Thursday, April 02, 2009

Teddy Riley Talks About MJ's Album "Dangerous"

Michael Jackson had just launched the best selling New Jack Swing album of all time! The year was 1992 and anticipation had driven the largest viewing audience of all time for "Black Or White". 5 years had already passed since the King of Pop released his last studio album "Bad" in 1987. Yet a lot has happened within those gaps.

Mr. Jackson bid farewell to Q in favor of the more industrial sounds of New Jack Swing producer Teddy Riley. Whom he first met on the set of "2300 Jackson Street". The last Jackson's studio album which led them to break up eventually. The singer was said to be so impressed that he invited him to recording sessions for an upcoming album(then just a rumor). This is also when Michael was introduced to Hip-Hop for the first time.

So after the album and all subsequent singles were released, Riley agreed to get interviewed by Keyboard Magazine on his many ventures. Including his crowning work with Michael Jackson which I have excepted right here.


Teddy Riley Talks About His Involvement With Michael Jackson

When you do have a bass part, it often has a strong analog feel, as on "Remember the Time."

For me, that song was true R&B. I didn't put hip-hop into it until the remix. For that, I used a real upright jazz bass on a hip-hop beat. I really like that one. I also changed the organ part on the remix and did it with my voice through a vocoder.

Some of Michael's early work with Quincy Jones was much more fully orchestrated. Were you consciously deciding to go in an opposite direction in your collaboration?

As far as my production, yeah. I didn't want to go the same way Quincy went, but I also didn't want to leave his style. So I took a little bit of each. I had my style and his style in my head, and I put them together.

What is there on "Dangerous" that reflects Michael's earlier style? On "She Drives Me Wild," for example, there seem to be some chordal echoes of "Thriller".

Well, that's what he wanted. He said, "You know what I'd like to have overlaid to new jack swing? I'd still like to have my strings. I want the strings to be really wide." So that's what we did, even on "Dangerous."

Michael also seems to be referring to "Bil-lie jean" in his falsetto vocals on "Dangerous".

"Dangerous" had already been recorded by Bill Bottrell [co-producer of four cuts on Dangerous), but the music didn't move Michael. I told Michael, "I like Billy. I like his producing, and everything about him. But this is your album, Michael. If this is the right tune, I can utilize what you have in your singing. Let me change that whole bottom and put a new floor in there." He said, "Try it. I guess we gotta use what we love." And we did. I'm quite sure that if anyone else had come up with a better "Dangerous," he would have used that. So it's not actually about me or Billy; it's about the music. I always say that the music is the star.

Was there an element of having to follow in the formidable footsteps of Quincy Jones on this project?

Well, that's my plan. I want to be like Quincy Jones. I've always looked up to him, more than to any other producer out there. He's the one. Like Quincy, I just can't stay in one category. I'll do any kind of music. It's like being a scientist: You have to find the right method for solving a problem or curing a disease. That what producers do. When you're working with someone, you've got to find the right style, the right sound, for them. You have to draw a circle around each artist and make them fit into that circle.

How much of your work on Dangerous was based not just on finding a sound that works, but on finding a sound that contrasts with the one that Michael and Quincy developed?

Almost all of it.

So if you came up with something that sounded a bit too much like Thriller, for example, that was reason enough to abandon that approach and search for something different.

Yes. We didn't want to sound like another Thriller. We wanted to top it, even though that's impossible. I guess some people are saying that Dangerous is better than Thriller or Bad. But I won't say it's better until it sells as much as those albums. If Dangerous doesn't sell more than Bad, even with the recession that we're having, then I don't feel that it's better.

You play keyboards on all of the cuts that you produce on Dangerous. But a number of players in addition to you are also credited as keyboardists on the opening song, "Jam."

Well, "Jam" was brought to me as just a drum beat. Rene Moore and Bruce Swedien came up with the idea and gave it to Michael as a beat, so you can't take that credit away from them. But it was just a stripped tune until Michael did his vocals and I came in with the icing. I actually added most of the keyboard parts, all of the percussion elements, all of the horn parts, and all of the guitar parts to make the tune what it is today.

-Excerpt taken from a 1992 issue of Keyboard Magazine. The article as a whole can be found neatly tucked away on The Ultimate Soul and Funk Music Database.

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