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

of R&B solo artists either because everyone wants to go Pop. I really admire Kanye West.because he comes with something new and he doesn’t care if people like it or not. He expresses what the next level of music should be. I admire Musiq and Maxwell because they’re real artists and architects of the music.

EBONY: When did music audiences become infatuated with buying "McDonalds" music (music that is hot for a minute and then grows cold)?

NMW: There are a couple of things at play here. First, music changed a lot once people really wanted to go out to nightclubs and dance. Then, all of these dance records became hits on the radio so producers are now making hits to become popular in the nightclubs. The records reflect what’s going on in the nightclubs like poppin’ your Cris and trying to get the next hot girl you see in the club. And this is what you begin to hear on the radio every day and that may not have the long lasting value as something that is a little deeper in meaning. I think our lyrical content is knocking things down a bit. But now I’m finally starting to hear records that have some meaning to them. Look at rap and hip-hop, those records are great records, but you don’t want to rock with them for weeks at a time. It gives off that disposable feeling. One thing that really bothers me is the lyrics. I hope we can clean up the lyrics in our music. I know it affects these kids because a lot of these records are on top Pop radio stations. I’m hearing a lot of cursing and now it’s becoming the cool thing for kids to do. I think back in the day we did a better job of policing radio. I think deeper subject matter in lyrics is slowly starting to come back around. People are getting to a point where they want something deeper again.

LD: Back in the day with Earth, Wind & Fire, we did it the old fashioned way. We got together with some wonderful musicians and composers and we worked. We rehearsed and rehearsed and really honed our craft. We hit every college up and down the east coast, the west coast, the Midwest, and overseas. There wasn’t any rapid media like there is now. Nowadays with all of these various hi-tech things we have at our disposal, you could be a virtual unknown on Monday and on Thursday you’ve reached superstar status. I think there is something to be said about being shot into the limelight in that way then it becomes of situation of easy come, easy go. One of the reasons Earth, Wind & Fire has one of the most faithful followings is because we went out on the road and touched so many people and places. Now their kids and grandkids know our music and like it. I think because of rapid media and overnight successes people tend to forget about the flavor of the month and like you said its McDonalds music. I don’t think artists of today have a chance to build a solid foundation.

Many people don’t remember, but back in the day at Motown they had a separate entity within the company and they called it Artist Development. Even when Earth, Wind & Fire were signed by Clive Davis in 1972, the thing was if you didn’t come out of the gate selling a million or 500,000 records you weren’t kicked to the curb. Clive and some of the executives back then recognized special talent. They allowed the artist to actually develop because if they didn’t there would’ve been a lot of artists you would’ve never heard of. But nowadays you have fast food, fast music, fast drugs and everything is too fast. The reason why Motown’s artists were phenomenal was due to the fact they took them to the side to show them how to dance and perform but also etiquette and speech.

TR: This fly by night music is for people who are living for today and not thinking about tomorrow. Whatever sounds good to them now they go for it. It’s honestly hurting the music industry. This type of music means that it’s not going to be considered classic years from now. This whole fly by night music craze started in the late 1990s where people started not to have a care for music. Online piracy sites like Napster really messed up the music industry. It’s going to take an army of people to really jump on board to reinvent music. We have to become architects again.

EBONY: How can we recapture the essence of Black music for generations to come?

NMW: The cat is now out of the bag meaning what was Black music

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