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Yan Leslie: Ryan Leslie

Proving more than a gimmicky salesman, Ryan Leslie has created a guilty R&B pleasure. His self-titled U.S. debut is full of light-hearted, radio-ready fare that will have listeners finger-popping through traffic and head-nodding in the clubs. A teenage prodigy who graduated from Harvard at 19, Leslie's intelligence leaves an indelible mark here as a producer with an ear for addictive pop confections. From the Tribe Called Quest-flavored "You're Fly" to the Kanye-braggadocio of "Diamond Girl," the shameless self-promoter offers fun melodies with much attitude. Leslie's tenor matches John Legend's minus the range, but his instincts on how to get around his vocal deficiencies make him one of the most impressive producer/artists in the game. He follows Pharrell's path from behind-the-boards to stardom through cool melodies, easy lyrics and Rat Pack imaging. It took the artist nearly a decade to get here, but Ryan Leslie proves right on time. 3 stars.