Written By: Lele Symone
For R&B fans coming of age in the 1990s, there was something special about Blackstreet: a hybrid of new jack swing, hip-hop and old school R&B that filled the airwaves with silky ballads and infectious club jams (“Booti Call,” “No Diggity,” “Before I Let You Go,” “Joy,” etc.) and who also won a Grammy Award in the process. But years later, its pair of co-founders are on the outs, old members are being replaced and threats of legal action abound. When Chauncey Black, co-founder of the group, recently appeared in JC Penney ads re-configuring their smash hit into “GO Ligety, ” trademark puppet and all, fans wondered who did what and are confused about the entire situation. And Chauncey wants to set the record straight, starting with the ownership drama surrounding the name.
Years ago, after noticing that Teddy Riley’s ownership had expired in 2008, Chauncey bought the legal rights in an effort to control the brand, since he and Teddy were still performing with two new members (Mark Middleton and Eric Williams were replaced after quitting due to monetary disputes) as late as 2012. When Teddy couldn’t get Chauncey to sell the entire stake back to him, he refused the 50/50 split he was offered and instead told UK’s The Voice that Chauncey “came from under me and owned the name.”
“We started it together, and I felt like we could’ve worked it together,” Chauncey stated recently by phone from his home base of Atlanta. “Teddy’s embarrassed because he feels like he lost— we wanted Blackstreet to continue on everybody’s terms, but he wanted it all [leadership and control]. He believes that what he’s done musically in the past outweighs what’s going on now, but it isn’t the 90s now and we [original members] aren’t going to accept the kind of money that we did before.”
Curiously, after declaring in voice-online.co.uk that “I don’t wanna use the name Blackstreet – because there is no more Blackstreet,” Teddy Riley is now using the name with promoters while touring with Dave Hollister (who only appeared on the group’s first CD before going solo) and two other men. Only from the stage does Teddy state that he is a part of a ‘new generation’ of Blackstreet and calls the new lineup BS2.
Chauncey said he feels sorry for the fans who expect to hear the hits as recorded and are disappointed with the results. “They’re up there singing Karaoke and try to clean it up afterward. Teddy singing through the vocoder and thinks he’s Blackstreet by himself. I have nothing against Dave [Hollister], but it ain’t about the music to him anyway, it’s about the check.”
Riley’s insistence on using the name without rights has also apparently complicated other deals, such as with Dr. Dre massively popular headphones company Beats. “Dr. Dre Beats wants to sell a recent performance he did with Riley of “No Diggity,” said Chauncey. “So they send me a licensing agreement. Why would I sign off on it when I own the name and a percentage of the publishing? I’m not in their video and there was no prior permission for the performance of the song or the group name, which they should’ve gotten because I own a percentage of the record.”
He asserts that the highly-popular “Go Ligety” campaign was such a winner because of his vision and control of the final outcome. “I told them ‘Hey, I need to sing the whole song, have the likeness of the famous puppet in the video,’ and I’ll sign off. Dr. Dre and Teddy own half of the rights to administer ‘No Diggity,’ but I administrate 100% of my own publishing, if I’m not happy with the direction, it won’t happen.”
Not that he’s solely caught up and focuses on what Teddy Riley is doing: despite the conflict between the two co-founders likely not going away anytime soon—“I believe 85% of it is health-related,” said Chauncey. “He’s not a bad guy, but he has a thyroid condition that causes mood swings, which can affect you creatively, personally and everywhere else”—Chauncey Black is moving forward and up with the higher profile and rejuvenated Blackstreet brand, promising new music this year and other business ventures.
“I made JC Penney hot again, they got some soul now and I’m keeping the name of Blackstreet as big as possible,” said Chauncey, chuckling and possessing a cool confidence about the future. “The ‘Go Ligety’ spot was the ad of the week when it came out and the numbers even caught the attention of the sports press. R&B music is coming back to the mainstream and this level of visibility makes it all happen.”