WHEN "HEAVEN CAN WAIT": Teddy Riley Remembers Michael Jackson
Teddy Riley, the father of “New Jack Swing” recalls his time with the “King of Pop.”
As the world celebrates the life of Michael Jackson, one man truly has things to share when the moment arrives to “Remember The Time.” Producer Teddy Riley, who worked with Michael on the Dangerous, Blood on the Dance Floor and Invincible projects, took the time to share some of his journey with the late, great Michael Jackson.
HipHopWired: I caught one of your recent interviews on CNN, and you started to talk about some of the things that you learned from Michael; what did he help you to appreciate about production and songwriting?
Teddy Riley: He helped me to appreciate just the art of it and how it really was because back in the day you didn’t have a sequencer. Back in the day, you had a piano player there and people would write the song first with the piano or first with the guitar player and then everything goes to tape after that. That’s how the bands, after they knew the songs and after they taught all the musicians and all the background singers the parts that they would sing, they all would go into one room and cut it. He taught me the beauty of songwriting. That is the beauty. I think songwriting from a track is a little like making love without foreplay. And I never put it that way to anyone. But it just came to mind like, you going straight to have sex. Where is the beauty? Where’s the piano? Where is the piano? Where’s that Marvin Gaye song? That’s how love is made and that’s how music is made, with a piano to get you in the mood. That’s what it’s about.
HipHopWired: How long did the recording sessions last?
Teddy Riley: A real one? (Laughs.) A real one, I can give you some experiences of a real recording session with Michael. I sat in sessions with Kool & The Gang and it took like 8 hours just to tune the drums. Literally, like 8 hours. Go get tea, go get coffee, go look at a movie, while the engineer and the drummer just sit and hit the tom toms for about an hour and move the mic around. And then the piano, tuning the piano, the tuner would have to tune the piano, and we have to set up the mics on the piano where we would get the crispiness of that piano sound. That’s two hours alone. Now what you’d call a modern day session is fast. Like I can do a modern day session in less than an hour. Get vocals done in another hour. The session is over at the end of the day. “Celebration,” “Ladies’ Night,” was three days. Michael Jackson’s “Heal The World” was a month. Matter of fact, I think longer than that ‘cause they did it in days like with a string session. What I did with Michael doing strings on “Heaven Can Wait,” was like, we did the track first, that all took one day, and then the string section and then we did the guitar session and that’s about three days. So the modern day is a little quick. Lil’ Wayne, all those guys, the new cats, they cut a record in an hour. Michael Jackson, Kool & The Gang, Frank Sinatra, they take the time to get all that stuff tuned and get it all right so they are setting up the mood with the sound.
HipHopWired: So Michael would never have a “modern day” session?
Teddy Riley: Oh he had modern day sessions before, but he’s not used to it. Like he’s done Pro-tools sessions. He’s not really used to that but it made his life easier because he could sit and cut 24 tracks and then let the producer do what he do. Y’all want that work? Alright, you made life easier for me. But the sound is not the same. There’s a difference. It’s a big difference.
HipHopWired: You mentioned in the CNN interview it was difficult for you to produce him at first because of the awe aspect of how great an artist he is, to not be able to check him as far as his vocals, he had to pull you out of that. How did that dynamic work itself out?
Teddy Riley: Oh it worked itself out when he shook me. Not shook me literally, but when he shook me with words like, ‘Listen, you’re going to have to really produce me like you’ve produced a new artist. I need you to talk to me, I need you to criticize me, I need you to comment, I need you to give me all of you. I want the Teddy Riley that got that record out of Guy and the records out of your previous artists. It took you really producing them. I want you to really produce me. So I got used to it and I got into my own world. So that’s definitely a memorable moment.
The other memorable moment was we were in a session and he was singing a song in the room and an anvil case kind of fell his way and I don’t know if it really fell on him, but it kind of fell his way and he heard the loud sound of an anvil case falling to the ground. You immediately heard him saying, ‘Help,’ but it was almost like him doing that ‘Ooh’ like in that “Beat It” video. You heard that high-pitched voice saying, ‘Help! Help!’ and we were like, ‘What’s going on’ and then Bruce Swedien was saying, ‘I think something fell on him.’ Then we all went in the room. We wanted to find out if he was ok first. Then when we found out he was ok, he was like ‘the loud sound just scared me.’ After we found out he was ok, we just started laughing. You got to see if a person is alright. If they’re alright, then you laugh.
HipHopWired: We know about Dangerous, but Blood On The Dance Floor and Invincible, how did those projects work out?
