Teddy Riley, the Godfather of New Jack Swing, revealed plenty during a career spanning panel at SXSW on Wednesday. Joined by current Revolt executive Andre Harrell, Riley expounded on plenty of subjects, from Michael Jackson to Bruno Mars and the recent allegations against the 24K Magic singer of cultural appropriation.
Riley, the wunderkind hitmaker of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s had produced singles for Al B Sure (“Off On Your Own”, “Nite And Day”) as well as Heavy D (“Now That We Found Love”) but some of those records were supposed to belong to other people. Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” was originally intended for Keith Sweat. “Is It Good To You” as well as “Now That We Found Love” were intended for Wreckx-N-Effect. “My Prerogative” was supposed to be on Guy’s The Future album but instead landed on Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel. The craziest one of all? Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” was originally intended for MJ but MJ never heard the track. He also hopes that one day Beyoncé would do a New Jack Swing album in the same way Janet Jackson linked up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
On Bruno Mars & Cultural Appropriation: “Bruno’s one of my favorite artists,” Harrell said. “I saw him at a spring performance in New York. I checked him out, I knew he was a good musician and I would see him at the Atlantic Records Grammy party and he’d always want to break out and do BBD … do New Edition songs. When it came to do [24K Magic], I see him and I sit down with him and I asked him, ‘What do you want to do?’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I told him, ‘When I see you, you always want to perform these black records! You just did the Super Bowl, you ain’t goin’ back to those “Monkey” records…’ You should go see Babyface. He went out to go see Babyface and Babyface called me and said, ‘I know you sent him over here.’ And he stayed for six weeks. He’s not what I would call a cultural appropriator … a culture vulture. He’s Spanish, which is damn near black. Whenever mainstream pop stars do niche music, it brings the niche music back to the forefront. So for me, I think it’s a compliment.”
Riley: “The song is amazing, it sounds like a collage of music. But his style is in there. He’s not afraid. And he stands behind his music.”
Harrell on signing Guy: “That changed the game. I remember when I had Guy and we had the first single and it was called ‘Groove Me’ and it was a hit. I already had Al B Sure and Heavy D but ‘Groove Me’ would travel. I’d play it for my friends, I played it for different people and they didn’t get it. And when they didn’t get it, I said, ‘Oh y’all gon’ get it, y’all gon’ be two years behind me.’”
Harrell on starting Uptown Records: “Sometimes I would have gigs after work and I was a sales assistant for talk radio. I would just stay in my suit and go up and start rocking. After a while, that would become my image. I started Uptown based off of my group Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I was from the Bronx, Mr. Hyde was from Harlem. And I would spend most of my time in Harlem picking up Harlem style. The whole style thing. And I would sit there at King Tower’s Basketball Tournament and the hustlers would come out with these teams. I would look at how they were dressed and I thought to myself, ‘What if young people could do this legally, have this kind of swag and attitude, like having a convertible Benz is nothing.’ I said, ‘If I start a record company, my artists are going to look like that.’”
Riley on Michael Jackson: “I didn’t meet Michael in person until after I had done “2300 Jackson Street” for the Jacksons. We were working on “Remember The Time” and we got through the intro and the first verse, and Michael was happy. He left the studio that he built for me. I told him I liked to stay in the studio so he built me one in Los Angeles. It had a game room, a pool room, bedroom, everything so I could sleep there. I had a hotel room and Michael was paying for a hotel room that I never even slept in. Because he’d built this studio for me.”
“I remember the first marketing meeting we had for Dangerous. The first meeting? I wasn’t called to the meeting and Michael was very upset. They had to get me from the other room and he says at the beginning of the meeting, “I do not want anyone in here having a meeting and not tell Theodore! Theodore must be in every meeting, artist, marketing, I don’t care. It’s my project, he’s supposed to be in every meeting!”
On The Dangerous Album Cover: “He was working on a collage in his bedroom. That collage that turned into the cover? He made that. That’s why there’s a limited edition of the album where the cover is 3D. So he was making this, in his room, with paper! He would make this collage and I would say, ‘Wow, that’s nice!’ You know where the eyes are looking at you and the eyes would kind of follow you? That was the scariest picture.”
On Plans For The Future: “We’ve got this Teddy Riley and Friends show planned for EssenceFest. It’s gon’ blow y’all minds. This is the time where I gotta let loose and let Uptown come all the way out. Hopefully, I get my man Diddy there and people who want to see it first hand. Guy is going to be there, Blackstreet is going to be there. Kool Moe Dee, Wreckx-N-Effect … and then um, I’m trying to have Hi-Five there and also Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat and then we have another surprise…”