After Hitting Bottom, Scott Storch Is Taking Another Shot at the Top
Ten years ago, the hip-hop producer had one of the hottest streaks in music history. Then he acquired an epic cocaine habit and bankrupted himself. Now he’s mounting a modest comeback using the one resource he never completely squandered: Chutzpah.
On a scorching Wednesday in August in Miami Beach, Scott Storch is blasting a new dance track of his from the elevated DJ booth at Mansion nightclub. Puffing on a Marlboro Red and dressed in designer jeans, spotless white Louis Vuitton sneakers and a gray Diesel T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Mr. Cool," he is waving his arms and driving an adoring crowd into a frenzied state as lasers flash and semi-clad dancers writhe in time to the music.
It's a seductive scene, but a manufactured one. Outside Mansion it's actually late afternoon, and aside from the throng around the DJ booth, the club is empty. At the age of 40, Storch is shooting a music video for what he hopes will be his second act. After a white-hot career making hits for Beyonce, Chris Brown, Pink, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake -- he wrote and produced nearly a dozen Billboard Hot 100 top 10s between 2001 and 2005 -- Storch self-destructed in a spectacular and very public way. Thanks to a monstrous cocaine habit and a profligate lifestyle, he burned through much of a $70 million fortune (he earned a reported $17 million in 2006 alone, on par with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams that year) and alienated the labels, managers and artists who had helped make him rich. With his $10 million Greco-Roman mansion on Miami Beach's Palm Island, fleet of exotic cars and reliance on private jets, the media branded him the "Most Loathsome Man in Music" and "McDouche."
But five years after he first checked into a Florida rehab center, a humbler Storch says he has put that debauched period of his life to rest. He is once again writing and producing songs (for rapper Rick Ross, DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and DJ Steven Lee) and prioritizing a new career as an electro-pop singer. In early 2015, he plans to release a four-song EP of melody-driven EDM, drum’n’bass and trap that he wrote, performed and produced almost entirely himself. The club scene shot at Mansion appears in the video for the first single, an infectious dance track called "Your Light."
"I always said that someday I'm going to sing on a record," Storch, whose smooth vocals calls to mind Calvin Harris, says during a break in shooting. "F--- it, it's time." He is slightly paunchier than he was during his streak in the mid-2000s, but behind his signature oversized aviator shades, his eyes are clear. "I'm trying to be brave and fresh with my career," he says. "I'm trying to take this medium and make it mine."
Storch has a tough road ahead. "A lot of doors were closed to me," he admits. But he's prepared to get back in the game. "You've got to get in where you fit in," he says. "Even knowing you was once wearing the f---ing crown, you still got to go back in the trenches. You got to bite your lip, deflate your ego and fight."
A middle-class Jewish kid who was born on Long Island and raised in South Florida and Philadelphia, Storch was "on the path to becoming a court reporter like his father," says one of his oldest friends, musician Andrew Sonic. But after Storch's parents divorced, the 15-year-old dropped out of ninth grade and began crashing on the floor of the Philadelphia garage studio where Sonic was recording. The Roots were also in residence, making their debut 1993 album, Organix, and Storch, who had been playing keyboards since he was a kid, impressed the band with his talent. "Everyone was blown away by his chops," Sonic says. "He's got black soul in a white man's body."
Storch performed on Organix and joined The Roots, co-writing and often producing songs through 1995. He left the band because he preferred composing and producing to the rigors of touring, and because, he says half-jokingly, his ambitions were greater than being "the white guy on keyboards." (He continued to work with his former bandmates through the 1990s, most notably on their best-known song, "You Got Me," featuring Erykah Badu.)
On a trip to California in 1998, his friend, the Philly rapper Eve, introduced him to Dr. Dre, and Storch ended up co-writing three tracks for the former N.W.A rapper's 1999 album, 2001, including "Big Egos" and "Still D.R.E." The set has sold 7.8 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and Storch, then 25, found himself in the big leagues, eventually able to command $50,000 to $100,000 a track for his writing and production skills. In the mid-2000s, his run on the Hot 100 was virtually unparalleled: He was the creative force behind Beyoncé's "Baby Boy" (nine weeks at No. 1 in 2003), Fat Joe's "Lean Back" (three weeks at No. 1 in 2004), Mario's "Let Me Love You" (nine weeks at No. 1 in 2005), 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" (nine weeks at No. 1 in 2005) and Chris Brown's debut single, "Run It!" (five weeks at No. 1 in 2005).
Storch never lacked confidence, but as the hits and the money kept coming, his ego swelled and his lifestyle grew increasingly extravagant. "I wanted to be the man, the King of Miami," says Storch, who once referred to himself as the Meyer Lansky of hip-hop. At the peak of his fame, he was living a contemporary version of Fellini’s Satyricon, throwing now-legendary parties at his Palm Island mansion, purchasing a 117-foot yacht called The Tiffany and amassing a collection of exotic cars that included rare Ferraris and a Bentley that, he says, was his everyday "going to the grocery store" ride. He bought piles of bling and Porsche Design and Alpina aviator sunglasses, and traveled to recording sessions on chartered Gulfstream V private jets. ("I would always be going from L.A. to Miami to New York, to Russia, St-Tropez," he recalls. "Costs about $50,000 for a domestic flight, $250,000 for overseas. Yeah, that's an expensive habit.")
The trappings of fortune and a modicum of fame included plenty of arm and nose candy as well. Storch enjoyed a reputation as a hip-hop Lothario who bedded such tabloid staples as Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. He also dated Lil' Kim.
