Tuesday, February 05, 2008
I've Seen the Future
Although he lived more than an hour away in Virginia Beach, everyone in Richmond was excited when Teddy Riley decided to move to the Old Dominion. At the time, he was a seasoned hit maker, who continued to be successful even after the demise of Guy, a group that changed the landscape of R&B in the nineties. He went on to make hits with two different versions of Blackstreet and nearly every important urban artist of that era. Even Michael Jackson came to Riley's studio, "The Future," tucked behind what was a office building and completely invisible from the road.
The latter details led me and a lighting tech to drive past the studio at least once back in 1994. We had been asked to film BLACKstreet singing Happy Birthday to the then-editor of a new magazine called Teen People. Finally, we found the path behind the building that led to the studio. It was remarkable how well-hidden and accessible this place was. We walked into the studio two steps and that was as far as we got. A security guard woofed loudly, "Take off your shoes." We put our shoes in a pile of footwear on the plush beige carpet and stood there a few minutes before the diminutive Riley appeared. He said we would be doing the shoot on the tour bus, so we could wait outside. That was my five minutes in The Future.
Riley came onto the bus with a business associate that he was giving a tour. The man was well-dressed, didn't seem to know much about the music business, but acted like he had some money. He nodded knowing when the producer discussed his political dilemma of as traditionally voting for democrats, like good black folk, when it was really republicans who looked out for wealthy people like them.
The bus had a recording studio in the back, which was revolutionary back then. Riley explained that he used naval engineers to build the sound proofing so the rattle and hum of the steel horse didn't disturb his grooves. We were impressed.
We weren't on the bus long when the other members of BLACKstreet began to arrive. They assembled at the back of the bus and ran through the birthday song twice while we filmed. After the first take, Riley finished the song with some ad-libs about the editor of Teen People, who none of us knew. He then made sure I rewound the tape (he insisted on looking into the eye piece) and went over it with the next shot. After we broke everything down, I stepped back into The Future to hand off the tape to his assistant, but I kept my shoes on.
Yesterday, I noticed this article about Riley's former studio. I knew that his fortunes had taken a downturn lately, so I wasn't surprised to see the old place for sale. I'm sure its sure full of state of the art technology like CRT monitors, DAT machines, ultra-clean carpet and probably a couple of cassette decks. For Teddy Riley, the present caught up with The Future.
photo Vicki Cronis-Nohe | The Virginian-Pilot