PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 30 years ago, Virginia Beach made a splash on the musical map when the group Blackstreet dominated R&B music. From a recording studio near Princess Anne High School, group leader, Teddy Riley, also created the sound dubbed “New Jack Swing.”
Blackstreet founding member Levi Little of Paterson, New Jersey, explains the magic behind New Jack Swing.
“You know mixing hip-hop, soul, gospel altogether, that’s what kinda warmed the sound and he was the architect of that. That’s no doubt,” he said.
“Teddy was a music pioneer. He was an amazing producer. He produced Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, and Whitney Houston. He was that superstar producer who started that generation of New Jack Swing,” said founding member Chauncey Black.
Then in 1996, Blackstreet shocked the music scene with the hit song “No Diggity” from the multiple Platinum album “Another Level.” “No Diggity” samples Bill Withers’ 1971 hit “Grandma’s hands.”
In a Zoom interview with Blackstreet members, WAVY’s Regina Mobley asked Blackstreet members Little and Black about the early stages in the production of the song.
Regina Mobley: When you first heard No Diggity, did you say ‘what is this?’
Levi Little: “He (Chauncey Black) didn’t like the song.”
Chauncey Black: “We liked the song it was just a different vibe.”
That different vibe crossed all genres and platforms.
“No Diggity” was featured in the 2013 Super Bowl commercial for Becks Sapphire and J.C. Penney’s commercial for the 2014 Winter Olympics, according to the group’s biography.
Blackstreet is now a global sensation.
“In Australia, Japan, China, and Indonesia, they know all of the lyrics. Sometimes we have to stick to singing it exactly like the record because they are singing it for us as well,” the men said, finishing each other’s sentences.
Additionally, Little says fans from other countries love some songs, such as “In a Rush” that gained little attention in the states.
“It was the biggest record over there [Indonesia]. We thought ‘No Diggity’ was going to be big. We go there they said ‘No you have to do In a Rush,'” said Little.
A longstanding dispute led to a breakup. Riley tours as a solo act while Little, Black, Mark Middleton and Eric Williams tour as Blackstreet.
Blackstreet members say they remain open to reconciliation discussions with Riley.
“We haven’t talked or anything in a minute but we have been talking, so hopefully when everybody sits down and kinda put our egos away, maybe we can sit down and talk about being together,” said Black.
Another name you may know: Pharrell, no last name needed. Riley discovered a young Pharrell Williams during a talent show at Princess Anne High which was just yards from Teddy’s recording studio.
Blackstreet is hopeful they will be included in the lineup for the next Something in the Water Festival which is hosted by Pharrell Williams in Virginia Beach.
The Grammy award-winning Blackstreet will take the stage Sunday night, at the convention center as part of CannaFest 2021.
On Sunday afternoon, Mayor Bobby Dyer will hand Blackstreet the keys to the city. Sept. 19, 2021, is proclaimed Blackstreet Day. It will be the group’s first Virginia Beach performance in 20 years.
Not bad for a group of men who learned to sing and perform in church.
“The only way that I have been able to put it [a 30-year career] together is through prayer and trust in God,” said Mark Middleton.
While on break from a gig in New York they offered a taste of what fans can expect Sunday night.
“They are going to get it all. They are going to get it all. They are going to get the vocals just like those albums and we can’t wait to get there,” said Little.
After Sunday’s performance, the group returns to intense work on a new album and they are searching Hampton Roads for the next generation of superstars.
Middleton has this advice for aspiring artists.
“Anyone who aspires to be a great artist, the first thing out of my mouth is to put God first, absolutely,” said Middleton.