Would the things ever be what they are without Teddy Riley‘s precious contribution? I seriously doubt it, referring to his numerous works that influenced a new generation of artists and producers while redefining a genre on its whole – the R&B – the way Jazzie B & Nellee Hooper of the Soul II Soul fame would do in UK when enriching the Brit Soul with their unique touch…
First name: EDWARD THEODORE aka TEDDY
Date of Birth : 10/08/1967
Place Of Birth : Harlem, NY
Particular signs: inventor of the New Jack Swing
When I came to meet him and his pals (Aaron & Damion Hall altogether under the Guy umbrella back then) in September 1991 at the Labbatt’s Apollo (formerly known as the Hammersmith Odeon), Teddy Riley had already spent more than half of his life makin’ music. From his very first jams with local Harlem bands such as Kids At Work and Total Climax and his debut as a producer for Doug E. Fresh and Classical 2 to a myriad of killer grooves for people such as Johnny Kemp, Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown, Starpoint, Wrecks’N’Effect, Heavy D & The Boyz and the list goes on. Not to mention his contribution on Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ album which would sell more than 32 million copies worldwide!
No doubt, Teddy Riley had already hade many ups at the time. But also downs in the meantime, like his divorce with his godfather and former manager Gene Griffin, the splitting of Guy two years later and the arrival of a legion of new cats firmly decided to recapture the essence of his sound…
What makes Teddy Riley’s work so fundamental is the fact that he literally revolutionnized the approach of making music at a period when the Funk had almost lost its essence. There was a need for a brand new shuffle which was to be brought by production teams such as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Alexander O’Neal, Janet Jackson), Antonio L.A. Reid & Kenneth Edmunds Babyface (Bobby Brown, Karyn White, Whitney Houston), and Denzil Foster & Thomas McElroy (En Vogue, Tony! Toni! Toné!).
Funk was nearly dead at the time potentially speaking as was the so called Rhythm & Blues, synonymous with old fashioned made music, and it was obviously the time for a new generic name to come out of the hat. This being how R&B saw the light.. Thereafter, what we were able to read on Spotlight in a special issue of Billboard Magazine as a commemoration to the month of US Black Music in June 1991: “R&B = Soul + Funk + Hip-Hop”, as written by columnist Janine McAdams who was mentioning the tendency to a new traditionnalism within the production, with the reintroduction of live elements and strong lyrics, the return of true singers as well as those influences inherited from Soul, Funk and eventually Jazz. All of that, not only on the R&B, but also on the Hip-Hop production… In addition to this, let’s not forget, the beginning of the acceptance of the Black community mediawise back then with the heavy success of actor/rapper Fresh Prince on the ‘Fresh Prince Of Bel Air’ sitcom on NBC. And also the recognition of the Black cinema with films such as Spike Lee’s ‘Jungle Fever’ or ‘Do The Right Thing’, Mario Van Peebles‘s ‘New Jack City” and John Singleton‘s ‘Boyz In The Hood’ to name but a few. All of them delivered with appropriate soundtracks giving an extra exposure to the music makers.
As for the definition of New Jack Swing, Guy member Damion Hall would say to me: “New Jack Swing is a new sound made by the blending of elements taken from Rap, Funk, Gospel, Rock, Classic Music, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz and Hip-Hop. This concept is unique. You might find Pop or Jazz on the so called Swing Beat but you’ll never get this so particular cocktail anywhere else but on Teddy Riley’s music!”
That.. guy had something for sure since his earliest days, but dealing with music is a thing meanwhile doing the same with the ‘papers’ is a far different one which would lead Teddy to accept the protection of Gene Griffin who happened to be his godfather. “Gene deserves respect at least for one thing”, explained Hall. “He has taken care of the business side of the things for us. But he would manage to also get the full control on us once he had our signatures. He’s taken advantage on Teddy Riley’s kindness which allowed to have his name on everything that he was doing. Gene wasn’t a writer, nor was he an arranger. Bobby Brown’s ‘My Prerogative’, that was Teddy and Aaron’s work. Same thing for the Jacksons’ ‘She’ song and for Guy’s first album featuring Timmy Gatling. Gene’s never got anything to do with this apart from acting as a sort of executive producer. As for the rest, he has behaved like an impostor!”
Approaching Teddy Riley and observing him either while rehearsing or live on stage with the brothers Hall and later on with BLACKstreet happened to be quite informative as to what the man was made of. Not to mention this face to face chat that we had right after one of his London concerts…
That man, although being only 24 at the time, was literally obsessed by his art, in search for new combinations which would come up out of the impressive material which was surrounding him at every moment of his life. One could see the determined look of a virtuoso on his eyes as well as a true receptivity as far as what the closest members of his crew were relating to him. “I’m working on some new sound/techniques with Heavy D & The Boyz that I’ve tested on the cover version of ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’ and ‘Is It Good To You'”, he explained to me. “Now that I’ve left NYC to live in Virginia, I find it a bit easier.”
Regarding Michael Jackson’s album that he co-produced, Teddy Riley said: “I’ve spent a lot of time making sure that what we’ve done in common would be different from whatever I did in the past. On an ultimate confidence, he added: “I don’t like that digital sound used by almost everyone right now. To me, it’s too polished. I’d rather go for the analogic textures and develop them in order to get some more punch on my music”, as notoriously shown a little bit later on during his venture with Chauncey Hannibal, Dave Hollister and Levi Little under the BLACKstreet guise with the memorable ‘No Diggity’…