Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 September 2020

A king up against a pioneer: Why Babyface will win the Verzuz battle against Teddy Riley

We preview the anticipated online battle between the leading light of RnB and the master of the new jack swing

Teddy Riley and Babyface will square off in the Verzuz music battle on Instagram. Shutterstock
Teddy Riley and Babyface will square off in the Verzuz music battle on Instagram. Shutterstock

A musical battle of the titans is coming to social media.

After some friendly – yet competitive – back and forth between the two pop-music producers and artists, Babyface and Teddy Riley will settle scores when they square off on the Verzuz Instagram channel on Sunday, April 19 at 5am UAE time.

The online beat battle competition, created by producers Timbaland and Swizz Beats, has been gaining steam during the time of the pandemic.

Each episode, two pedigree acts hop on their respective Instagram accounts and fight it out, song by song, to an online crowd who then decide who has had a more impactful career.

While Verzuz has already thrown up some killer battles, such as producers DJ Premiere and Wu-Tang Clan mastermind Rza, as well as top RnB songwriters Ne-Yo and Johnta Austin, the upcoming face-off between Babyface and Teddy Riley is set to be the fiercest of all.

Both have an esteemed resume that includes production work for the likes of Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, not to mention their own smattering of solo hits.

Whoever wins, the spectacle will be a history lesson of modern RnB and pop music that is worth waking up early for. Let’s take a look at what both artists will bring to the battle.

The king of RnB: Babyface

The biggest challenge Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds will have is to pick which songs to play.

With the Verzuz format restricting each artist to snippets (up to 90 seconds) of 20 songs from their careers, Babyface will have a hard time narrowing down even his greatest hits.

All you have to do is look at the stats: over the course of his 35-year career as a solo artist and producer, Babyface has amassed a staggering 26 US chart-topping hits and 11 Grammy Awards.

While his solo career elicited the likes of classics Whip Appeal and How Come, How Long, it is Babyface’s work as a producer and songwriter that underscores his impact on pop and RnB.

wIn the mid-1980s he launched into a decade-long golden period of back-to-back hits with anthems for the likes of Bobby Brown (Every Little Step), Mary J Blige (Not Gon Cry) and Boyz II Men (End of the Road).

He was also part of the production and song-writing team behind TLC's CrazySexyCool which, with more than 14 million copies sold, remains the biggest-selling album by an American all-girl group.

Babyface remains the gold standard when it comes to RnB songwriting. His work is defined by its keen attention to detail and sumptuous vocals. Whether it’s working with amazing singers such as Houston and Boyz II Men to the less refined singing chops of TLC, Babyface knows how to cater to artists' particular set of talents. The man is simply a pro.

Teddy Riley: the master of the new jack swing

Not many artists can claim to have created a particular sound and movement.

Riley is viewed as the originator, or at least the spearhead, of the new jack swing. It is a sub-genre of RnB defined by its fusion of elements taken from hip-hop, such as samples and scratching, the propulsive beats of dance-pop and smooth vocals of soul music.

Riley explored those sounds through the two groups he led, Guy and Blackstreet, but he truly perfected it through his work as a producer. His greatest achievement remains his executive producer credit on Michael Jackson's 1991 album Dangerous. The record remains a new jack swing opus and sold more than 30 million copies.

In addition to selections from that album, such as Jam and Remember the Time, we can expect Riley to drop his collaborations with Bobby Brown (My Prerogative) and SWV (Right Here) as well as the Blackstreet classic track No Diggity.

Aside from the hits and his Grammy Award, Riley’s influence can also be found in today’s top-tier RnB producer.

It was Pharrell Williams, who was mentored by Riley, who said it best. In a 2015 press conference before a show in Morocco, he said Riley's keen ear and punishing work ethic was responsible for his own success as a producer.

“I appreciated him then but I do even more now,” he said. “Because all of his critiques and strenuous work load – like not going to sleep 'til eight in the morning – is all for this moment right here and I thank him for getting me to be this place.”

Who will win the battle?

This will be a tough one for the public to decide. It all depends on what you value most from your RnB and pop music. If it’s the understated quality of a beautifully crafted song and rich vocal arrangements, then you can’t go past Babyface. However, if you are more interested in adventurous and pioneering production, then Teddy Riley is your man.

My tip is Babyface. The breadth of the man’s career is simply immense and played a major role in ushering in RnB to the masses. If he drops the right songs at the right time, he will show the world that most of your present favourite urban music artists are echoing the work of Babyface in one way or another.

Updated: April 15, 2020 03:34 PM

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