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Teddy Riley believes in doing it for the culture.
Since entering the music scene in 1987, Riley has shown that he is a chameleon, and able to adapt to the shifts and turns that come with the ever-changing music business. Real diehard fans might recall that he made his debut with his breakout group Guy in 1987. Throughout their time together, they released three studio albums. As for babies – however – they often draw reference to Riley’s Blackstreet days, which started in 1993 and served as a powerful R&B group with himself, Thomas R. Taliaferro and Chauncey “Black” Hannibal.
In addition to his successful career in boy bands, Riley proved that his songwriting abilities are untouchable. No matter the generational age gap, it’s quite impossible not to sing along to some of his staples including “Piece of My Love,” “Deep,” “Goodbye Love,” and “Is It Good to You” to name a few, which all have an undeniable amount of soul, love and authenticity that is hard to find in R&B songs today.
With his long list of accomplishments, Riley doesn’t have to compete at this point in his career. Earlier this month, he took part in a friendly Instagram Live “Verzuz” battle in which he went hit-for-hit with Babyface, who he considers an inspiration. Prior to the big day, fans had their calendars marked for the special occasion and were taken aback when the two had to postpone the special event several times due to technical difficulties and unforeseeable circumstances.
Nonetheless, when the highly anticipated battle finally took place, it was a night to remember. Fans from various parts of the world – over 4 million to be exact – tuned in to the broadcast, which broke Instagram’s record for the most viewers tuned into a live session. The two music legends also saw an increase in streaming numbers following the event, which further proved that the love for classic R&B will never die.
In our exclusive interview with the music icon, Riley opened up about his epic battle with Babyface, his thoughts on the current state of R&B, his legacy and more. Read below!
Yourself and Babyface finally had the chance to go head-to-head in an IG Live battle. How was that experience for you?
For me, it was amazing. It was like taking the finals for a big college test. The first test I failed (laughs). I came with too much. I was trying to give everybody more. I was doing an afterparty. I wanted to do 20 or 40 more songs and it just didn’t turn out right due to the technical difficulties. I still felt amazing about it. I always say, “God has a plan” and that plan was just organic of it being postponed. It was rescheduled for Monday. So, in between Saturday and Monday, the memes, they got at me. It was the most incredible cyber of roasts, ever. I’ve never been roasted.
Prior to the battle’s official date, there were a lot of unforeseeable circumstances that almost prevented it from happening. Why did you decide to go through with the battle?
To me, it wasn’t a battle. It was for the culture. It was us jamming, playing music for the people and keeping them engaged. That was my thought pattern. I would never battle Babyface, but if it’s something for the culture, you know, I’ll do it just for the fun of it.
What surprised you the most about that experience?
The views surprised me and the people who couldn’t get in. It was like going to The Palladium in New York or Bentley’s [Discotheque] and you have to exchange wristbands with somebody who is not going back in the club and take their ticket. That’s exactly what happened. People couldn’t get in. It was over capacity with over 4 million plus.
Do you have any favorite moments from that night that will resonate with you for a long time?
My favorite moment was when Babyface pulled out the guitar and played one of my favorite songs. We’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve always looked up to Babyface. When this all came about it, I just said, “I’m just playing my songs with him because this guy is the No. 1 writer of all time” in my book.
What are your thoughts on the current state of R&B?
From the result of “Verzuz,” R&B is coming back. People want that. People want to feel loved again. R&B is at a neutral level right now. It’s about to really take off.
What do you feel like R&B is missing today?
R&B is missing the caidence, it’s missing the love. It’s missing the essence of blackness. People want to be pop. Instead of being real with the world about how much we need love, and how much we need to be together and save relationships, you know, people are falling out of love. Marriages are being broken up because we don’t have the tools to keep it together, which is the love music.
You’ve put in more than twenty years into your craft. Do you feel as though you get the credit that you deserve? If not, does it bother you?
Everyone always says that I don’t get the credit I deserve. I can only go with my flow. The truth will come out or the truth has with this “Verzuz.” “Verzuz” has brought Babyface and I — and our streams — to everything. Our catalogue went up. I literally feel like this is amazing. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m getting my just due. I’m doing what I love, which counts for me.
