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Riley vs The Row: how Teddy Riley took on Death Row Records and WON (No Diggity sample story)

Teddy Riley pioneered the new jack swing genre, from producing early hits of the genre like Keith Sweat’s I Want Her, to producing all-time classics in Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album. One of Riley’s greatest triumphs, though, was achieved with his group BLACKstreet: a 1996 track named No Diggity. Everyone knows that record, but few know the beef surrounding it. Read on to discover the controversy around one of R&B’s greatest hits.

2Pac, centre, pictured with Riley, right, c. 1992

In 1995, Teddy Riley briefly reunited with the Hall brothers, Aaron and Damion, the 3 of whom made up the 3-piece group Guy until their disbandment 3 years earlier. Riley offered the brothers an instrumental that sampled Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands, though it was rejected during this brief Guy reunion. After releasing one single, Tell Me What You Like, Guy disbanded once more. Riley resumed his focus on BLACKstreet, in the hands of which that Bill Withers sample was tweaked into what we know as the instrumental for No Diggity.

Concurrently, a long-awaited conversation between Suge Knight and Teddy Riley commenced after Guy’s Piece of My Love was sampled by producer Johnny J for 2Pac’s Run Tha Streetz from his All Eyez On Me (1995) double album. While Teddy and BLACKstreet were signed to Interscope, the same label who distributed Death Row Records, Suge made Teddy an offer and requested he call him back. As Teddy didn’t call back to advance on Suge’s proposition, leaks of 2Pac’s Toss It Up, originally produced by Dr Dre, began to broil in 1996. Toss It Up made use of the same Bill Withers sample BLACKstreet had intended to use for No Diggity, and also featured Aaron Hall - one of the original members of Guy. Following a phone call with Teddy Riley, Jimmy Iovine - aware of the attempted sabotage of BLACKstreet’s upcoming single - placed a cease and desist order on Toss It Up.

BLACKstreet released No Diggity on July 29th 1996, featuring a rap verse from Dr Dre who had left Death Row in the March of that year. In response to the cease and desist order, Death Row re-recorded the Toss It Up riffs and gave Teddy Riley producer credits to get the interpolations cleared for the version of the song that would eventually appear on 2Pac’s final studio album, Makaveli: The 7 Day Theory. Dr Dre, however, did not get off so lightly. Salty that Dre had left Death Row and appeared on the track that brought him a cease and desist order, 2Pac added a second verse to Toss It Up dissing Dre, and in the outro can be heard to say “Yeah we took y’all beat, you know we beat you down, and we took y’all beat ‘cause you wasn’t rockin’ it right”. In his last act, 2Pac shot a second music video for Toss It Up on September 6th 1996, the day before the infamous night he fell victim to a fatal shooting.

No Diggity surpassed 1.6 million record sales before the year was over

We know how the rest of the story goes: Riley of course never joined Death Row. In fact, the label largely collapsed in the ensuing years after this dispute. Dre set up his own Aftermath label under Jimmy Iovine's guidance, later becoming the first hip hop billionaire after selling Beats By Dre for $3bn to Apple. Teddy Riley continued to produce for BLACKstreet, amongst other projects, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest producers of all time.

It's an incredible story, though. In a dispute over a sample, in one camp was Death Row and an original member of Guy, while in the other camp was Teddy Riley as a part of BLACKstreet and Dr Dre, a former member of Death Row. It’s safe to say Riley & Co won the battle for the sample, as Death Row were forced to re-record the track meanwhile BLACKstreet put out a classic that surpassed 1.6 million record sales before the year was over. 2Pac made sure he had something to say about it, though - even (unknowingly) spending his last full day on earth shooting the music video for a diss track about it.


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