How L.A. Reid Dethroned Clive Davis, Cried in His IDJ Office, Called 'B.S.' on Lucian Grainge

L.A. Reid
Dennis Leupold 

L.A. Reid

A lot happens over the course of a thirty year music career.

While Antonio "L.A." Reid's abrupt ouster last week (May 11) came as something of a surprise to many (and may have been related to charges of sexual harassment, news of which broke this week), for those who have followed the music business and its long tradition of regime change, it certainly wasn't out of the realm of possibility—especially after his longtime friend and mentor Doug Morris relinquished the Sony Music mantle to Rob Stringer.

Reid, like most music execs, had his share of intrigue over the course of a nearly 30-year career running four different labels in LaFace, Arista Island Def Jam and Epic. At times he was wildly successful helping to break everyone from TLC, Usher, OutKast and Future to Toni Braxton, Fifth Harmony and Meghan Trainor among many others; other times, less so with many more artists who never broke and a reputation for over-spending. And there were conflicts, ones that cost him friendships, a marriage, jobs and more.

"This is all very devastating to me," Reid quoted Clive Davis saying in his recent memoir, Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic and Searching for Who's Next (HarperCollins, 2016). This came after legendary music exec was both "embarrassed" and "hurt" by his 1999 ouster from Arista Records, the label Davis had founded a quarter century prior. The coup was engineered and executed by the president and CEO of BMG Strauss Zelnick and the company chairman Michael Dornemann, though Reid was in on the plan long before but never said anything.

Davis had funded Reid's and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds' LaFace Records in 1989 with $1 million after other major execs, including Irving Azoff (who originally agreed to but then stepped down from heading MCA), Mo Ostin at Warner Brothers, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss at A&M Records and David Geffen, all declined.

Reid knew Davis was just about to be axed as the two dined in Reid's Atlanta home. He was upset, however, with LaFace's Arista deal which he felt wasn't equitable and had wanted to sell the label to Arista, which Davis turned down. Afterward, Reid lamented that he "probably should have taken that moment for a heart-to-heart talk with Clive, but I didn't."

But what goes around in the music biz often has a tendency to come around as Reid himself was canned from Arista in January 2004. "When it happened, it hurt," he wrote sounding very much like Davis had four years earlier. "My heart sank." The new BMG CEO Rolf Schmidt-Holz, who came on after Reid was hired, wasn't an "ally." And despite hits by Avril Lavigne, Pink and OutKast, Reid said he felt that he "had somehow failed."

Meanwhile Davis  may have had the last laugh as he started J Records with a reported $150 million from BMG and remained at the label long after Reid had exited.

Any sadness on Reid's part soon evaporated, though, when Universal Music CEO and chairman Doug Morris, with the help of Jimmy Iovine, brought Reid in to run Island Def Jam after Lyor Cohen had left to become chairman and chief executive of recorded music for the Warner Music Group.  Reid wrote about how unwelcomed he felt arriving at the less-traditional IDJ offices and the tour given to him by then-Island president Julie Greenwald (now co-chairman and coo of Atlantic Records). "She ushered me to this tiny, narrow room. She pointed to this little fucking office."

It was one of Reid's lowest points. "It was quickly clear that I'd walked into a company that neither understood nor respected me or my legacy," he wrote. "I closed the door, sat down and cried. I wondered what the hell had happened to my life. What happened to my career? How did I go from being the king of Atlanta to the head of Arista Records—winning album of the year two days before (for Outkast's Stankonia) to this little bitty cubby hole?"

Reid's hiring at IDJ even raised hackles from co-founder Russell Simmons who wrote an open letter in Billboard questioning if the label's legacy would be maintained. Reid, much to his credit, wisely lured Jay Z to become Def Jam's president and CEO by offering him back his master recordings—something Iovine had suggested.

Though Reid had nothing but fawning praise for Jay in Sing To Me, the rap mogul didn't necessarily return the compliment—at least in terms of his actions. He declined to renew his contract with Def Jam in 2008 and bought back the rights to his last album, Blueprint 3 (with the smash hit "Empire State of Mind") and signed a massive deal with Live Nation that saw the launch of Roc Nation as a joint venture.

What may have sunk Reid at IDJ was saying, "I think that's bullsh-t" to Sir Lucian Grainge, which probably isn't ever the best strategy for job security. That, however, was exactly what Reid did out of frustration over how poorly Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi  sold in the U.K. in 2005 despite its U.S. success, which he oversaw. Grainge, according to Reid, said he had invested $6 million in the album and "got nothing back." Reid didn't believe it and dropped the B.S. bomb.

After Morris left for Sony in 2011 and Grainge became CEO of Universal Music Group, Reid felt his days were numbered and began segueing out of IDJ to become a judge on Simon Cowell's X Factor knowing he'd likely end up at Sony with Morris.

After two seasons on the show and a rocky start at Epic, Reid wanted out at X Factor. Rather than discussing his resignation with Cowell, however, Reid went directly to Access Hollywood. When Cowell asked why, Reid's response is telling: "Because if I had told you, you would have spun to the press that you fired me. You can't give a record man control of the media. We're cut from the same cloth. I beat you to the punch." True or not, it showed that Reid saw the music industry as being a dog-eat-dog world.

More than brutal competition, in his personal relationships, money seemed to be at the root of several schisms. His longtime friend and business partner Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds actually ordered an audit of LaFace Records which apparently turned up nothing, but drove a wedge between the two old friends. "He would only call me from his car, never from home," Reid noted bitterly after his friend had married and moved back to Los Angeles. "I became the side b---h that you call from the car."

Finances also famously led to TLC parting ways with and suing their manager Pebbles (née Perri Arlette McKissack), who was then Reid's wife. Most marriage counselors would likely advise against siding with your life partner when one of your artists is suing them. "Many times I took [TLC's] side over my wife's," Reid said in discussing the lawsuit "I think she saw me as a capitalist who was only interested in the success my label."

With Jermaine Jackson it was more about prestige than money; and it would be hard for anyone to turn down the opportunity to work with Michael Jackson. Less understandable was Jermaine and his family moving to Atlanta to record with Reid and Edmonds and then the production duo disappearing for two weeks without telling him they were going to work with his brother.

When the situation blew up, Reid claimed Michael was cold blooded about going behind his brother's back and wanting to cease recording. "Did he sign a contract?" MJ asked L.A, who replied that he had. "'Then he'll have to live with it, because those are the rules." No wonder Jermaine, with Babyface and L.A., recorded the now-infamous Michael dis track "Word to the Badd!!"

In another telling passage, Reid was vexed after one of his star artists Braxton filed a lawsuit to have her contract with LaFace voided and filed for bankruptcy, which Reid did not believe to be true. He noted, "What can I say? Talent turns on you." He said that TLC turned on Pebbles and Babyface turned on him and then matter-of-factly concluded, "that's one of the pitfalls of success." 

 

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