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Friday, Feb. 6, 2009
Since the golden age of hip-hop in the late 1980s, producers have dominated urban music, but few have actually been credited with creating an entire subgenre.
Teddy Riley didn't coin the term "new-jack swing," but he is widely acknowledged as the genre's inventor, mainly by helping genuine R&B singers utilize the intense machine-made funk rhythms popularized by rap artists. Riley formed the seminal new-jack swing group, Guy, in Harlem, New York in 1987, but quickly became more famous as a producer. He reached his peak in this role with Michael Jackson's 1991 album, "Dangerous," which sold 30 million copies worldwide.
In 1994, Riley decided to get back into performing and formed the vocal quartet Blackstreet. Because new-jack swing was mostly over by then, the group struggled with direction problems and personnel changes before its first big crossover hit, "No Diggity," featuring Dr. Dre, in 1996. For the rest of the decade Riley and Co. appeared on records by almost every R&B and hip-hop hitmaker, but by the turn of the millennium the momentum had stalled, and the group's own albums were no longer making much of a dent on the charts. More significantly, internal conflicts had come to a head. Riley was even sued by one former member, so he escaped to the relative sanctuary of a Guy reunion.
But as always, what goes around comes around, and new-jack swing has lately enjoyed a revival of sorts — which is good news for old new-jack swingers such as Bobby Brown, who spent the last decade in court rather than in the recording studio. And while Riley has never been short of production gigs, the revival has given him an excuse to make up with his old Blackstreet colleagues. Apparently, nothing beats standing in front of a crowd and getting it on, especially when you can charge these kinds of prices.
Blackstreet play Feb. 13 and 14 at Billboard Live Tokyo (13: 7 and 9:30 p.m.; 14: 6 and 9 p.m.;  3405-1133); and Feb. 16 at Billboard Live Osaka (6:30 and 9:30 p.m.;  6342-7722). Tickets for each show are ¥10,600-¥12,600.