”Give the people what they want,” chants the chorus of ”Can You Feel Me,” the opening salvo from BLACKstreet’s new album, Finally. It’s an appropriate beginning: Giving the people what they want has been the modus operandi of BLACKstreet founder Teddy Riley, one of pop’s most innovative and profitable groovesmiths. As a performer and producer in the ’80s, Riley merged hip-hop’s electro beats with synth-pop swizzle and soul sizzle to create new jack swing, the sound behind breakthrough hits like Bobby Brown’s ”My Prerogative.” Since then, Riley’s crafted smash after smash for artists ranging from Jay-Z to Michael Jackson, Foxy Brown to Tom Jones (!) — and for himself, too. BLACKstreet’s Grammy-grabbing, platinum chart-topper ”No Diggity,” for example, was one of 1997’s most ubiquitous hits. From the minute it tore out of the radio, ”No Diggity” looked to be a hard act to follow; on Finally, Riley nearly hits that high again, covering the whole R&B spectrum in the process.
Finally offers many runners-up in the next ”No Diggity” sweepstakes. Could it be ”Girlfriend/Boyfriend,” an up-tempo slammer powered by a saucy Janet Jackson cameo? Or will BLACKstreet’s biggie end up being ”Yo’ Love,” a percolating electronic lope that, with its Timbaland-style spoken commentary, funkadelic vocoder vocals, and blazing rap by Jay-Z protege Beenie Siegel, proves irresistible? The ballads look to break too, like the searing ”Drama” and especially the lush ”In a Rush,” which might cause the group to be renamed BLACKstreet Boys. While Riley has three other cohorts in BLACKstreet, the group’s sound is unmistakably its leader’s (only Riley and cofounder Chauncey ”Black” Hannibal remain from the original lineup). Finally makes good on Riley’s real talent: to make noises that are rooted in R&B tradition (”In a Rush” features Stevie Wonder on harmonica, while the title track oozes gospel gumption) yet still sound like the newest thing around. B+