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Members include Chauncey "Black" Hannibal,(born in Paterson, NJ), vocals; Dave Hollister (born in Chicago, IL, left group 1995), vocals; LeviLittle, (born in Paterson, NJ, left group 1995), vocals; Mark Middleton,(born inBrooklyn, joined group 1995) vocals; Teddy "Street" Riley,(born October 8, 1967,New York City), vocals, instruments, electronics; Eric Williams, (born inNew Jersey, joined group 1995), vocals. Addresses: Record company-Interscope, 10900 Wilshire Blvd., #1400, Los Angeles, CA, 90024;; Fan club-Blackstreet Friends, P.O. Box 64737-525, Los Angeles, CA 90064.
Before launching his own project, Blackstreet's Teddy "Street" Riley had already established himself as aproducer for some of the biggest names in R&B and rap, such as Kool Moe Dee and Bobby Brown. In 1993, Rileyand Chauncey "Black" Hannibal formed the quartet Blackstreet, melding the elements of hip hop and classic R&Bcrooning that Riley had handled with finesse in the studio control room. After the commercially successful debutBlackstreet was released in 1994, half of the group departed. Unflustered, Riley and Hannibal drafted tworeplacement members and cut their follow-up album Another Level in 1996, which surpassed the strength of theirdebut.
New York City native Riley began his career as a teenager in 1984, working behind the scenes with a multitudeof performers. In addition to producing and re-mixing, Riley often lent his vocal talents to acts such as the middleof the road balladeer Billy Ocean, ex-New Edition vocalist Bobby Brown, and the audacious rap outfit Wrecks-N-Effect. Riley's credibility stemmed from more than reliable craftsmanship, as his collective work, though diverse,belies a coherent style. By the end of the decade, Riley had become one of the principle founders of "New JackSwing," a hybrid of R&B, hip hop, and rap noted for its smooth flavor as well as for its danceable grooves.
In 1988, Riley first tried his hand as a full-fledged performer as a backup vocalist in the group Guy, a trio that inturn became major players in the New Jack Swing school. With albums such as their self-titled debut and its 1990sequel Future, Guy became a strong influence upon the next wave of R&B vocal acts like Boyz II Men and Jodeci. However, friction between lead vocalist Guy and Riley snowballed into a bitter breakup in 1992, although rumors ofa reunion plagued Riley for years. Despite the band's commercial success, Riley later looked back on Guy with lessthan fond memories. "I feel now that Guy was there for the money, rather than the music, although I didn't know itat the time," Riley told Tony Farsides at Dotmusic online.
Blackstreet Formed After Guy's Demise
Along with bolstering Riley's resume, Guy's career also crossed the paths of Riley and writer/producerChauncey Hannibal, a New Jersey born singer who had provided Guy with backing vocals. The like-mindedtwosome decided to pick up where Guy had left off, and after recruiting members David Hollister and Levi Little,Riley and Hannibal christened their new group Blackstreet in 1993. Riley's credits were by this time second tonone-he had been handed the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Songwriter ofthe Year Award in 1992-and Blackstreet's newest recruits also boasted impressive resumes. Hollister had writtenand produced for R&B acts such as Mary J. Blige and Patti Labelle, and Little had played guitar, bass, andkeyboards for the group Image of Truth. As a whole, Blackstreet had experience in every area of studio recording,and their emergence caused many R&B enthusiasts to eagerly await their first steps on record.
In 1994, the foursome released Blackstreet on Interscope Records to the warm reception of R&B fans. Thealbum itself sold over a million copies, and featured several hit singles, including "Booti Call" and "Joy." However,just as Blackstreet was establishing its identity as a group, members Little and Hollister quit the project. Riley'syears as a producer had afforded him ample connections to young talent, and fortunately Blackstreet had noproblem finding Eric Williams and Mark Middleton as able replacements. As Riley remembered to Imusic online,"[t]he departure of Levi and David was unexpected and a little unsettling at first, but we still wished them well. Yousee, Chauncey and I have always made Blackstreet's long term vision a priority. So when Mark and Eric stepped inwe immediately realized the change was a blessing in disguise."
