”Look at this!” shouts Teddy Riley, waving his telephone messages. ”Barbra Streisand called!”
Riley, the improbably slight and modest producer Michael Jackson tapped to bring a harder edge to key tracks on his Dangerous album, is holed up in the $3 million recording studio MCA Records built for him last year in his city of choice, Virginia Beach, Va. He’s working with R&B superstar Bobby Brown on what’s sure to be one of the most talked-about albums of 1992 — the long-delayed follow-up to Brown’s smashing 1988 album, Don’t Be Cruel.
But something’s not quite clicking. Riley cocks his head, thinking a minute.
”Barbra Streisand,” he repeats, murmuring the name as if it were some kind of mantra. ”What songs she do?”
At 25, Teddy Riley is already one of black music’s most powerful producers, but he doesn’t quite know where to place someone like Barbra Streisand. Riley rose from the streets of Harlem to become a rap and R&B producer, and won widespread industry respect in early 1987, when he was barely out of his teens, by producing Keith Sweat’s ”Make It Last Forever.” With that song he launched a street-smart cross between R&B and hip-hop called new jack swing, which, in hits by Sweat, Bobby Brown, and Riley’s own million-selling trio, Guy, helped define a new era in black music and soared on the charts. He has since produced acts ranging from Heavy D. to Boy George and Jane Child, but Streisand is still worlds away. Thanks to Dangerous, though, it’s no surprise that she — and everyone else in the music industry — knows who he is.
”I still don’t believe it that I worked with Michael Jackson,” Riley says, sitting behind his black desk in his large, lush office, with Terminator 2 playing on a full-size movie screen that covers one wall. In a corner is a small pool table, a recent gift from Jackson. ”I feel Michael and Elvis are on the same level,” he says shyly. ”He knows I have the street edge. But he enhanced my sound, he really did.” With a large package of Skittles, his favorite candy, in front of him, he seems more like a self-conscious teenager spending the day in his father’s office than a powerful producer with a reputation for relentless perfectionism.