New Jack Swing was in full effect in 1988, the year that Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her” and Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid” burst onto the charts blessed by the gifted hand of budding, Harlem-bred musician, writer, performer and producer Teddy Riley. But it was “Groove Me,” the debut single by Riley’s trio Guy, that rang the alarm. Guy became the poster boys for New Jack Swing, slamming radio and clubs with a high-energy hybrid of hip hop and R&B.
Teddy Riley, Aaron “Nasty Man” Hall and Damion “Crazy Legs” Hall, three supremely talented individuals make up the legendary supergroup.
Guy exploded onto the music scene in 1988 with a brilliant self-titled album that included the hits “Groove Me,” “Teddy’s Jam,” “Piece Of My Love,” “Spend The Night” and “I Like.” “Groove Me,” peaked at #4; “Teddy’s Jam,” a slick, largely instrumental cut hit #5 and became a Riley signature he’d reprise on subsequent albums; “I Like” landed at #2 and “Spend The Night” at #15. Charting for an amazing 73 weeks, five at #1 R&B, Guy was certified double platinum.
The group finally copped a #1, billed as Teddy Riley featuring Guy, with the Motown-released “My Fantasy,” a highlight of the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s acclaimed 1989 film Do The Right Thing.
Two years later, Guy released an even better effort, the multi-platinum The Future. The Future also introduced Damion Hall to Guy’s lineup, replacing disgruntled original member Tim Gatling. The move infused the group with a visual energy that helped to create exciting and groundbreaking videos for such smashes as “Wanna Get With U,” “Teddy’s Jam 2,” “D-O-G Me Out,” and the international love anthem, “Let’s Chill.”
The lead-off single, “Wanna Get With U,” went to #4 and the tender “Let’s Chill” hit #3 and barely missed the pop Top 40. The platinum album, three weeks at #1, also yielded the #2 “Do Me Right” featuring Heavy D, #8 “D-O-G Me Out” and #16 “Let’s Stay Together” plus “Teddy’s Jam 2.”
Then, after contributing the theme to the groundbreaking 1991 film New Jack City, the group disbanded.
The breakup can be pinpointed to an eagerness for most new acts to “show their vinegar,” by signing an ill-advised contract that clearly benefited management, to the detriment of the group. Therein lies a rhyme and reason for Guy’s unceremonious exit from the public eye, as Teddy Riley explained: “We have a life that can become a book, if you know the truth. Our breakup happened because of our ex-management. We HAD to split up. We had a war. We had to split up and attack separately. Our ex-manager held us in a contract that had us clamped down; we couldn’t go nowhere, couldn’t do nothing, and we weren’t accepting that. Now, we’re moving on. All the confidentiality (surrounding the conditions of the breakup) we had to keep to ourselves for five years. That’s why the public didn’t really know the truth of why we broke up.”
Previously, in the mid-‘80s, Riley was in a short-lived group called Kids At Work, which was modeled after New Edition. But Riley showed a talent for production and songwriting and went on to write and produce songs for such rappers as Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee, Heavy D, and Rob Base. A conversation with jazz fusion artist Jeff Lorber steered Riley into shifting his focus into R&B. “He started sending me sounds off his Linn Drum Machine, which got me to explore the possibilities of technology and music,” Riley relates. At the time, Aaron and Tim were working in a shoe store in Brooklyn, when Gatling heard Hall singing in the stockroom. Gatling told Hall that he knew this guy named Teddy and that they should hook up. Through word-of-mouth, the three met Gene Griffin and signed that ill-advised contract.
“A lot of things happened that kind of told us that we were at the wrong place, but we wanted to be stars,” Riley says bluntly.
“There was a lot of jealousy within the group, but we all wanted to be stars.”
For example, Griffin kicked Hall out of the group because of an argument with Gatling. But Riley came to Hall’s defense and told Griffin, “I’m not gonna be in this group if Aaron is not gonna be in it. If Timmy don’t wanna be in the group, it don’t make a difference. Me and Aaron is really the group!” Words were exchanged and Gatling walked out just before the release of Guy, opening the door for Aaron’s younger brother, Damion, to join the group. “On the business tip, Griffin had us together; nobody shitted on us. But, if we had known what we know now, we’d probably still be together with him because we’d know where the money’s at. But, at the time, we didn’t think about money because it was still that thing; we wanted to be stars.”
The school of hard knocks toughened the three members of Guy to take hold of their business, but by then, the barn door was open and the horses were running loose. The contract Guy had signed was iron-clad, and limited their ability to receive a balance sheet. They first found out that matters weren’t right when a 900 telephone number set up by Griffin was the second most popular in the world, behind only Will Smith. The line generated approximately $3 million for Guy, but they later found that money that was due to them was, instead, funneled into management. “We got salaries, that’s all.” The situation deepened as tour and album sales money was withheld. Riley, seeing the predicament deteriorate even further, gathered a number of people under contract to Griffin and planned a “getaway,” but found that credit cards were cut off, as well as their access to bank accounts that were listed under Griffin’s name only. Riley enlisted powerful industry attorneys to extricate himself, Guy and others from the contract. “Of course, they robbed us, but it was a small price to pay in order to get away from him.”
A plan was developed in which Riley and the Hall brothers had to purposefully mislead the public into believing that a major feud, rife with rumors of egos gone rampant, had ripped the group apart. Ultimately, the group broke up at the very height of their popularity, leaving a tease of a legacy with their first two albums, exciting tours and fame and fortune behind. Riley continues, “We said to ourselves, ‘We gotta make some things happen. We gotta make people think that we’re not together, so when we come back together, this (the reunion) will happen. The breakup was never about egos. Whatever problems Aaron had (a well-documented public breakup from his then-girlfriend and her having custody of their child, Aaron IV), separate from us, was his own. Whatever I had, separate from Guy with BLACKstreet, was my own. The only thing that we had together, that went out to the public, was that we had broken up, that we had creative differences, ego problems, whatever.”
Aaron Hall went on to record several albums on Silas/MCA, “The Truth” and “Inside Of You.” He also contributed songs to a number of important soundtracks, including “Boomerang,” “Juice,” “Above The Rim,” “Dangerous Minds” and “Panther.” During that period. Meanwhile, Damion dove into video choreography, modeling, acting and playwriting and released a solo self-titled album in 1995. Teddy cemented his reputation as one of the top producers of the ‘90s by producing and writing for an eclectic mix of acts that included Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Boy George, Soul II Soul, the Rolling Stones, Heavy D, New Kids On The Block, SWV, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and many more. In recent years, he’s crafted tracks for NAS, PartyNextDoor, Mack Wilds, Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin.
A full-fledged Guy reunion finally occurred with the 1999 release of “Dancin’.” With a smoother swing, “Dancin’” reached #4 and became Guy’s highest-charting pop single at #19. Their 2000 album, Guy III, was #5 R&B/Top 20 pop. Yet shortly after the release, the trio broke up again
The group has reunited and will be honored this year at the Black Music Honors, a well deserved honor!
Take a trip down memory lane, with the sounds of Guy!