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Mr. New Jack Swings Back

For a decade, Teddy Riley has shaped some of the biggest hits in pop and R&B. With Blackstreet, he even whipped 'Macarena.' Well, hot diggity.

November 24, 1996|Cheo Hodari Coker | Cheo Hodari Coker is a Times staff writer

Current radio formats are dominated by R&B-flavored hip-hop songs. With few exceptions, songs proliferating on video outlets such as BET and the Box are sorry, muddied compositions that have inspired a backlash reaction, with the Maxwells and D'Angelos of the world turning their backs on the new jack slickness and reintroducing pure instrumentation to R&B. "Now you find a lot of people with the artificial new jack sound," he continues, "and less of an emphasis on good music or good singing."

They're also not paying attention, Riley and his cohorts maintain, to the romance that's the foundation of the music.

"There's too much negativity in a lot of the music right now," says Williams, 26. "We're just trying to keep our music as straight-up R&B. Sure, 'No Diggity' has attitude, and is sexual, but well-composed. Don't get it twisted."

Hannibal, 27, is even more disgusted with the tone of much music. "We'd be a straight-up gospel group if we could sell as many records in that genre," he says. "We love stuff like the Mighty Clouds of Joy and other vocal quartets. Pretty soon, that's all we're going to do."

"The thing about this current Blackstreet that wasn't true about the old one, or Guy, is that we care about each other outside of the studio," Riley says, looking at newer members Williams and Middleton with genuine affection. "And that's not to say anything against Damian or Aaron, Levi or anybody else, but I learned from those experiences. We know how to work together, and we like working with each other. We have a good thing, and we're glad to be together."

It's 5 a.m. in Virginia Beach, Va., and Teddy Riley is wide awake, continuing the conversation by phone. He's just finished rehearsing for Blackstreet's upcoming European promotional tour, and with the band's album, "Another Level," at No. 25 on the chart, his press and appearance schedule stateside is chock-full.

In addition, Riley just finished remixing a song for Whitney Houston's "Preacher's Wife" soundtrack, one that he transformed from a gospel song into a beat-basher ready for the dance floor. The soundtrack executives love his version. Riley, the perfectionist, wishes he had more time.

"I would have loved to work with Whitney from scratch on that one," says Riley, who lives with his three children and their mother in Virginia Beach. "You can't rush creativity."

Riley's recognition, too, hasn't been rushed. Arguably, he's yet to achieve the household-name status of Babyface and Dr. Dre. But now he seems on the brink, and he believes that the timing is perfect.

"If I had received the props that I deserved then instead of now, I wouldn't still be around," he says. "I just hope that they keep coming when it comes time for awards. It's like people in the Olympics, trying to earn that gold medal. I'd like to get my medal too.

" 'No Diggity' is just God giving me back my just due 20 times over," Riley says, his voice weary with exhaustion after his all-nighter. "I'm just taking that success and spreading it with other people. I'm just building a future for my kids, so they won't have to do what I did to make it in this world, so they can go to college. That's all."


* TimesLine 808-8463

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