Teddy Riley: The involvement was I was supposed to be on the History album and I came up for the History album but Michael wasn’t in the studio, he wasn’t really doing any work so I was just sitting there and I didn’t want to waste his money or his time, which I wasn’t wasting his time but, he was wasting his money by me sitting there, so I said, ‘Let me go home and then when you need me, call me.’ And then Jimmy Iovine didn’t want me to work on that project so he scratched me from the project.
HipHopWired: Why would he not want you to work on the Michael Jackson project?
Teddy Riley: Cause he wanted all the projects for himself. I had just came off a double platinum album with Blackstreet. He wanted me to work on the second project for Blackstreet, which was the Another Level album, so he gave me anything that I wanted to get back to working on that album.
HipHopWired: So you got involved with the Blackstreet project. How did it go back to ya’ll reuniting for Invincible?
Teddy Riley: After “No Diggity,” I came back off my tour, he loved that record, so he called me and he said, ‘Listen, I want you to help me finish this record’ and he had already did a bunch of tracks with Rodney Jerkins. So I got called in at the end of the project.
HipHopWired: How were those sessions in comparison to sessions for Dangerous/Blood On The Dance Floor?
Teddy Riley: It was more of a modern day session on Invincible as opposed to Dangerous. We went to traditional days of recording [with Dangerous].
HipHopWired: How are you coping? After seeing the CNN interview, I didn’t know how you would be about talking about this.
Teddy Riley: Listen. You know where I’m from. We come from the real. We come from a place where we keep it real and it’s just so crazy how this stuff here has been going on and now finally when something happens to him everyone wants to come back, pay homage, benefit from this and there’s no benefiting from this. People want to throw a party or do something but, this ain’t about a party. Yes, we should celebrate him because that’s what he would want of us, but all of the making money and all that stuff. No. If you don’t have any past things with him or you haven’t been there to check on him when he was going through his trials and tribulations, then I don’t see where you fit… I don’t see where you fit.
I have a legitimate contribution and I have a legitimate friendship with Michael Jackson. I have something that no one, a lot of people have never done with him other than Quincy Jones, Greg Philliganes, Bruce Swedien, Renee from Renee & Angela, and a few people… Babyface got to work with him. I got to work with this man. I got to sit and talk with him. I got to cry on his shoulder. I got to talk and really express some things that were just him and I that I just didn’t understand and he helped me understand it. Then there’s some things that he wanted to understand like why are they doing this to him. I couldn’t help him understand that because it was bigger than me, but I was always that shoulder. I was always that friend he could’ve said anything to. He expressed a lot of his most deepest concerns and feelings about a lot of things. I know some personal relationships that he has gone through, female relationships and different things like that but I would never disclose that. That’s the stuff that I know.
HipHopWired: How did that period of him going through trials and tribulations affect you as someone who knew and worked with him?
Teddy Riley: It affected me because as a friend, you on CNN. If the media can say so much about us to tear us down, why we can’t say something about them to tear them down? And the thing about it is, once we do that, we get cut off in the interview and some of it doesn’t get played.
HipHopWired: Were you cut off in that interview?
Teddy Riley: No, I wasn’t. I cut myself off. I couldn’t do it no more. I couldn’t take it.
HipHopWired: What was it like when you heard of Michael’s passing? On CNN you said that were bed-ridden…
Teddy Riley: Oh, yeah. Two days. I just said… You know, my mom convinced me to get out of bed. My mom convinced me and I said ‘alright, I got to get out of this bed.’
HipHopWired: What now? Do you have any plans for doing anything in honor and tribute to him musically, creatively, or be a part of anything to that effect?
Teddy Riley: Let me tell you some of the things that I am doing with the family’s approval…The one thing that I wanted to do which I told him, and I got a chance to tell him, that I wanted to make “Heaven Can Wait” over with Blackstreet. He gave me the song “Joy,” it’s on the first Blackstreet album, he gave it to me for Blackstreet, his name is on the record if you go back to it, and he gave me his blessings. That’s the only thing that I asked to do and I will reiterate that with the family because I want that on the new Blackstreet record and whether a part of the proceeds go for his foundation or whatever, I don’t care, I want to do the song because that song never came out as a single and that was one of our favorites. When I did that song with him, he held his heart and he said ‘Teddy, is this mine?’ I said, ‘It’s yours if you want it, Michael’ He’s like: ‘I want it, let’s go get it!’ He was so excited. I have a couple of witnesses that were in the room when he said ‘I want that song. I need that song in my life.’