WORD UP! February 1997
New Residents, Bigger Sound
following the breakup of GUY a few years ago, it was speculated that Teddy Riley would just go back to the lab, more specifically his Future Recording studios in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and spend most of his creative time writing and producing songs for others instead of performing himself. After all, from Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew's 1986 classic rap hit "The Show", to Michael Jackson's Dangerous smash "Remember The Time", Teddy's studio signature on a song more often than not meant gold or platinum success.
Of course we know that Ted didn't simply retreat into the studio to make hits for others, but instead flexed his producer and live-onstage muscles with Wreckx'N'Effect, putting the #1 smash "Rumpshaker" on everybody's lips, motivating a mass movement of millions hips. However he was not finished.
Enter BLACKstreet, the million-seller R&B quartet that took the revolutionary rban genre "new jack swing" gar beyond where Riley, its creator, went with GUY, Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown, Al B. Sure, and so many others.
On the real tip, Teddy adamantly insists that it was solid soul/R&B, not dated new jack swing that made BLACKstreet's 1994-'95 self-titeled platinum debut album the international smash it was. He has a point convincingly reflected in the CD's soulful chart-topping "Booti Call", "Before I let you go", "Joy" and "Tonight's The Night".
Switching from rewind to fast-forward, BLACKstreet releases its sophomore album, Another Level, at an unexpected crossroad. Original members Levi Little and David Hollister hve flown the coop, leaving Teddy and Chauncey "Black" Hannibal, the group's power lead singer and occasional producer, with the monumental task of recasting two vital BLACKstreet vocal slots. "It really wasn't as easy as it may seem now, finding our new members, Mark Middelton and Eric Williams, was more than worth the effort," explains Teddy, who we caught up with in New York's Hit Factory. He was mastering the final phat mixes of Another Level, featuring the funkdafied lead single "No Diggity". Like that (slang for "no doubt") title and the entire album suggests, the group's music has risen to a higher, more retro-roots, and new soul/R&B plateau.
Eric Williams, it turns out, had a chance being in the original BLACKstreet lineup. Close friends and former singing partner with Chauncey, both were considered when Teddy put the act together. "When Chauncey was picked, I was in another group situation," Williams recalls. "I was happy for him then, but now that I'm in the group, I'm happier"
"From stronger leads to hyper harmony, to more live instruments, to ending the album on a spiritual high note ("The Lord Is Real")," says Teddy Riley, "this is the off-the-hook album we wanted the first one to be."
New Jerseyite adn Virginia transplant Williams, who started singing in church, is a dynamic baritone-tenor. With Chauncey adn Teddy on the mic, he's also complemented by the melodic passion of first tenor Mark Middleton's fearless falsetto. Brooklyn-born, South Carolina raised, adn now based in Virginia (as is the entire group), the college-educated Middelton says he's living a dream come true. "I've waited a long time for this and God knows I couldn't be working with better guys than Teddy, Chauncey and Eric."
Primarily recorded at Teddy's Future studios, other exeptional CD tracks include: "Good Lovin'", a scintillating slow jam, seducatively lead by Chauncey, who also excels on the R&B gem "Let's Stay In Love", "Never Let You Go", a tour-de-france romantic athem, sparked by Mark's explosive, scale-defying tenor; "The Fix"; a totally addictive BLACKstreet butta track; "I Can't Get You Out of My Mind"; unforgettably powered by Eric's lush leads; and BLACKstreet's multi-layered harmony; "Can't Buy Me Love", a serious soul remake of the Beatles' '60s classic. "We worked hard to give the album depth, substance and maximum BLACKstreet flavor, " says Riley, whose inspired musicianship, production and overall creative genius is indelibly imprinted throughout the milestone CD.
Still residing on BLACKstreet, where the extremely giftet new residents, Eric and Mark, have confortably settled in, Teddy and Chauncey report that the group's future never looked brighter. However, to set the record straight, Riley says about BLACKstreet's personel changes: "The departure of Levi and David was unexpected and a little unsettling at first, but we hold no grudges, and hope they do well. You see, Chauncey and I have always made the group's longevity a priority. So when Mark and Eric stepped in we realized the change was a blessing in disguise."
"Our sond is stronger, tighter and more diverse now," Chauncey chimes in. "And since Eric and Mark both singing incredible leads and harmony, me and Ted have more vocal support than ever. It's a win-win situation any way you slice it."