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Blues & Soul #724/Oct. 96

Teddy Riley Level II

JEFF LORENZ talks to one of contemporary black music's most innovativee and influential figures on the release of the new BLACKstreet album.

Even when Teddy Riley's quiet he's busier than most. The last year, output wise, by Teddy's usually frenetic standards had been a relatifely subdued one. Work with Men Of Vision and Pure Soul have been amongst the more notable releases for him. However, rumours of the reformation and break up of both Guy and BLACKstreet have kept his name firmly out there. When I last spoke to Teddy over a year ago, he informed me that he planned to reform Guy, as well as recording new material with BLACKstreet. However, the departure of Dave Hollister and Levi Little from BLACKstreet suddenly put Guy back in the driving seat and reports of an incredible reunion album, (previewed by the cut "Tell Me What You Want" from the New York Undercover soundtrack) being recorded in Trinidad, flooded back to New York and circulated amongst the musical community.
Suddenly, however, the word was out that Guy had broken up before they'd ever really got back together and that Teddy planned to reorganise BLACKstreet with new members. Well that, as it turned out, is exactly what happened because BLACKstreet's new album "Another Level" is with us and Teddy Riley feels justifiably proud of it. Previewed by the speaker shaking, infectious dose of dirty hip-hop funk, the phat ghetto jam, "No Diggity" featuring Dr. Dre, the album goes on to showcase Teddy at his most musical yet, with a ballad heavy collection that crafts sensitive candlelight smoochers such as "Let's Stay In Love", "Never Gonna Let You Go", and the stunning remake of the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love", alongside cuts such as "Paradise" that is an obvious acknowledgement to Earth, Wind & Fire and the gospel outing "The Lord Is Real" that borrows from Debarge's "Time Will Reveal".
"Basically the Guy situation didn't happen because of certain difficulties, you know, we didn't get along and that sort of thing" explained Teddy from his Virginia based recording studio. "So I just went on and carried on with this BLACKstreet album. I mean Dave and Levi had left because they wanted to pursue their own careers so Chauncey and I went ahead and laid down the whole album and then we brought in the new members Eric and Mark."
One of the first songs Teddy decided to get to grips was the R&B ballad remake of the Beatles, "Can't Buy Me Love", which, it has to be said, only bears a lyrical resemblance to the original.
"That came about with me just playing the keyboards and Chauncey singing the new melody. I mean it was really the idea of the song we were intersted in, the lyrics more than the music. It wasn't as if we did it out of some great respect for the Beatles or anything and at one time as the songs were so different we did think about writing a new song, but we decided to stick with it because we liked what it was saying lyrically."
That, however, didn't prove to be the biggest challenge for Teddy musically, That honour went to the gospel remake of Debarge's "Time Will Reveal", redupped, "The Lord Is Real".
"That was a real challenge because I had to incorporate all my grouops on my label (LOR Records) on that, so geting the backgrounds to sound right and make sure all voices worked together was hard. Then I think also with this album I really made an effort to get things like my string and brass parts to sound as authentic as possible. Like the track, "Paradise" (wich sounds uncannily like old EW&F), I really worked hard to make that sound authentic."
Generally "Another Level" is a far more ballad orientated affair than ist predecessor; the move was purposeful on Teddy's part.
"That's because most of our success with the last album came from ballads" he explained. "Also this time round we wanted to do songs that weren't disrespectful to women...wich is what some people may have felt with the last time"
Although Teddy has talked for a long time about the numerous acts signed to his label, the upcoming months will finally see them surface, through his new label deal with Interscope.
"Basically that's all I've been doing concentrating on, this BLACKstreet album and the new acts. I haven't really listened to anything else that's out there. I'm anxious for the new groups to come out because it will help us to see where music's going in the future."
Ironically, Teddy's now finds himself reaffiliated with MCA Records, through their distribution deal with Interscope. MCA, was of course, the label LOR was previously associated with before, dissatisfied, Teddy backed out of the situation, deciding for a while to go the independent route.
"Yeah, but things are way different now I'm with Interscope" he stated.
One of hte differences has been that Teddy's been able to collaborate with people like Dr. Dre (featured on "No Diggity"), who's also signed to Interscope.
"We've known each other for a while and wanted to do things together but he wasn't able to because of the situation he was in (with Death Row). Now that situation's changed we could hook up."
What did Teddy take from the collaboration?
"Well, the thing he really told me and which I agreed with was that the music has to come first and all that gangsta-ism stuff really shouldn't have anything to do with it. He wanted to get away from all that gangsta negativity and I that's what I feel. I've never been about being a gangsta never will."
And "No Diggity" marks a return to form for Teddy in creating a jam strictly for the streets,. It's a return to the ethos of music making that earmarked his earlier career with artists such as Keith Sweat, Johnny Kemp, Guy and later Wreckx-N-Effect.
"One of the producers we have here came up with the sample and I took it to the next level with the track" Teddy explained. "Once we did the track there was still something missing, so that's when I added that bassy piano part wich really fills it out and gives it something different."
Teddy openly admits that life these days is a lot "smoother" for him than it once was. He's been happily focused on building his label and the careers of the new artists he has signed.
"That's really my goal right now to make sure their careers go well and that their records come out in the first quarter of the next year. The hard thing about running a label is pleasing the artists. It gets frustrating for them when their release dates keep getting pushed back and they look to me but there's nothing I can do because ist out of my hands. I'm getting told just the same way they are. But generally, you know, I've had quite a few years in the business to fall back on".
If Teddy's taking to the management of his other groups well, finding suitable personal management for himself has never been easy.
"That's always been my biggest problem" he confinded, "finding the right management for me. At the moment, I'm with South Paw in California and things seem to be cool."
Juggling the demands of being a creative entity in the studio and a label head, though, can't be easy.
"It's actually not hard at all" Teddy replied. "As long as things are organised and in place. I've really not worried about producing outside acts, only my own artists and I know what they need so in a way the two things go together. Also being down here in Virginia helps. I move all my artists here. Here we can concentrate on what we need to without distractions and people constantly looking over your shoulder and being with the right label helps. Interscope are keen for us to get things right."
Although Teddy admits there's not a lot of music out there that really blows him away, from a business standpoint he has been inspired by the way other black music orientated labels are being run.
"I like what Puffy's doing (at Bad Boy) and what LaFace is doing. Both those labels are winning. They have good groups and a good strategy and they're doing things differently from others. They're doing things that work for them and that's what I aim to do - something different from others but that works, putting out good music and good artists."
With the demands of putting together BLACKstreet's live show, ,for their upcoming tour in October (with possibly Total, 112, Case and Montel Jordan) Teddy left B&S readers with this parting shot.
"I'd like to thank everyone in the UK for their support. The way we were received last time round was incredible. I hope you like the new album because we can't wait, can't wait to get back over there really soon.