For Teddy Riley, it’s always been about making history. Yes, it’s an audacious and, some may even say, bombastic viewpoint. But who could blame him? Born in Harlem, N.Y., Riley has played a role in various pivotal musical moments. He helped lead hip-hop’s new generation, producing Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew’s 1985 landmark debut, ‘The Show.’ He went on to create a new sound christened New Jack Swing, fueling two of the ’80s most heralded R&B works: Keith Sweat’s ‘Make It Last Forever’ and the influential debut album from the Riley-led trio Guy. He also collaborated with pop music royalty like Michael Jackson on ‘Dangerous’ and lead R&B into the ’90s with Blackstreet.
Riley has even flexed his impressive longevity by logging studio time with the biggest pop star of the Facebook age, Lady Gaga. That’s Riley working his studio magic on her 2009 track ‘Teeth,’ off ‘The Fame Monster.’ Indeed, Riley, who is currently finishing up reunion projects for both Blackstreet and Guy, is not one to settle down. He has to keep moving. The BoomBox sat down with the Grammy-winning entertainer to discuss his history-making journey, thoughts on the late diva Whitney Houston and forthcoming TV project. He also shares why he still gets nervous when he works with the greats.
There has been some talk of a Blackstreet reunion. How far are you with getting back with the guys?
We are working on the Blackstreet record right now. I was going to release a single, but I pulled it back, because I wanted to take time with the whole thing. I look at it like building a house. You have your floor plans and each one is different; and you have different room colors. That’s how I look at this new Blackstreet album. Then we will choose a single from there.
Are we talking about the original lineup of Chauncey Black, Dave Hollister, Mark Middleton and Eric Williams?
Well, we’ve always been known as the black Menudo [laughs]. If you know anything about that group they switched members all the time. But the owners were still in the group. But I can tell you this: Chauncey and I are going to step back after this Backstreet project and create a whole new lineup.
You seem to be taking a pretty old school approach to this Blackstreet project. Can you find success working in that manner in today’s online downloading world, where artists upload music as soon as they record it?
I have to be me. Because that’s the only way I know how to make music. I want the fans to be able to choose the records as well. I want to give everyone a shot to be a part of the music. I was moving really fast in the beginning on this Blackstreet project. I wanted a Valentine’s Day single. But I said, “You know what? Let’s not rush it. Let’s do it right.” I just got a studio house for me and the guys. We are going to live together. This house is away from everything. We are going to pull this album off and make a magical record.
Do you have a label home for the project yet?
That’s being worked on right now. It’s going to be on my label, but we are going to find a big distributor. I want to stay independent with it, but I still want the music to be heard.
You had the experience of working with the late great Whitney Houston on the Bobby Brown duet ‘Something In Common.’ What are your memories of her as an artist and as a person?
I think it’s going to be a long time before we get another Whitney Houston. I really believe that Beyonce is close. But Whitney will always be the first to get love from every fan of every musical genre. I’m talking about country, rock, pop and R&B. She got funky with ‘I’m Every Woman.’ She’s even done gospel and she did reggae with Wyclef Jean! That’s what I feel is an all-around artist. No artist has done that on her level. If Whitney was still here I would tell her that we all loved her.
You’ve produced everyone from Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown to Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga. How have you been able to stay so relevant during your 25 plus year run?
I still love the music. I have made history with these artists. When you work with great artists like Michael, you learn how to make a great record. You learn how to put together a real album. I have been blessed. Get ready for my story to be told … we also have a TV project coming up.
What kind of concept can fans expect?
It’s going to be called ‘The Life of Riley,’ and it’s about my life. We just signed the contracts. It’s going to feature me, my daughters and my son, Blackstreet and Guy. We are still working on the channel details.
Now that’s some big news. Are we going to see a Guy reunion as well?
Yes … Aaron [Hall] and Damian [Hall]. I’ve been talking to Aaron. It looks like we are going to do a tour. I think it would be great if Guy could tour with New Edition as well. That would be my ultimate goal. I would like to have at least one major show sponsored by a company.
That would be truly full circle, given that Guy and New Edition were involved in one of the earliest music beefs in the 1989. There were the stories of Guy upstaging New Edition on their own N.E. Heartbreak tour. That tension resulted in the shooting death of a member of Guy’s entourage. What comes to mind when you look back at that turbulent time in your life?
I want people to understand that we are still friends after the tragedy of me losing my best friend on that tour. Because we all knew that the fight didn’t happen because of New Edition or Guy. We are the creative people. It was the back line … the people who were a part of our camps that were fighting. But the newspapers always have to make the public think it’s the actual artists. New Edition back then was big … and Guy was big as well. So my goal is to have one major show. I’m not talking about a straight-ahead show where New Edition performs their songs and then Guy performs our songs. I’m talking about one song from Guy and then one song from New Edition. There would be a point where we even perform a song together.
Wow, that’s pretty ambitious, huh?
It is. I really want people to see that we all stand together as the new legends.
Do you wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “I’m Teddy Riley. I’m one of the greatest producers of all time. I created New Jack Swing?”
Let me tell you something. I still get anxiety attacks when I work with great artists [laughs]. Like I said, I got to work with some of the greatest, even Aretha Franklin. That is something that would make an unstable person just go crazy. You are sitting side by side with someone like a Michael Jackson, and he’s telling you how he wants a certain chorus to go. I still get nervous thinking about it. I’ve been pretty reserved for the life that God has made for me. My goal and dream was to become the next Quincy Jones. I feel like I’m still trying to get close … I’m not there yet. But I’m getting close as I work with these great artists.