Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Teddy Riley: The Producer In The Mirror

Michael Jackson & Teddy Riley
Michael Jackson & Teddy Riley Teddy Riley

“They even made mother Catherine believe that it was not Michael. The fact is, it is Michael on these vocals and I have done everything to prove this to all the doubters. “

In the UK to promote Michael 2010, I get a chance to meet Teddy Riley a man that in his own right is a legend of the music business and was indeed the founder and creative genius behind Guy and Blackstreet. Talking to his manager Bull, he lets me know that they have not slept properly for a few days. “Not good” I think because he has had a whole day of interviews with undoubtedly some of the same questions coming up and he is tired. His next interviews finishes and he swaggers out saying, “I need to do the interview out here man that other room had a bed in it and it is making think of sleep”. My worries ease.

Decked out in all black with the obligatory shades he reminds me of his days in Blackstreet (hence the name duh) when Blackstreet pumped out hit after hit all under the watchful gaze of Riley. Indeed Riley can be credited as the man that brought a movement “New Jack Swing” that lit up the 80’s and the 90’s; a period of intense creativity and some of the biggest bangers that still reverberate in the musical arena 'No Diggity' (1996).

In an intently normalising moment, Riley receives a call from his son’s principle and Riley suddenly switches from music star to a parent and is palpably worried. It turns out that his son was fine and after a few words with the principle he gives some encouraging words to his son: “that is not a Riley we do not cry be strong and I love you and I will see you when I get back”.

We talk kids and celebrity and he candidly opens up about his much publicised spat with his own daughter who evidently put out a restraining order on him. “Being a celebrity is a whole different thing. My daughters are not dumb and they utilised that whole thing and planned that and put it all over TNT. It says that Teddy Riley pulled out a rock star guitar and hit his kids. You can’t pull that on me. I am really a nice parent and I let them get away with all these things and the day I go to put my foot down they jumped back at me. “

He is obviously pained and the media circus that surrounded that whole event evidently draws parallels with Michael Jackson “Police came and had me on the ground. They had no evidence of what happened. They threw away all the facts that would justify why they felt it necessary to come out with all the police and the helicopters.” he adds, “Now Michael dealt with the media well because the best way to deal with it is to stay out of the limelight and not answer and questions let your publicist answer the questions. I think most media will basically put what they want and so they had to create certain stories about him and this was not fair.”

We seamlessly slip into conversations regarding the intense controversy that seemed to surround Michael Jackson. “The real Michael Jackson wanted controversy I promise you. I would not be surprised if he planned all the allegations.” He further ascertains after his own problems, “Bad publicity is good publicity when nobody is talking about you then you are doing something wrong.” Indeed the irony that in death controversy still surrounds Jackson cannot be missed.

It is over a year since his sudden death. Michael Jackson the man, the name and the enigma begins his journey into a form of immortality where his name will live on in undoubted countless releases of unheard music and re releases.

'Michael' (2010) is the first such release and Teddy Riley perhaps bravely takes the helm to bring an album that once again sees the name “Michael Jackson” run in cohorts with the word “controversy”. I use the word bravely because it was never going to be a settling or indeed a unifying moment to announce and bring a new album from Michael Jackson when he is no longer with us.

Case in point, much of this controversy has centered around the fact that many believe that Jackson has not really blessed the album on some of the songs and that more worryingly that Michael in truth would not have wanted this album.

Will I am who was working with Michael before he passed was recently quoted as saying: "I don't think the album should ever come out, it's bad. He was a perfectionist and he wouldn't have wanted it that way. How are you going to release Michael Jackson when Michael Jackson is not here to bless it?" Whoever put it out and is profiting off of it, I want to see how cold they are” Will I Am is alluding to the fact that money or self publicising has been the driving force behind such a project as opposed to any noble catalyst.

Teddy Riley has had to face a multitude of criticisms (that include greed) in the face of this release from Michael’s family, to other musical peers but he is staunch in his defence of the release and his motivations. “The music as it is will of course be his legacy. Putting this record out is just putting his message out, his legacy. What I say to people that believe that he should not be putting something out because he is a perfectionist or he would not want it out then they do not know what they are talking about.” He adds genuinely aggrieved one senses,” They even made mother Catherine believe that it was not Michael. The fact is, it is Michael on these vocals and I have done everything to prove this to all the doubters. At one point it was only me who knew it was his vocals until we got with forensic vocalist for analysis and all the different professions that worked with Michael for however many decades had to come through. In truth even without all those different people I still would have believed that the vocals were those of Michael.”

The difficulties of trying to produce a record that would reach the high standards set by Jackson were always one can imagine going to cause a multitude of problems, “It was very difficult because the Michael that we know would always say “go back” so when you hear go back do it over you would like hols your head in your hands. Even when you think you have finished he would be like “that needs to be touched” or “it is not great”. So I was making five versions out of one song to find a track that was “great”.

I have to admit that the album has some great tracks on there. I am loving Behind the Mask which is (I feel) quintessentially Jackson in terms of the subject matter and the feel which instinctively makes you want to see Michael Jackson performing the way he used to: but the album is not all good. For the diehard fans (who who will be analysing this album with intense scrutiny) there may well be displeasure, a point that I vocalise but he alludes to an interesting and historical point, “The album is a whole story. People did not like Thriller in the first place until Video Soul broke that video which was really a film and then it became phenomenal; so Michael music grows on you.”

'Thriller' (1982) was seminal and the first highly successful exponent of the single and video concept that we take for granted these days.” But I am intrigued to know if Michael Jackson could have really made this comeback. The media machine pulled us in all different directions regarding the headline generating Michael Jackson. One minute he was too frail to perform and the next he was lifting weights, “I think that Michael was destined to come back and he had the hunger again to do that but I do not know if he had the physical energy to that. He was not like the person I knew.” And when I ask what made him the greatest? “First of all being humble, not settling for anything that was less than great, adamant about what he believes and not being accessible. To a lot of people Michael never put himself out there.”

Lastly we get to talk about his own projects and he reveals some exciting developments in terms of Blackstreet who are reforming with new additions like the uber suave Dave Hollister, “We are three songs deep and we start our first rehearsals in three weeks. Me and Dave have been on the phone and together and now we are just waiting for Eric and Mark and we will meet out in Atlanta.” And excitingly he adds to the question, “will you bring back the 90’s?”

“Definitely we are going to comeback with that 90’s vibe. Beyonce herself is coming with a 90’s album that is what we are going to be doing. I cannot wait because 2011 is going to be the new 90’s.”
With that I am out of there to leave Teddy Riley to his massage and me to ponder a great opportunity to talk with someone that knew Michael Jackson well. Will Jackson’s music and the circus that surround him ever stop, of course not?

“It makes me laugh that even in death he is still causing controversy.”
Words Semper Azeez-Harris

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