‘No Diggity’: The Story Behind Blackstreet’s Iconic Anthem

It’s one of the most beloved R&B tracks ever, but it certainly didn’t start out that way.

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Blackstreet around the time of the release of 'No Diggity'
Blackstreet - Photo: Paul Bergen/Redferns

For Blackstreet, 1996 represented new beginnings thanks to a new record deal and the addition of Eric Williams and Mark Middleton. While the group continued to ride the wave of their successful 1994 debut album, thanks to the success of singles like “Before I Let You Go,” and “Joy,” Teddy Riley still found time to produce for the who’s who of hip-hop and R&B like Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Heavy D, and more.

At this point, Riley was considered one of the most talented and trustworthy tastemakers in the game. Still, “No Diggity,” the lead single for Blackstreet’s sophomore album Another Level – and the biggest song of the group’s career – almost didn’t happen because practically no one believed in the track. Eventually, though, everyone got on board thanks to some magical production from Riley and Will “Skylz” Stewart, plus major cosigns from Dr. Dre and Riley’s best friend, Heavy D.

Listen to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” now.

Indeed, “No Diggity” ushered in a new sound in R&B as it was often imitated throughout the rest of the decade and the early aughts. The track is the blues, a nursery rhyme, and futuristic R&B wrapped in a fun, cheeky woman’s anthem. The song introduced the world to Riley’s protege Queen Pen and was a complete 180 from their signature slow jams like “Tonight’s The Night” and “Before I Let You Go.” It’s a song you’ve never heard before, yet it sounds so familiar; it’s catchy without being corny. It’s one of the most addictive songs ever created.

The recording

“No Diggity” started its life when Riley ran into Skylz at the Future Sound Studios and heard him experimenting with Bill Withers’ 1971 song, “Grandma’s Hands.” After insisting that Stewart give him the sample, Riley added the drums and a reverse kick, laying the foundation to the track.

“After I finished making the track, Will came in and was like, ‘This record is a smash. But what do you want to write to it?” Riley told VIBE Magazine. “I gave him the melody to ‘No Diggity.’ I wanted the song to start with ‘Shorty get down…’ And then I thought, ‘Well, can we add the words ‘Good Lord’ to the track?'”

Stewart added, “She got game by the pound,” then Riley had the idea to sample “I Like the Way You Work” from the group’s debut album. According to Riley, he couldn’t sell the other members of Blackstreet on the song, which is why he sings the first verse. He convinced Williams to do the second verse, and the rest was history.

I Like The Way You Work

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Well, almost. According to Riley, the label also didn’t understand “No Diggity,” but his best friend, Heavy D, and Dr. Dre convinced Jimmy Iovine that it was worthy enough to be the lead single. At the time, Heavy D was the freshly appointed CEO of Uptown Records and was well respected as a producer thanks to his work with Mary J. Blige, Monifiah, and Riley’s previous group Guy. Meanwhile, Dre was new to the Interscope family after departing from Death Row in March of 1996. The infamous producer launched his Aftermath label under the Interscope umbrella and the mentorship of Iovine.

Both of these men’s cosigns were worth their weight in gold. Dre’s reason for wanting “No Diggity” to be a single was pretty straightforward. He missed the filming of Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rumpshaker” video and didn’t want to miss another Teddy Riley music video party. When Iovine told Riley that Dr. Dre wanted to be in the video, Riley said he would only allow it if he could get a verse on the song.

Blackstreet - No Diggity (Official Music Video) ft. Dr. Dre, Queen Pen

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The reception

The song was an immediate hit, selling 1.6 million copies in 1996. It went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, ending the 14-week streak of Los del Río’s worldwide smash “Macarena.” “No Diggity” went on to win Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 1998 Grammy Awards. Not only was it one of the biggest songs of 1996, but it was one of the biggest songs of the decade and beyond. Several artists have covered the song, including X-Factor finalist Cher Lloyd and singer Ed Sheeran.

Listen to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” now.

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