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Teddy Riley On Michael Jackson: ‘He Showed Me How to Turn Music Up’

Teddy Riley Red Bull Music Festival
Stacy Kranitz / Red Bull Content Pool

Nearly a hundred music lovers filed into the basement of the Red Bull Music Academy to get schooled by Teddy Riley in Midtown Manhattan. On May 5, Riley sat down with Jeff Mao for as a part of Red Bull’s festival to talk about his 35-year spanning career including his work with Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Heavy D, Jay Z, Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh and Mary J. Blige. He also touched on the history of his work with Guy and Blackstreet, the bands he co-founded.

In the nearly three hour talk, Riley took the audience on an in-depth trip down memory lane that starts with his mom’s first floor apartment in the St. Nicholas projects in Harlem. It was here where Keith Sweat, Doug E. Fresh and other popular artists were regulars. This was also where they hung bedsheets in the bathroom and over the toilet and wrapped their microphones with toilet paper to create an in-home studio that allowed him to craft hits for the aforementioned stars and the entirely of Guy’s eponymous debut album.

Riley created one of the sounds that defined the ’80s and ’90s and it turns out that there’s a science to why people enjoy his creations. “If you go online, there are tones online that will help you stop smoking or be hypnotized or get up and be happy and that tone is in a lot of my songs. I’m sorry ya’ll. It’s real,” he said.

One of these songs — Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “The Show” — started out with a drum kit and many more sketches before the human beatbox took the track to Riley. It was then that the extra sound effects and the famous* Inspector Gadget theme was added. “You broke your neck to get on the dance floor,” said Riley at the talk.

But Riley wasn’t always so sure about his musical choices though.

“When I came up with this beat, I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Riley about Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her.” It probably didn’t help that Sweat only gave Riley a day to come up with something good. Luckily, Riley has a knack for creating hits in his sleep. The song made it to No. 5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 spot on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart for three weeks.

During the talk, Riley also spoke about his time working with other huge artists.

“Heavy D steals all my songs,” he said of the late rapper. It turns out that “We Got Our Own Thing,” “Is It Good To You” and “Now That We Found Love” were all supposed to be Wreckx-n-Effect songs but the rhymer had other plans. Heavy D also wanted Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” but it ended up staying with Riley. “He’s [Heavy D] sitting at the board and I’m sitting at the board and he’s like ‘you know you should give me that record’ and I’m like ‘not this time’,” relayed Riley.

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind was what was it like to work with The King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

“Getting with Michael, he showed me how to turn music up,” said Riley. “He’d always say, ‘I want to hurt ’em.’ He always would go, ‘OK Teddy, turn up the snare. I want you to really turn it up. The most important thing is the backgrounds – it’s gotta be loud. That’s what I want people to remember.’ So I’m playing the music, and he was just going, ‘hurt me!'”

The audience couldn’t help but laugh as Riley did a fairly spot-on Michael impression during the story. “I don’t know what that means, but I turned that s– up,” said Riley.

But that’s not all Riley contributed to Dangerous. Aside from providing the sounds behind the aforementioned track — Riley was also responsible for the well known album cover since he pointed it out at a production meeting.

We talked to Riley about his career and recent work with K-Pop artists in our exclusive interview. Check it out here.

Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ at 25: The King of Pop Opened the 90s With a New Swing

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