Few names stand out as undisputed, truly great producers. In a business that prides itself for branding the next big thing in pop culture, successful longevity is the key to becoming a legend. At the 4th annual VH1 Hip Hop Honors, (which premiers Monday, October 8th) the show will honor the hip-hop pioneers and legends that have made significant contributions to all aspects of pop culture and will celebrate the players who broke new ground and pioneered the genre into a true culture of phenomenon. Teddy Riley will be immortalized along with Andre Harell, Snoop, Whodini, and Missy Elliot, among others.
Teddy Riley has proved for decades what success in music means and has earned his mark in the entertainment history books…
When I began my career as an artist, Teddy Riley always topped my list of producers I’d only dreamed of one day working with. After only a few short years, in 2005, through pure luck and some obscure circumstance, my publicist Jonathan Hay and I met Teddy Riley in the Can Am Studios parking lot, on his personal studio tour bus. At that time, my talent as an artist could not meet that of his as a producer, but he did take the time to listen to my music and offer encouragement as we parted ways. I always appreciated him for that.
Today, through the influential entertainment company, Buck And A Dream, and Greg “4orty” Bowman (co-founder of Buck And A Dream and Teddy Riley’s business partner), I’ve met up with Teddy Riley again and been given a second chance to work with him. Thanks to Buck and a Dream, I’ve merged with Teddy Riley’s personal assistant, Blak, and Blaklite Entertainment. Buck And A Dream also put me in industry mogul Hiriam Hicks’ studio, The Artist Factory in Atlanta, GA, where I recorded some of the very songs that won over Teddy’s interest. Teddy Riley’s Buck And A Dream Corporation has been a huge blessing to my project, and has helped lift me from simply an unsigned artist, to a signed recording artist on the eve of the release of my upcoming internationally distributed debut album.
At my most recent meeting with Teddy in his home in Atlanta, he sat down with me again and played through what I felt were my 10 best songs. He told me I definitely had radio singles — almost too many to choose from. He even said that my only problem was that I had too many hit singles to pick from, but that was a good problem, of course. He let me know that the improvement was astounding, and that he’d really like to work with me now. Wow. What more could I say? To get the stamp of approval from a man with such an illustrious career, a man whose music I grew up listening to, was indescribable. We’re talking about Teddy Riley here! And while I could prattle on about his amazing career and recite through his catalogues of accolades, it just wouldn’t mean as much as it could, if you were to hear about the experiences from the man himself.
I’m greatly honored to get up close and personal with Teddy Riley and give his first interview since the news of being inducted into the VH1 Hip Hop Honors…
Lucy Diamonds: VH1 Hip-Hop Honors… Wow! What an honor. Tell us how you feel about this amazing recognition that is being presented to you.
Teddy Riley: I feel great about it. A lot of people looked over the fact that I brought in a new genre of music, so to have VH1 honoring me for my accomplishments is a wonderful achievement.
Lucy Diamonds: On the VH1 Press Kit, it says you’ll be receiving the award with Andre Harrell. Did you two work together?
Teddy Riley: Yes. I was signed to Uptown with Guy, along with Gene Griffin.
Lucy Diamonds: There have been rumors going around the news that you and Will.i.am are both working on the new Michael Jackson album? Any truth to that?
Teddy Riley: Yes, it’s true Michael and I are supposed to be working together. I don’t know exactly which direction Michael is going in right now, but when the call comes in, I’m there.
Lucy Diamonds: Speaking of Michael Jackson, after he broke records with Quincy Jones on several albums up through Bad¸ you took over the production for Dangerous. At that time in your career, was following Quincy Jones a lot of pressure?
Teddy Riley: It was a lot pressure, I ain’t gonna lie about it. I felt really tense going in there working with Michael and to be coming after Quincy who’s a genius. He’s the Grandfather of production. Actually he called me to do it. He told me “you can do this.” He’s the one who put me out there to Michael and said, “This is the guy you need to do your record.” So then Michael called. At that point, I just went in with a lot of songs knowing he’d at least pick one song but he picked seven.
Lucy Diamonds: What was that experience like?
Teddy Riley: That experience was crazy because… like, I expected the worst. So when you expect the worst and then you actually get something, the worst now becomes the best for you. I expected not to have more than one song on the album, but then over the course we just developed this great relationship and chemistry. It’s a magnificent feeling.
Lucy Diamonds: You produced one of Jay-Z’s first breakout, mainstream radio crossover hits, “The City is Mine.” Can you take us behind the music on that monumental single?
