Everyone thank Todd Terry,
Everyone can thank Todd Terry . . .
—"SHAKE," PM DAWN, 1991
HIPPIE HIP-HOPPERS PM Dawn are just one of many pop acts that owe something to Todd Terry. His production and remix credits cross from club smashes into the top 40, with highlights like the 1988 Jungle Brothers collaboration "I'll House You," Snap's "Rhythm Is a Dancer," the 1992 hit "Can You Feel It?" and a 1995 remix of Everything But the Girl's "Missing" that set a record for longest-running single on the Billboard charts.
Paramount, Tuesday, June 15
Terry is all over the map, in more ways than one. As a DJ, he often crosses the Atlantic to play clubs in Europe and England (where he's earned the honorary Clapton-esque title of "Todd the God"—"God" for short). In the studio, he's comfortable with a variety of styles and a boatload of aliases, including Sound Design, Black Riot, Royal House, and Torcha. If it's got a beat—preferably 120 or so of them a minute—Terry can work with it. "I look at the speed of the song and [I look for] a real catchy hook," he says of his remix choices. "If I could double-speed it, I might take a chance—if it's, like, 60 bpms or 64 bpms."
Though he gained fame spearheading the bursting '80s New York house scene, Terry grew up in Brooklyn during the early days of rap, before sampling became a mainstay. DJs had to make their own breaks by cutting in other tracks, and they had to play everything under the sun to keep the dance floor happy.
"You played hip-hop, reggae, house, freestyle," Terry recalls. "You played a little bit of everything, because the type of house parties that you would do, you were the only DJ and you had to provide for everybody there—you know, weddings, sweet 16s. I'm used to playing everything. That's how I make my music—I try to take things from all different styles."
Terry proves his eclecticism on his upcoming record Resolutions (due June 29 from Astralwerks), which includes ragga and rap vocals from guests like veteran Philadelphia MC Cash Money (Terry's old Sleeping Bag Records labelmate). Yet the producer is also stretching forward, experimenting with dark drum and bass ࠬa Grooverider. Terry's latest musical detour makes a circular kind of sense, since British jungle pioneers were also inspired by hip-hop and reggae.
"Resolutions is basically saying that I'm going to be trying everything and doing anything," Terry proclaims. The tracks swing from the murky, mind-warping beats of "Blackout" to the dancehall-flavored instrumental "Todzilla"; from the ethereal, Prince-like funk of "Let It Ride" (featuring vocalist Antoinette Robinson) to the musical joke of "My Style," on which Terry lays house foundations—a sprinkler beat punctuated by cowbells and a looped vocal "Oh!"—then mows them down with dramatic foghorns and an echoey sci-fi whine.
IT'S OBVIOUS THAT Terry has no patience for the splintering of dance music into a hundred different fragments—garage, funky breaks, techstep, trance, gabber, ambient, acid jazz, etc., etc. etc. "That's one reason to do this album," he confirms. "Maybe the house guys would just take a listen to it—maybe they might like it. Maybe they might get into something new. . . . Everybody's kind of squeezed themselves into one thing. They need to open their minds to different types of sounds and music. I think there's more out there for everybody, and they've just got to go for it."
Despite the fact that remixes are currently a hot commercial property, the king of the house remix has spent the past couple of years focusing on his own full-length productions. The mostly heavy, menacing sound of Resolutions couldn't be more different from Terry's bright and uplifting 1997 opus, Ready for a New Day. "Everybody started to play it real safe. They don't want to try something new," Terry opines. "So Resolutions is kind of a repel of all the pop stuff I've been doing. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop—I'm still doing a lot of pop records."
For all the deification, Terry has also experienced his share of critical slings. He's been saddled with a reputation—undeserved, he claims—for playing only his own records during his DJ sets. "A lot of them are mine, 'cause I'm playing a lot of the oldies that everybody wants to hear," he says. "Sometimes I'm playing things that are new from Louie [Vega], Kenny [Gonzalez], or somebody, but they don't know, so they just say, 'Oh, he's playing his own shit.' It's that good old critic thing."
These same good old critics have slagged him for recycling—using the same samples and themes over and over—and sounding too much like . . . well, himself. Terry takes them on in "Tee's Jazz," a Resolutions track with some harsh words for pen-wielding malcontents. Mic in hand, the producer wants—or rather demands—some respect: "It's basically saying to critics, 'I've heard you write about me for so long, OK, how about your album?'" Terry says. "It's not like a 'Fuck you,' but it's like, 'You've talked enough shit, let's see what you got.'"
God has spoken, and I, for one, know my arms are too short to box with him.