In Blackstreet's new enlistees, Riley had provided his group with two powerful lead vocalists. William-whohad almost joined the quartet the first time around-had the rich experience of singing in a gospel choir, and theBrooklyn-born Middleton had a mastery of tenor and falsetto singing. If anything, Blackstreet had enabled itself toexperiment in a wider spectrum of styles with its new lineup, and the new members were enthusiastic. "I've waiteda long time for this opportunity," Middleton stated on the Blackstreet web page, "and God knows I couldn't beworking with more talented, down-to-earth brothers than Teddy, Chauncy, and Eric. For us, it's all for one and allfor Blackstreet."
Follow-up Album Surpasseed Debut
The group soon took to the task of recording their second album, largely engineered at Riley's own studio,Future Recording, in his home town of Virginia Beach, Virginia. With a platinum debut under their belts,Blackstreet was met with the challenge of avoiding one of the most common pitfalls for new acts - the so-called"sophomore slump." However, when the foursome emerged from Future with the completed Another Level in 1996,fans, critics, and Blackstreet themselves all agreed that the sequel had in fact surpassed the original. "Our sound isstronger, tighter, and more diverse now," Hannibal beamed to Imusic. "And since Eric and Mark both singincredible leads and harmony, me and Teddy have more vocal support than ever. It's a win-win situation any wayyou slice it."
The appeal of Another Level 's nineteen cuts was indeed diverse, enticing listeners of differing musical tastes tobuy the album. The first single "No Diggity," which is slang for "no doubt," was a catchy, hip-hop number thatfeatured an intro by rap star Dr. Dre, and elsewhere the album featured a highly modified cover of "Can't Buy MeLove" by 1960's rock gods the Beatles, as well as the gospel-tinged finale "The Lord Is Real," a song based upon"Time Will Reveal" by the 1980s family group Debarge. At least one light jazz radio station put the smoothertracks "My Paradise" and "Let's Stay In Love" into its daily rotation. "Teddy Riley knows what he's doing,"claimed Kevin Brown, a disc jockey for KBLX radio. "We are watching a master of the game, who deserves to bementioned in the same breath as such composers as [Kenneth] Babyface [Edmonds] and [Kenny] Gamble & [Leon]Huff."
Some critics, such as The New York Times' Jon Pareles, praised Blackstreet for their positive attitude as well asfor their musical abilities. In an era of obscenity-laden, violent, and often sexist genres like gangsta rap, groups likeBlackstreet, who opted to draw upon the romantic balladeers of the past, were refreshing to many ears, lyrically andotherwise. "Blackstreet reduces 1970s soul to 1990s dimensions;" Pareles opined, "it pares down the melodies andreplaces acoustic instruments with synthesizers and samples. But it retains the close harmonies of doo-wop, with allits overtones of constructive male bonding."
Blackstreet prepared to undertake their third album, but in the meantime Riley continued to be one of thebusiest, most sought-after producers in the field. In addition to continued work with veteran R&B performers likeMichael Jackson and Whitney Houston, Riley began to produce a material for a number of compilation andsoundtrack records, including the Soul Food soundtrack, released in 1997, and the series Maximum Club Classics. By this point, Riley had amassed over thirty platinum records, and whatever the future of Blackstreet, he has surelyhelped shape the landscape of contemporary R&B music.
by Shaun Frentner
Band members Riley and Hannibal met working with Guy in the late 1980s; Blackstreet formed in 1993after the downfall of Guy in the previous year; released self-titled debut album, 1994; released Another Level, 1996.
- Billboard, May 16, 1992.
- New York Times, November 24, 1996.
- http://www.dotmusic.com/MWtalentblackstreet.html "Making Teddy Riley a star in the UK," Blackstreet, (June 2 1998).
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