Who do you feel is underrated or who people should be paying attention to?
That’s a great question. I really feel like artists like Joe, he’s probably one of the ones that I feel like people should pay attention to. He’s an incredible singer. There’s also Charlie Wilson, Anthony Hamilton, Maxwell, Eric Benet, and Toni Braxton, who’s been in the limelight for so long. I’m just excited to see R&B artists really come to the forefront. It’s going to be dependent on what they come with. Sometimes, artists can be in their own way, and that’s the reason why you don’t hear from them. So, that’s my take on it. It’s really about what you do and how you approach your audience. It takes the right thing at the right time.
I want to thank Timbaland and Swizz Beatz. I also want to thank Diddy for him coming out and saying, “I want to bring R&B back.”
What producers do you credit for paving the way for the next generation of artists?
Producers like Timbaland and Pharrell are at the utmost because they’ve made an impact in music, and really impacted a lot of artists. You don’t find a lot of people birthing artists. Producers of today like London [on da Track] and DJ Mustard, who is responsible for Ella Mai. The producers that birth artists, that’s respect, period. You bring in something new to the platform.
We need our new Micheal Jackson. We need our new Whitney Houston. Ella Mai, for me, and H.E.R., are like the new Prince meets baby girl Aaliyah. If they keep up the great work, they will fulfill those spots. When a person leaves us, there’s always one that comes back like them. H.E.R. is the female Prince to me. She’s growing to be that if she keeps up the great work. She plays incredibly. I’m like, “Wow.” It blows me away when I hear females perform as strong as artists you would never think that we would get again. I didn’t think we would get a rendition of a Prince or Michael Jackson. I’m hoping that Chris [Brown] just keeps it up so he can fulfill that spot. You got Usher. He’s that superstar. The other artists that I mentioned are growing into their superstar. Usher and Chris are already there.
With the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic, what are some of the ways that you and your family are finding ways to cope?
My family and I connect every day. It’s really about family. My mom is here [with me], so every morning I wake up to my mom. She cooks for us every day. We had the battle and she was here supporting me. It’s been really cool chilling with my family that’s here. My family is also in Atlanta, California and different parts of the south.
Before the IG battles come to an end, what two artists or producers would you love to see face off?
I would love to see the females. I would love to see Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson, and Keri Hilson. A lot of people don’t know how many hits [Keri] made. Ciara, too. She’s been around a long time, and made some amazing and impactful records. I think that women deserve that platform and they gotta do it. I’d also like to see Diddy and Dr. Dre. We’ll see who steps up.
What does your quarantine music playlist look like? Who are you jamming to at the moment?
I’m not jamming. I’m rolling with the flow of things that come on Instagram. I’m usually doing music. I have a studio in my bedroom and I have two other ones. We’re in the studio every day. Right now, I’m cyber working with everyone. My playlist [consists of] other people’s new songs that I’ve been working on.
With everyone social distancing, many are taking the time to do self-reflection. When you look back on your legacy, what do you want to be remembered for?
The battle, the concerts and the Blackstreet concert. I think so far, I’ve made some impact, you know, especially with the battle. We’ve got more concerts coming. We’ve got a concert coming with Keith Sweat and myself. I want to be remembered for keeping the families going, keeping people in the home to watch concerts, and the activities that we’re putting together for them. I want to be remembered for speaking to the Atlanta board, and a lot of people in Atlanta because they’re [re]opening up Atlanta [amid Coronavirus]. To me, that’s a setup. I think that everyone needs to stay in as much as they can. If you really need to go outside, go get stuff, but then bring it right back.
Describe what your perfect exit looks like.
I don’t know if there will be an exit. I’ve seen my godfather, who is an incredible composer, and he’s still doing it. Quincy Jones is still rolling and he’s in his 80s. So, I don’t know what my perfect exit looks like. If it’s resting or chillin’, that’s what I’m going to be doing – chillin’. Family trips. When we get older, we want to feel more family. We want to feel the presence of family members.