BLACKstreet: “If Teddy Riley isn’t there you’re not getting the real music”

Check 1: Interview with Chauncey “Black” Hannibal? Yep.
Check 2: Interview with legendary producer and swingbeat creator Teddy “Street” Riley?
Yep yep.

That’s the real BLACKstreet, no diggity, no doubt. Founding members Riley and Hannibal are coming over for a one-off show in the UK on April 2nd (Good Friday) at the IndigO2 in London. It’ll be the first time they’ve appeared together in Britain, as part of four man vocal group BLACKstreet, for over 15 years. That’s the show that the buzz is all about.

If you’ve got tickets to see another three blokes masquerading as the group, performing in places like Leamington Spa or Basingstoke, it’s not going to be the real thing; just two geezers singing over a DAT (whereas Teddy and Hannibal are bringing a full band) in a nightclub on a fancy dress “school disco night” – be assured that’s not the real BLACKstreet. You’ll have plenty of reasonable diggity to get your money back.

The emergence of ex-sidemen doing spoiler shows in Europe has understandably got BLACKstreet more than a little vexed: “Yeah, legally we’re putting a halt and were setting all of it down. It’s a shame that these guys are out there trying to belittle the name. If it ain’t Riley or Hannibal it’s not the real Blackstreet!” says Chauncey.

Teddy is even more pissed: “I want to say one thing – and this goes out to all of the fake BLACKstreet members; these guys who are actually going over, doing shows and ruining the credibility of the brand. I want to say to them: They will not know what hit them, when they get this law suit! I’m letting everyone know, all the promoters and all of the people that book them. We are going to find you – this is not a threat this is a promise – we are going to find you and when we do, when my lawyer do, it’s going to be curtains because we are gonna put you all on Front Street…”

AUDIO: Teddy Riley warns against ‘fake’ BLACKstreet Lineup
[audio: Riley Warning fake Blackstreet_unknown.mp3]

Short breath and Riley continues: “These guys that are doing BLACKstreet are has-beens. They are not able health wise to even be a part of BLACKstreet. Eric Williams is suffering, he’s got sickle cell or something where he cannot perform, he cannot move. Mark Middleton has got an injury from his job which is in construction. They were called by some bogus, fictitious guys from Germany or somewhere to make a little money, which is no money. We [Chauncey and I] own BLACKstreet’s trademark, we own BLACKstreet. We are the founders so if anyone see Eric Williams, Mark Middleton or Levi Little performing they are getting short-changed. If you see just 3 members of that Blackstreet – boo them!

“They’re not the real guys. If Teddy Riley is not there you are not getting the real music. So I urge all the fans. I created this movement and I am there to perform this movement with Chauncey Hannibal and the two extra members are just chosen as hire, they’re hired. Mark and Eric and Levi, were not full fledged members. They were work for hire. So I just want all of our fans who are really behind BLACKstreet to know: If you don’t get Teddy or Chauncey there? Leave the show and go get your money back.

“Those that are coming to our show… we are gonna give you a show of LIFE! You’re gonna get some people that can move you’re not gonna get some fat people. Those guys SUCK! But with us you’re getting the true show. You’re getting a band, were spending all our money to give you the true set. BUT I’M LETTING EVERYBODY KNOW, WHEN YOU TRY TO STEP ON MY BRAND – I HAVE TO SET YOU DOWN! DUDES YOU SUCK!”

Teddy we are reading you loud and clear. And aah isn’t it great? Haven’t you just missed them? Teddy and the boys – getting all irate and turning back the clock like its 1992, back to a time when it was commonplace for an R&B star to get his beef on, publicly, like Riley did when he fell out with ex-Guy group members Gene Griffin (still credited with producing Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” on CD re-releases to this day, even though everyone knows it was Teddy’s handy work) and the Hall brothers. Those were the days. Even Teddy and Chauncey had a little disagreement, just prior to Teddy getting back together with Guy, Hannibal put out the mixtape Chauncey Black Is Back featuring the controversial “Shame On You”, including the lyrics:

“Now your back to some old shit … n*ggas in the street don’t feel,
So say bye bye to the other Guy, give me the 2 mil – that you owe, so, shame on you.”

