Truth be told, Teddy Riley’s career was finished. Actually, there were a few sobering moments when the Harlem-bred child prodigy keyboardist turned super producer was viewed as an afterthought amongst music industry tastemakers. First, let’s talk the highs. The 44-year-old creator of the groundbreaking style known as New Jack Swing—a sweat-inducing amalgamation of gospel, R&B, funk and hip-hop—dominated the late ‘80s and ‘90s, orchestrating gold and platinum anthems for such names as Kool Moe Dee, Guy, Keith Sweat, Heavy D, Bobby Brown, and Blackstreet. His era-defining sound represented a cultural touchstone—so much so that the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, requested Riley’s gifted vision for his gloriously soulful 1991 return-to-form Dangerous. This was the life.
But the lows were just as epic. The volatile break-up of his three-man group Guy; the murders of his brother Brandon as well as the shooting death of his best friend sparked by a touring feud with New Edition; bankruptcy. The hits would dry up for Riley. “But I never let anyone say I was underrated…I never let anyone say I was over,” a defiant Riley states today. “When you go to Twitter and Facebook people still say, ‘My favorite producer is Teddy Riley.’ And that’s only because I fight and I push. That’s what I want people to know.” It’s because of Riley’s pugilistic spirit that he remains a viable force in the music industry over 25 years after he first broke in the biz. It’s why he is equally in-demand by hip-hop royalty (Snoop Dogg) as he is by modern day, censor-igniting pop icons (Lady Gaga).
And his latest stroke of genius? Late last year, Riley turned his attention to the Korean pop market, finding global acclaim as a producer for cutesy K-pop chick clique Girl’s Generation. Riley’s resolve remains unshaken. Perhaps Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am said it best after choosing Riley as his favorite producer of all-time back in 2010 for VIBE’s Best Producer contest. “That’s who I patterned myself after because Teddy is not just a hip-hop producer,” he said in his praise of Riley. “That’s how I try to approach music.” This is Full Clip.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)