Earlier this week Atlanta Music Guide had the extraordinary opportunity to speak with the award winning and multi-instrumentalist, Teddy Riley. Teddy Riley is known for being the creator of the musical genre, New Jack Swing, as well as being a producer and songwriter to the stars. Being a star in his own right he chats with AMG about his upcoming performance at the Essence Music Festival. He gives us the exclusive, never before heard, inside scoop on the future reincarnation of the group Blackstreet. He also shares encouraging words he received from the late great King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, as we remember the legend’s 4th anniversary of his passing. Read the full interview below!
Essence Music Festival showcases some of the best Black American artists in the music community, including you! What stage will you be performing at, and what makes performing at Essence special?
This year Blackstreet has a set at the Coca-Cola super lounge stage at the Essence Festival. I am happy that people are still receiving our music and what we do. I can’t wait to do this show, so that you can see what we’ve come up with. It will be more than just us on stage singing our behinds off. You are going to get a next level experience. It is a point of prestige performing at our great Afro-American festival. We don’t really have any other festival that is African-American based. Although you still have all races of people coming.
Teddy Riley exclusively tells AMG that this is the last year in time we will see this line up under the name Blackstreet. They are changing the name of the group, and after the new and upcoming single is released to radio, a contest will be held allowing the fans to name the new group.
What made you decide to change the name, and more so, what encouraged you to let your fans pick your new name?
It’s not about the name of the group. I created Guy, and went to Blackstreet. I created Wreckx-n-Effect, and it really wasn’t about the name. The name got famous after the music. I always say to everyone it’s the music that has to be the star, and afterward you become the star. The same goes for the genre, New Jack Swing. We made the music before there was a name for it. Until Barry Michael Cooper, writer of the film, New Jack City said, “Man you’re doing New Jack Swing.” He told me to run with the name and to use it.
We haven’t talked to anyone about this yet because we had to do it right. The single is ready to come out, and once we get it to radio we will be asking the fans to choose the new name of the group. We are working on the contest site where fans will be able to offer their idea for the group name. Whoever comes up with the best name will be able to make money from the proceeds of creating the new name. The contest site will be up and running soon.
Since you are the creator/architect of a musical genre, why in your opinion, has the genre R&B taken a major shift in today’s music market?
It took a major shift because for so long they have been trying to get rid of the name. Just like disco turned into club, R&B turned into New Jack Swing. Now they are trying to go back to R&B, which people are over with. Some people are technically still doing New Jack Swing, because New Jack Swing is a bunch of genres all in one. When you mix rap with singing, or rap with anything, it doesn’t matter, it’s a form of New Jack Swing. A lot of people, I guess because of the name, they think it’s OG, but it’s not OG. You’re still doing it no matter what. Just like “No Diggity” is New Jack Swing. It’s a mixture of R&B with Rap and Blues. New Jack Swing is the fusing of technical styles, the fusing of technical genres. If you’re fusing it you are doing New Jack Swing.
“No Diggity” is still a top selling single on iTunes, appeared in a Hollywood blockbuster, “Pitch Perfect”, was the select song for contestants on The X-Factor, and was in a Becks Beer commercial for the 2013 Super bowl. Does the continued success of this record amaze you?
It is very amazing, but what’s more amazing is God. When he instilled that record in me everybody didn’t believe in it, and I have to tell you this, Jimmy Lovine wanted “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” as the first single.
As a songwriter and producer are there any particular sonic elements that remain constant in your record production, which spans across various genres of music?
I really can’t say there is because I do so many different things. I try to come up with new sounds. Sometimes I like when people don’t recognize what I’ve done. The latest work that I’ve done was on the TGT (Tank, Ginuwine, Tyrese) new single, “Sex Ain’t Never Felt Better.” I also am on a new unreleased Jennifer Hudson record that I can’t say the name of at this time. There is no consistent or signature sound, but sonically it’s going to come through. People will start hearing me on different records because I want to come back out. I feel like people want to hear my sound again, and I can’t wait for them to hear it.
Music placement in film and TV is something your catalog has been familiar with for many years. Do you feel like these placements increase the longevity of producers and songwriters?
Not just that, but the music still plays on the radio, and I’m so grateful to the radio organization and the DJs out there keeping my music alive. That is the reason we are still able to do the shows like Essence because the music still lives. When people still jam to the music that is what you call classic.
What about the Atlanta music community has made you call this place home for your creative headquarters?
Atlanta is one of my homes. I came here to be close to my children, and I love it so far because I’m enjoying them. Being in the presence of my kids is a great thing.
Your epic work with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, is a standard that has yet to be touched. When working with him was there any one lasting piece of advice you might have given him or he to you?
Michael instilled in me to never settle for anything less than great. He told me to be the best that you can be, and to reach for the sky when it comes to your dreams. He encouraged me to keep going, and always try to give back. Michael did these things his whole life, and would always pass it along to his friends. With Michael I learned so much that I didn’t know before working with him. Our way of recording…our way of life when it comes to music…He made me feel music more than I’ve ever felt. When it comes to writing lyrics and recording, melody is key. Those are things that he taught me. It’s not all about the synthesizers and drum machines. It’s really about the piano, and really coming up with great words and melodies, and to shine the music around it. Michael was the best to ever do it!
Next weekend is the perfect time to take a trip to New Orleans to catch Teddy Riley and Blackstreet, along with many other talented artists, at the Essence Music Festival! Tickets are still available! Blackstreet will be performing on Friday, July 5 from 8:35 pm until 10:50 pm.