–(‘Shame On You’, Chauncey Black Is Back)

Chauncey laughs when the song is mentioned, “That was back in the day when I was real upset (laughs) but you know it is what it is.” Did Teddy pay the 2 million dollars that he owed? “No, Teddy didn’t owe me no 2 million dollars, I was just putting that out there because I was upset and he was with Guy and I was pissed off, but you know I was just getting it off my chest. If anything Chauncey Black always got paid his money in the group (laughs).” He added “and everybody did, I was always a founding member – so I never got replaced.”

So what did Teddy think about Chauncey’s track? Riley giggles.

“Yeah, I’m sorry – yeah I heard it for sure. It wasn’t one of my favourites but you know… it wasn’t actually one of BLACKstreet’s favourites neither, you know,” he laughs “It was like a mixtape record. It happens and you know we got past that but when it came out I was like “Wow!” but you know it happened. We went through that, and after that whole situation the truth came to the forefront.”

But it’s cool, water under the bridge. As Chauncey says, “Me and Teddy are like blood brothers.” However it must have tempted Teddy to do an answer record though “No, come on now, I would never do it. I only did a record one time, talking about somebody who has “Gotta Be A Leader”, that was Gene Griffin and that was it. But that’s just not me, I love to make music.” And it’s the music that BLACKstreet have made their name on.

Right now what we’re gonna do is go back… to 1993. High top fade haircuts were already out, but Karl Kani pants (you know pants of the trouser kind not the y-front kind) and dungarees, unclipped on one side, were still very much en vogue. Teddy Riley had been riding high, having just worked with 3 of the planets biggest stars in Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.

But New Jack Swing’s five year dominance was about to end. Soul and R&B was transforming, away from the synth, computer led era of swingbeat that had been Riley’s trademark to the more musical G-Funk inspired hip hop made by Dr. Dre and DJ Quik and the traditional, old school soul sounds of Boyz II Men and Tony Toni Toné.

As always one step ahead of the game, BLACKstreet’s classic debut would be influenced by both styles and it was Chauncey, at that point one of Teddy’s demo singers, who first suggested they both form a vocal harmony group, along with fellow original members Joseph Stonestreet and Levi Little. Teddy explains.

“Chauncey came up with the idea and but I wasn’t looking to be in a group. That’s when Guy had broken up and I had a little hope for putting Guy back together but when I heard an interview with Aaron & Damian Hall saying “the Hall brothers is coming! We coming with our new album” that’s what made me say “I’m doing this group and it’s gonna be a smash” and it became a smash.”

What did Guy think about the BLACKstreet album? “I didn’t have no conversation with them,” recalls Teddy “But I knew it was a slap in dey face, which is want I wanted to do. I always hit people with a slap in they face. That’s just how it is and when I do something I like to hit ’em hard! Because we’ve been places that Guy has never been in they’re lives. They never been on MTV, you know what I’m saying… they never been on VH1. They never been on the Grammy’s – so I wanted to do something that was never done.

Because of the strength of the vocalists Teddy was able to approach BLACKstreet differently than Guy. “The ranges that we had with our voices in Blackstreet were so much better. It was limited with Guy, because you know I’m not really a singer – I like to entertain – Aaron’s voice was just one way, he couldn’t sing any other way – Aaron couldn’t do falsetto. Aaron couldn’t do what Chauncey did which was giving me the smoothness of the Babyface, now that’s Chauncey style.

“And then you have Dave Hollister’s voice which is so different. I met Dave when he was submitting a demo of himself at the Hilton/Sheraton hotel when I was working with Michael Jackson and I kept saying to him “Man I’m definitely gonna sign you, when I get something going you’ll be the first person I call – so when we had BLACKstreet, and after we let Joseph Stronestreet go because he had a lot of problems – we got Dave Hollister.

“Dave Hollister, Chauncey and myself is the classic line-up (it’s the same line-up that will be going back into the studio to do a Blackstreet record later in the year) I think the other guy (Levi Little) was just to fulfil the line up, like Damian Hall with Guy. We put him on the song “Joy” and it took us a long time to get the song right, to Michael Jackson’s approval (who co-wrote the song), so we had to basically settle with his voice and it still did well. I just like to have the best out of someone and I didn’t get the best out of Levi Little. But for me on that album my favourite ballad was “Before I Let You Go” bar none – that’s the classic and that’s what stood out.”

Chauncey is proud of the first album too, but when asked which song is his favourite to perform he offers a cut from Another Level, the even more successful follow up record. “I love performing ‘Money Cant Buy Me Love’ – because it’s a Beatles record first but people just really got into how we changed it and made it a ballad, and how we interpreted the words of the record. And you know also we did the video for that in London. So it’s very special.”

