Q&A: Teddy Riley—Chapter 3, “Reinventing Michael Jackson”

teddyarm2 CROPThe best should always work with the best. Given Teddy Riley’s reputation making hit urban and pop music, it was only a matter of time before the innovative, multi-platinum selling singer, songwriter, musician and producer crossed paths with Michael Jackson.

“The King of Pop” wasn’t content to let the Harlem, NY native simply pass him by. Jackson recognized that Riley was driving such artists as Bobby Brown, Big Daddy Kane, Keith Sweat, and his sister Janet up the charts, wanted to experience this hot vehicle himself.

Credited with creating New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley is considered the catalyst of modern soul, R&B, hip-hop, and pop. He shaped the sound of a generation, creating a sonic foundation current trends have since been built upon. What was it like for Teddy and Michael to build together?

SoulTrain.com: This is cliché, but name the people who made the biggest impact on your career.

Teddy Riley: Michael Jackson, Don Cornelius, Arsenio Hall, Donnie Simpson, and Frankie Crocker: Those are the people who played a very, very, very important part in my life and my whole career. Those are the people who really got me here.

SoulTrain.com: You got here working with a number of really talented artists. Working with Michael Jackson, though, that had to be quite the great experience.

Teddy Riley: It was a great experience working with all the artists I’ve worked with. But Michael…

SoulTrain.com: We can all only imagine. What was it like to be in the recording studio with The King of Pop?

Teddy Riley: It was amazing, man! It was like school; it was like doing a science project that could control the world, and if you failed, you’re out! It was like being nervous but you have to be in control because you’re the producer.

SoulTrain.com: One of the things critics talked about most about the documentary This Is It was how demanding Michael was of his staff to meet his expectation of perfection. He didn’t have a problem with you giving him directions?

Teddy Riley: Michael put me on the spot a few times to become the controller, not the writing partner or collaborator. He wanted me to control what I wanted him to do and sing, and what I wanted him to be for this Dangerous album.

michael jackson_in the closetSoulTrain.com: So, Teddy, Michael Jackson just basically presented himself to you like a block of clay for you to mold?

Teddy Riley: Yeah! And that’s how he wanted it! Michael wearing a tank top t-shirt was my idea. Michael pulling his hair back in a ponytail was my idea. Michael wearing what he wore in “Keep It In the Closet” was my idea.

SoulTrain.com: How far did your influence stretch over the entire album process?

Teddy Riley: It went far. I’m very instrumental in Michael picking the album cover he picked because he designed it right in front of me. They wanted the picture with the eyes being his album cover.

SoulTrain.com: A lot of discussions take place on big budget, marquee albums. Were you also included in all the creative meetings?

Teddy Riley: I was invited to all of the creative meetings, except the first one; Michael was about to fire the people because they didn’t bring me to the first artist creative meeting. They stopped the meeting for me to come, for them to drive me over to the meeting for my input. That’s how instrumental I was in the Dangerous album.

SoulTrain.com: And there’s more than a few people out there who feel Dangerous is Mike’s best album. Whether you feel that way or not, it’s hard to deny how great it is.

Teddy Riley: It is! It’s a great album. And that was my first time working with him. Just to give you an idea of what I was to this album and my part, I was put into a position to become the next Quincy Jones by Michael Jackson.

Connect the Teddy Riley on Twitter @TeddyRiley1.

—Mr. Joe Walker

Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, Mr. Joe Walker is a biographer, author, and columnist, currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of popular Concrete Magazine blog “Tinna: See”. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.


  1. Srushti says:

    I LOVE the dangerous album!!! Its a masterpiece!I mean who is it give in to me are some of the songs that rival thriller!(don’t get me wrong I still love thriller bad OTW) But its soo damn underrated:-( .Its much better than those lame late 80s new jack swing records I love Mike:-)))))))

  2. Dragan says:

    I imagine it’d be any creative person’s dream to work with Michael Jackson, no matter what their field of creativity. At his level of giftedness, Jackson was so open to growth and reinvention, never settling into a box or formula. It had to be unimaginably exciting to be allowed to partake of his next creative groove.

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