Legends Speak

Legends Speak

In part 1 of a two-part series, iconic producers Teddy Riley, Larry Dunn and Narada Michael Warren discuss influence, impact and the state of Black music

Chris Williams

by Chris Williams, June 19, 2012

Legends Speak

Narada Michael Walden, Teddy Riley and Larry Dunn

still have that love and respect for it and I thank God for it.

EBONY: Do artists and producers have an obligation to progress the genre of music they represent?

NMW: I believe as musicians and artists we have an obligation to our souls. What that is? Only each one of us knows. I can speak for myself and say my obligation is to be happy. When I’m happy, I make great music. When I’m unhappy and my heart is broken, I may make brokenhearted music, but it still sounds good. To be in touch with my own heart and soul, is the most important thing because when I’m in touch with my own heart and soul I can hopefully uplift and touch someone else’s heart and soul so that’s the most important responsibility I have not someone saying I need to make five more number one records because only the Creator knows our future in that regard. A big part of success is just showing up. It’s one of the things that made Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince and many others great.

TR: Yes, I do, but I feel that many of them are afraid of helping the music to grow. It’s one thing that I’ve never been afraid of. When I came into the industry, I came with things that were different in order to make the music grow. Nowadays, people are just following trends. Everyone always ask me, ‘Teddy, what are you doing next? We need some music with substance again.’ It’s just the same old thing today. Back in the day, we had many artists and they had different styles so I had to create my own style, which I’m proud to say that I’m the only producer in the world with his own genre of music. And that’s Black music for you. I do Black music first and foremost. I make music because of people like Bill Withers, Booker T, Curtis Mayfield, Nina Simone, Earth, Wind & Fire, Heatwave, and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson.

EBONY: What has happened to the group concept in Black Music?

LD: In today’s society, there are far too many people who have fallen into the ‘What about me?’ syndrome. It may have something to do with it. There are more people who are self proclaimed solo artists as opposed to groups. Back in the day, there was only one prerequisite to become a member of a band – you had to be able to play your booty off. No one cared about if you were tall or short, fat or skinny, ugly or cute, black or white. If you could play and knew your acts, then you could become a member of a band. It kind of trips me out when I hear people say, ‘What a great boy band,’ but I don’t see them playing any instruments. Nothing against them, but in our day they were called a singing group.

NMW: There a couple of things that are happening. Number one groups are expensive. You have to have some budget behind them to keep them together and going. For many companies, money has gotten really tight. Promoting a whole group has become tougher than promoting just one singer. It’s budgetary thing to some to degree, but also the times have changed a bit. You have to think back to when groups were hot in America The Temptations, The Four Tops and on the White side of things The Four Seasons and The Beatles. Even in the 1950s, there were many doo-wop groups coming out. Some got their start singing in the subways of New York City. So many of these vocal groups were important to the sound and how they expressed themselves. We got away from all of that by more artists performing solo. I think groups can rise again, but it really is a budgetary issue and you have to work really hard to keep a group together. When you have a group, there’s always someone in the group looking to get out to do their solo thing. Nowadays, being in a group is more of like a learning ground rather than something that goes on for a long time. This generation seems to be more of the ‘I’ and ‘me’ generation than a group generation.

TR: Many artists are competing with each other instead of competing with themselves. That’s the reason why everything sounds the same. They’re trying to do the better of the same record. Our great genre is rap music because we created it. The problem is we’ve stopped creating it. Let’s reinvent it every time so we can keep it fresh. R&B music is lost. I think that when we get together and start reinventing the sounds R&B music will have multi female and male groups again. There are not a lot

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