A few years back, I wrote an article about Raphael Saadiq being the most underappreciated R&B artist of all time. I still believe this to be true. We’ve been stuck in the house for weeks now watching IG Live battles of artists going back and forth with their catalogs, and when people are proposing matchups, Saadiq’s name rarely comes up though he could probably wash a sizable number of artists in a battle. I have no idea if his name has been floated by the folks who put these things together, but I do know that he should “Be Here.” You see what I did there? You probably don’t. See? Underappreciated.
While Teddy Riley isn’t nearly as underappreciated as Saadiq, in my opinion, I do think he might feel that his contributions to black music don’t get enough shine. He’s rightfully credited with the creation of New Jack Swing, though its biggest benefactors were other artists. And even still, he wasn’t credited with some of those creations. For instance, he is the producer of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” but the credits list Gene Griffin. How many people knew he produced Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” before his Verzuz battle with Babyface? Babyface sure didn’t and he was an adult when the song came out. Either way, it’s not common knowledge. Point is, for some reason, I don’t think folks give Teddy Riley enough credit, which is a shame because when the opportunity to seize the moment and show the world who he is presented itself, he absolutely did himself no favors.
So I have a theory about what Teddy was trying to accomplish in the Verzuz battle that launched a million memes. He is a touring artist, so there is clearly an audience that appreciates him and the groups he helmed, like Guy and Blackstreet. But this was a chance for Teddy to show what he was responsible for and what he, personally, brought to the game. I think this is why Teddy was willing to face ridicule for the lack of social distancing when EVERYBODY else was mostly solo (or close to it) at home in their studios.
Teddy had a whole concert set-up. He had a (futile) soundcheck. He had keys and a DJ and a hypeman. And choreography. And I think we can all agree that he was doing too much. But I think he was doing too much because this was his chance to show us all, or however many people showed up—at its height it was over 420k viewers at one time; what a time to blow it—just how much culture he was responsible for. Teddy was going to put on a show for us all. I’m sure he was excited to go up against Babyface—hell, they’ve worked on several of the same albums trading hit songs amongst one another. But Babyface is Babyface, with solo hits and albums. We know what Babyface can do.
Which is interesting because before the battle, and honestly even once the dust settled and I checked the matchups, I expected Teddy to be the victor. Teddy has songs built for a battle framework. Babyface is one of the most accomplished songwriters and producers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Babyface has hit hits, and hits that stayed hits for a very long time. He penned two of the longest-running Billboard chart-toppers ever in “End of the Road,” and “I’ll Make Love to You,” both for Boyz II Men. And Toni Braxton songs and Whitney Houston songs, etc. But Teddy has jams.
Like jams jams. I grew up in the heyday for both Babyface and Teddy; Teddy (and his sound) absolutely ruled the R&B day for those of us under 30 in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We all know and love Babyface, but he’s a slow jam, ballad maven. Even his Toni Braxton songs are slower; in a battle, that makes no sense. But because Teddy Riley did too much (“Teddy Did Too Much” could easily be the name of a children’s book about being focused and keeping the main thing the main thing), by the time they actually got to battling, folks were looking at songs like “Whip Appeal” versus “Let’s Chill” and debating which song won. It’s obviously Guy’s “Let’s Chill” but because it was Teddy playing the songs and because he’s become the butt of so many jokes, the argument had legs. But whatever, it’s a battle and somebody had to lose. I’m more of a Teddy fan than a Babyface fan; others feel differently.
That would be all well and good until I looked at Twitter and saw some patently outrageous claims. At the end of their Verzuz battle when technical difficulties had Babyface trying to get Teddy back into his IG and Teddy more or less giving up and deciding to hold a jam session of sorts, once Babyface called it a night, folks went from Babyface’s IG to Teddy’s IG. I saw some tweets that made reference to the famous “ain’t nobody coming to see you Otis” line in regards to Teddy as if Babyface was the reason anybody showed up in the first place. And I get it: Teddy’s propensity to do too much had a whole bunch of people looking at him sideways, but turning his legacy into a sideshow as if folks weren’t genuinely excited to see him face-up against Babyface is just wrong. To assume that he was the luckily invited guest there to blow out Babyface’s candles when the battle was over is a bridge too far.
And it goes right back to my theory about him being underappreciated. Teddy managed to turn his legacy into #TeamTooMuch for a lot of people who turned him into memes about doing too much. When folks mention Teddy Riley’s name now, his two performances during Verzuz are going to come up every time, which is a shame. Teddy has produced for big name after big name and made hit after hit but because he spent so much time behind the boards, it’s easy to forget. This was his chance and the music was amazing, but his shenanigans created a whole new reality where the already musically underappreciated Teddy Riley becomes known for less than positive reasons. Somebody can condescendingly refer to him as Otis Williams from The Temptations and others will jokingly co-sign.
Maybe he did it to himself, but maybe he also was just trying to take his moment to shine and he just over-shot the moon. In two fell swoops, Babyface, the soft-voiced R&B singer became the King of Shade and Teddy Riley, the architect for the sound that the ENTIRE ‘90s adopted, from Mary to SWV to Bobby Brown to Janet Jackson to Michael Jackson, etc., becomes the spokesman for knock-off Ivy Park, hands-on-hips and wasting everybody’s time. It’s a shame and while I know those of us who love Teddy Riley’s music aren’t going to stop enjoying it, I hope the respect for his craft stays intact and maybe one day, folks will really appreciate what he gave the game.
Right, Ted? We outta here.