Teddy Riley: Producing Jay-Z was incredible, but at the same time I didn’t know it was one of his first radio hits. I thought he already had more because Jay-Z is the greatest.
Lucy Diamonds: Did you see that kind of artistic and business potential in Jay-Z back then, to become the megastar that he is now?
Teddy Riley: Of course, Jay-Z has always been humble; he was never one of those guys who had ego. He was always down to Earth. He knew what he wanted and he went for it. He never used a pen and paper to write any of his rhymes, at least not in my presence. He always spit everything off the top of his head. To have such a great memory as he did and to be able to recite that stuff over and over again, just to put it together is genius. Jay-Z is a genius.
Lucy Diamonds: You discovered both the Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins. Can you tell us how those discoveries came about?
Teddy Riley: Well the Neptunes came about during a talent show that I had given. Pretty much, we had some judges overseeing the contest who were picking along the lines of the Whitney Houston sound, but these guys were in a class by themselves, so I chose them to be the winners. I overruled the judges’ decision and pronounced them the winners. From there, I signed them to my production company. Rodney Jerkins — I was working on Black Street at the time and one of my good friends and assistants back then, Earl Thomas, brought him to me. We just started grinding it out. I told him that I didn’t want to be his manager, as I really didn’t even have time for myself at the time. I told him that I could give him all the advice that he needed and for anything that he needed to know I’d be there for him. So once he came out, he pushed my name along as to where he came from. Rodney, he’s my lil’ brother.
Lucy Diamonds: How did Buck And A Dream get started and what is your vision for that?
Teddy Riley: Buck And A Dream was started by my partner Greg Bowman (4orty) who actually came up with the original idea. I kind of just added on to it. I thought it was a great idea. To be able to inspire and help those who are trying to break into the business, but lack the necessary relationships that are often required to be seen or heard is amazing. As far as my vision for Buck And A Dream, I’d like to see it birth the future singers, songwriters, artists, and producers of the world, and I know it will. So for all of you up-and-coming artists whether it be singers, songwriters, producers or what have you, BuckAndAAream.com could very well be your missing link to the key to your success.
Lucy Diamonds: As far as hip-hop goes, who are you really feeling now? Who’s in your CD changer right now?
Teddy Riley: Honestly, I really don’t have any rap in my CD changer right now, but Jay-Z! That’s the only person I keep in there. His last album for me, I felt was a true hip-hop record. Now, I do like Nas, I like the people who are really saying something more or less and not just talking about partying. I like to be able to take away a message from a song, no matter if it’s a rapper, R&B singer or a gospel artist. I look for the message that they try to deliver. R&B wise, I have Mariah Carey in my CD changer. Now as far as gospel, I have J. Moss. I have a lot of gospel music in my CD changer.
Lucy Diamonds: I know you’re a very spiritual, grounded man. Do you consider yourself religious, and how do you feel about using music to glorify God?
Teddy Riley: Yes, I do consider myself religious, not overly, but I do know who has gotten me to the point of where I am today and I praise Him all day long. I’m doing a gospel label where I’m going to be building some real gospel artists. Artists that people won’t think are gospel artists due to the fact that they do hip-hop to the fullest. They will sound like a hip-hop artist, but they will be gospel and you will get it from the message. Then I have some gospel singers and artists coming as well. As far as R&B and hip-hop, I will be coming with some more stuff as well.
Lucy Diamonds: When I was in your studio, I noticed an incredible futuristic-looking keyboard I had never seen before. What exactly was that?
Teddy Riley: That futuristic keyboard is called a NeKo, yes it is futuristic. It’s pretty much a one man band — it does everything. Anything that you can imagine will come out of this keyboard. It’s unbelievable. It does everything, it has a touch screen and it’s PC orientated. It’s an Intel PC, which is one of the fastest. Basically, what I have in there is all of my musical sounds and documents and everything that I do. I have pretty much two terabytes worth of sounds.
Lucy Diamonds: What current ring tone do you presently have on your phone?
Teddy Riley: At the time I don’t have any ringtones on my phone. I used to though. I had some of my songs. The last ring tone that I had was Akon’s “Don’t Matter.”
Lucy Diamonds: When it’s all said and done, how would you like the world to remember Teddy Riley?
Teddy Riley: I’d like the world to remember me as a hero, as someone who helped a lot of people, someone who was always humble, down to earth, a gentleman and a businessman.
Lucy Diamonds: With so many millions of people having grown up listening to your music, you have truly made history and affected lives all over the world. I want to thank you for taking the time, and let you know what a blessing it is for me to do this interview with you. Thank you, Teddy.