Whilst the Bill Withers sampling ‘No Diggity’ was the huge hit, the album was choc full of ballads, so much so they could even afford to give away the glorious sweet soul cut “I Will”. “A penny for your thoughts,” sings Chauncey. That song was made for the second album but Usher just fell in love with it so we gave it to him.” It’s been 17 years since they first hit big, now that they’re both older, have kids, wear slippers etc. Do they still make “Booti Call’s”? I ask them to be honest.

Chauncey: “Yep – that ain’t changed”
Teddy: “Of course”
They both laugh.

[*as a cautionary tale its worth pointing out this writer tried making 1 solitary drunken booti call in 1996, but embarrassingly fell asleep before the girl arrived, meaning his step mum had to let the girl in the house – the excuse of “it was just a booti call” didn’t work).]

Teddy elaborates “Now that I’m older, I’m still gonna be me and make booti calls. My situation with my children is my situation with my children but I still gotta make records for people to hear, say a love song like “Deep” and I’m gonna keep making those songs, because that’s how these people made their children from songs like that.”

Didn’t the kids cringe at the concert, “Oh Dad, you’re embarrassing me?” “No, ’cause dad is a grown damn man!” he laughs. “Dad has gotta do what Dad has gotta do – he’s singing grown folk music and if you want to come to Dad’s concert you gotta hear Dad’s music. My kids have been to my concerts and even them jams, they love my performance. Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson are the same.”

To be honest, Teddy, it’s hard to imagine Michael Jackson singing booti call. “Well I can’t imagine him doing that one neither but I know he would do “Spend The Night” (by Guy) because that was one of his favourite songs of mine.”  Speaking of Michael, Teddy recalls the moment he learned of Jacksons (a personal friend of Teddy’s) early and tragic passing; “Oh my God I was in bed, and I just didn’t wanna get out of the bed, I stayed there, in the bed for about two days. I didn’t take any phone calls I didn’t do anything, I just stayed still. I didn’t want to believe, and still don’t believe what has happened.”

Teddy can’t confirm rumours of a new album. “They may use some elements from me, put together ideas (not fully produced songs) but I haven’t been working on the new album and I don’t know if there’s gonna be a new album. Everybody keeps talking about it; I know the real because I’m represented by the same attorney as Michael.”

Recalling a happier moment the conversation moves on to the time when Teddy and Michael had to get a sample of one of Jackson’s tigers roar (to be used on his “She Drives Me Wild” from Dangerous, produced by Teddy). “We didn’t have to get up close … the sound of a tiger? It’s like the sound of eight sub woofers at the bottom of a stage.” So who went into the cage to get it the sample? “No!” says Riley “You can never, never enter the cage! We were outside of two cages because if he (the tiger was called ‘Thriller’) was to actually stand up he would be as tall as a 3 storey high building. We aggravated him (to get the sound), you know – basically we were like jumping at him, making noises.”

Blackstreet are set to perform a Jackson medley at the show, in honour of Michael’s proposed O2 “This Is It” dates. Many of BLACKstreet’s songs are influenced by the early ’80s soul sound of Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, Roger Troutman and Debarge (the monster hit “Don’t Leave Me” is based around a sample of Debarge’s “A Dream”) because as Riley explains “That era meant a lot to all of us, especially as kids. It also meant a lot to our audience. You know they loved hearing that sound from us and that’s why we went back there.” At the time, including the 80’s influence was seen as an element that helped push the music forward with a new sound. Something Teddy has always done … given the music industries trend for returning to classic musical eras would Riley ever do a retro “New Jack Swing” album. Using the same instruments he used back then – like a Fairlight sampler or a Linc controller?

“I can’t wait until you guys hear the new Teddy Riley album because we’re gonna take you back. Were doing records with people like Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock – remaking ‘Rockit’ but in a New Jack Swing style – Look forward to it, the albums called TRX.”

We will but first, we got a show to go to. And Teddy you done promised a show of “life”. Expect big things from Teddy, Chauncey and touring members Quinn and J.Stylz. It’s going to be a big year for Teddy Riley and BLACKstreet.

Roll on Good Friday.

BLACKstreet perform at the Indigo2 in London on April 2nd, 2010. Click for booking+info.

–Soul Jones

PS. Teddy & Chauncey would like to give a big thank you to Helen Williams, Blackstreet’s UK booking agent for all her hard work.

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