Super producer, leader of the New Jack Swing movement and Soul Train Legend Award recipient Teddy Riley will be sharing a unique opportunity with his fans in New York City May 5. He’ll be participating in an “In Conversation With” session, speaking about his life’s journey and the intricacies of this craft and influence at 220 W. 18th St., New York, N.Y. at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival 2017.
Riley was kind enough to speak with me via phone from the legendary producer, Benjamin Wright Jr.’s home in California. Wright is best known for his music arrangements for Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album and has taken Riley in as a godson and holds space as his mentor. Riley and I spoke about family, becoming a legend in his lifetime and what matters to him most in life:
AmNews: Is this the first time you’re in an “In Conversation” event at Red Bull Music Academy Festival?
Riley: Yes, this is my first.
AmNews: Isn’t it interesting that it took so long for you to receive the opportunity to talk about your craft?
Riley: Well, Red Bull’s been trying to get me to do this for almost five years. It was just my schedule. I was touring, and I’m touring now, but it’s so crazy because my daughter was supposed to walk the aisle [graduate] the same day, but she changed her graduation time because she felt like this was very important for people for me.
AmNews: That’s very thoughtful and generous of your daughter! Congratulations on just receiving Soul Train Legend Award. It’s interesting to be talking to you in this season in your career where you’re finally being recognized. Do you consider yourself to be a “master” in your craft?
Riley: No. I don’t feel like I am at a master status in my career. I feel like I’m getting there. People feel like I am there and I feel like I’ve still got more to go. I’m always learning, you never stop learning. I’m always a sponge. I was just in the studio with Ray Chew, who’s been the music director for everyone. Working with him yesterday was a part of my training. We were working on something I can’t disclose yet.
AmNews: Do you have any specific goals for yourself for the next five to 10 years that you think would get you to that “master level”?
Riley: It’s actually already started. In the next five years, I want to be all over TV. That’s the one thing I’ve never gotten a chance to do: soundtracks, movie scores and television themes. I just landed the Harlem Globetrotter’s theme and soundtrack, so when they’re performing, that’s my music now. It’s the Teddy Riley version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” I’m working on another TV theme as we speak. Hopefully, I’ll be on Fox Television. There’s more to come. When you ask God for something, and you pray for it, it manifests. I didn’t ask for the Soul Train Legend Award. I prayed to for it. I prayed, “God, whenever you feel, I need to get my accolades and merit for what I’ve done, it will be in your time.” I’m so happy and blessed to be able to witness get my merits and awards for all of my accomplishments. Many don’t get them until they’re gone.
AmNews: It seems like your spirituality is very important, even hearing about your daughter being very compassionate and changing her schedule so you can attend the Red Bull Music Academy Festival. How do you teach compassion, generosity and prayer?
Riley: I don’t teach. They learn it from their mom and myself being praying parents. We pray for their safety. They’ve been on their own for a while, so we’ve been nervous in the beginning. Now we’re comfortable because they keep in touch with us. My children, every other day, I get a call from my daughters just to let me know they’re doing OK. These are the things that keep us sane and comfortable. Being the head of my entire family is a lot to take on. I think God puts it in perspective for me to stay in touch with family. I’ve been so gratefulness.
AmNews: How have you stayed protected from the things that many artists fall victim to, like drugs and the overwhelming drama of the music business? What techniques of self-care do you use?
Riley: God is the strength. I always look to him when obstacles get in the way. I say, “I shall carry on life because of you.” He kept me from it. I didn’t do drugs and I didn’t drink. My weakness used to be women. For a lot of people, the weakness is the sexuality. Now, my weakness is my children. My weakness is God and my mom. I want her to have everything she deserves. It’s just her and I right now. I’m not in a relationship. I’m so open to my family. That’s what protects me from drugs. When you don’t have [family], that’s what drives you to it because you’re lonely or stressed. Stress is the No. 1 killer. I want to be able to enjoy life.
AmNews: And girls are in so much trouble right now because of Trump and the misogyny that’s going on right now in our country and culture. I think particularly girls of color need our dads and father figures to be protective on a community and familial level.
Riley: I truly agree. I think everything happens for a reason. Trump is in place, and we can’t get away from it. We have to cope with it. It’s just life. We have to take it as it comes. Most people to improvise, but many people have a game plan and a life plan. I don’t trip off that. I’m thankful for the life that I have, and enjoy my craft.