there was no definitive reason for his management’s change in perspective.

Despite being granted the opportunity to showcase his talents as a singer, Leslie continues to face the daily challenges that come with proving himself as an artist, especially in a declining business that thrives off of record sales.

“When you’re dealing with a distribution company whose main business model is the sale of recorded music, you’re always going to be fighting a battle especially if you’re not doing staggering sales,” Leslie said.

The R&B singer said that by investing his time into presenting a one-of-a-kind show for his audiences and using the various digital media outlets available, such as YouTube and Twitter, he works hard for every sale and video hit he earns.

“Understand that when you work hard for something, the fruits of your labor are going to be that much more rewarding and I feel as though I am a living testament to that.”

When asked what triggers his musical creativity, Leslie drew from random inspiration for producing a record in the studio.

“It’s something that plays as a soundtrack in my head all the time,” Leslie said.

“Any time that I wake up or any time that I’m just breathing, I always hear some sort of composition of music in my head whether it’s coming through the door, inspiring me or just something that I hear that’s spontaneously created in my mind.”

Leslie started to become popular from the millions of views his videos would get on YouTube, showing fans and followers his lengthy sessions in the studio and the step-by-step process behind making hits.

“Many times, it’s a race against the completed orchestrated piece that I hear in my head to actually bring the idea to fruition,” Leslie said. “It’s always happening.”

On stage, Leslie gave his all, opening his set with the hit single, “You’re Not My Girl,” from his sophomore album Transition.

He played the songs that made his self-titled debut album hugely successful such as “Diamond Girl” and “Addiction.” The intensity of Leslie’s performance was felt throughout the venue,
especially after he peeled off his shirt and jumped into the crowd twice.

Closing with a heart-thumping rendition of “How It Was Supposed To Be,” Leslie placed the mic in front of a girl in the audience who asked why he did not play “Gibberish.”

Like a true performer, Leslie returned to the stage with his band and sang the song omitted from his set list, even inviting the crowd to sing along although the lyrics were intentionally unintelligible.

The producer/singer has been known to blog about his experiences on his official Website, discussing topics such as going from a broke college student to an entrepreneur with enough credit to obtain a black card, to utilizing the Internet as a way to distribute one’s art.

When it came to the best career advice Leslie had ever received, he said, “Discover what your passion is and let that passion drive your life’s work, that way you can contribute the best of what you can contribute to life.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

We love comments and feedback, but we ask that you please be respectful in your responses.
All The Torch Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *