More than any other producer, Todd Terry defined New York house during the '80s, a varied sampladelic smorgasbord blending the sounds of classic disco, the more introspective Chicago sound pioneered earlier in the decade, plus plenty of hip-hop attitude and sampling piracy.
And with two of the most respected crossover remixes of the house era ("I'll House You" by the Jungle Brothers and "Missing" by Everything but the Girl), Terry more than earned his title "Todd the God" (or occasionally, simply "God"). Though he's often been accused of recycling his own beats and effects (in his production work as well as the DJ booth) a bit too often for his own good, Terry's immortality as a dance icon is assured.
Born in Brooklyn, Terry began DJing in the early '80s while still a teenager, spinning hip-hop at school events and on the street with a team called the Scooby Doo Crew. He increasingly listened to Italian disco as well, and when the house sound of Chicago dropped in the mid-'80s, Terry the DJ made an official switch to house music. In league with fellow New York DJ/producer/remixers Little Louie Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez, Terry borrowed the Masters at Work guise -- which Vega and Gonzalez would later popularize -- for one of his first big productions, the 1987 single "Alright Alright"; the single became a milestone on New York's early house scene. The Jungle Brothers, another crew of hip-hop heads who were beginning to stray into house, hooked up with Terry and the collaboration resulted in "I'll House You," one of the earliest and most high-profile fusions of hip-hop and house (popularized several years later by C+C Music Factory and Snap!).
The added prestige transferred back to his own name for two wildly popular 1988 singles, "Weekend" and "Bango (To the Batmobile)," both released as the Todd Terry Project. Perhaps preferring the adoration of the faithful, Terry later resorted to dozens of aliases for dozens of club hits -- Black Riot's "A Day in the Life," Gypsymen's "Hear the Music," Royal House's "Can You Party," Todd Terry & the Countdown's "Flipside," Torcha's "Feel It," D.O.S.'s "House of Gypsies," Sound Design's "You Can Feel It," Tech Nine's "Slam Jam," and Static's "Dream It." Despite his wealth of released material, Terry remixed dozens of artists as well, including Sting, Björk, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, Malcolm McLaren, Annie Lennox, Robert Plant, and Technotronic, among others. The British house boom of the early '90s provided Terry with many an overseas gig, including a high-profile residency at the London superclub Ministry of Sound. His proficiency on the decks became a minor sensation, causing several British journalists to describe him as "God."
Terry moved into label entrepreneurship in 1992 when he formed Freeze Records with William Socolov. (Several of Terry's early singles had appeared on Socolov's Fresh/Sleeping Bag label, also the home of rap acts like EPMD, Mantronix, and Nice & Smooth). Freeze became the obvious home for many of Terry's productions, including several volumes of his EP series Unreleased Projects beginning in 1992 and running through 1995.
That same year, Terry's remix of the erstwhile pop act Everything but the Girl became a worldwide smash, selling over three million copies and almost single-handedly reviving the duo's flagging career for a sleek new dancefloor incarnation. The British label Hard Times released the DJ gig A Night in the Life of Todd Terry: Live at Hard Times in 1995, while the flip side of the coin, A Day in the Life of Todd Terry (including his best single and remix productions) appeared the following year. His next project, Ready for a New Day, provided more song-oriented fare, though still implicitly dance, with guest vocalists including Martha Wash, Jocelyn Brown, and Bernard Fowler. Terry made another artistic change-up, to LP-oriented drum'n'bass, with his 1999 album Resolutions, recorded for indie/electronica stalwart Astralwerks. ~ John Bush, Rovi