Storch found his taste for cocaine at a 2005 party in Los Angeles, when a friend pulled him into a bathroom and offered him a line. By 2006, his addiction was full-blown. "I did coke constantly and provided it for everyone else," he says -- although he dismisses reports that he spent $30 million on blow. "You couldn’t snort that much if you tried."
By 2006 the cracks started to show. He was nominated for a producer of the year Grammy and had seven singles chart on the Hot 100 (including "Gimme That" by Brown and "Make It Rain" by Fat Joe, both featuring Lil Wayne), but none of the tracks broke the top 10. "And when I didn't win the Grammy, I was pissed," he says. "I told Kurt Loder [from MTV], 'F--- the Grammys!'" In 2007, he angered Def Jam after the label booked expensive studio time for him and Janet Jackson to work on tracks, and instead, he says, they partied at his home. He and Timbaland also traded insults over a disagreement, since settled, about production credits for Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River."
Storch, who was 33 in 2007, rolls his eyes as he recalls his erratic behavior at the time. But he doesn't assume all the blame: "For me, it was the combination of cocaine and women. You feel everything so much when you're on that drug, and you find yourself falling in love every night. You want to screw a girl, like, 20 times a night. And these girls want to go skiing all night long," he explains. 'Then suddenly it's three o'clock in the afternoon, you have six things scheduled and you’re not going to show up to them because you’re a f---ing train wreck."
He was careless in other ways as well. "There was this guy who was managing my house, and he found a box full of statements -- accounts that I had with ASCAP, Universal Records royalties, whatever. I said, 'Just throw all that shit out. It's worthless.' He said, 'I'm going to check it first,' and found about $500,000 in uncashed checks."
It was hardly enough to fix his dire financial situation. In 2009, Storch filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, lost his home to foreclosure and was arrested for grand theft auto for failing to return a 2004 Bentley GT that he had leased, allegedly for Lil' Kim. He also had inadvertently gotten caught up in what he calls "the politics" of the West Coast hip-hop scene, where warring factions turned to violence to end disputes. Although he declines to be more specific, he says that "a couple of years ago some dear Israeli friends," one a former infantryman from the military's Golani Brigade who's now a Florida-based businessman, extracted him from his debauched lifestyle in Los Angeles and relocated him to a quiet upscale condo 45 minutes north of South Beach so that he wouldn't be constantly tempted by Miami nightlife.
In April 2009 Storch entered the Recovery First rehab facility in Hollywood, Fla., where he was treated for three months in- and out-patient. He says he emerged a "changed man." But in February 2012, he was busted for coke possession in Las Vegas. "Yes, it was a mistake," Storch says. "I knew, even at the time, it was not the best place for me to be." He says he hasn't relapsed or needed a return to rehab, and adds, "There's not one part of me that wants to wake up and f---ing bleed into my sink from my nose."
Today Storch still keeps vampire hours, heading to his studio every night and composing melodies and beats until dawn. "The music is 20 times better than it was in my f---ing prime," he says confidently. "My mind is clear of all that nonsense I was chasing as a young guy."
He says there will be no more vanity work, like when he passed up the chance to produce Christina Aguilera's 2006 Back to Basics album, which has sold 1.7 million copies, so he could work on Paris Hilton’s debut, Paris. (He and Hilton were dating. Aguilera included "F.U.S.S." -- which stands for "F--- you, Scott Storch" -- on Basics in retaliation.) He recently collaborated on the track "Supreme" with the current king of Miami hip-hop, Rick Ross, and is working with DJ Steven Lee and EDM act Dash Berlin on an electronica project.
"I don't think the world's forgotten what I've done musically," Storch says optimistically, though he admits, "It's still hard to get [opportunities] -- especially with the corporate people." Although he declines to divulge what he makes for a track these days, he certainly no longer commands six-figure session fees. In fact, he's not above knocking out beats for artists strictly on spec.
The day after the video shoot, Storch enjoys a mug of milk, pickles plucked from the jar and a Marlboro Red at his oceanfront high-rise condo. He is living within his means, he says, focusing on his three kids (after child-support hearings in the past) and the joys of a new puppy, Marley, named after his reggae idol Bob.
He hasn't completely divorced himself from his past. Although his exotic car collection was repossessed, he drives a new $180,000 bright-white Porsche 911 Turbo Carrera, which he calls "less of a douche vehicle." He also still indulges in certain substances. "Look, I went [to rehab] for cocaine, nothing else,' he says. "I've never had a drinking problem in my life, and I'll smoke weed until the day I die."
If he has a vice these days, it's food. After his snack of pickles and milk, Storch and a party that includes his manager Matt Buser and Sonic head to dinner at a local haunt called Mamma Mia's. Before even ordering the main courses, Storch fills the table with enough garlic bread, fried mozzarella and assorted antipasti to feed a small Italian wedding. The restaurant's DJ sends over a bottle of Champagne, but after a few sips, Storch returns to his Pepsi. "I've got a session tonight," he says.
His studio is a five-minute drive away, and, in keeping with his Jewish heritage -- Storch peppers his conversation with Yiddish -- every door frame is adorned with a mezuzah. On the wall hang multiplatinum record plaques from his hits with Dr. Dre and Beyoncé. He is scheduled for a session with an aspiring pop singer, but first, there is a fresh melody burning in his brain that he wants to lay down. He writes and records a basic demo in just 45 minutes, but after lighting up a cigarette, is inspired to layer on an eerie minor-key synth chord. Told that it sounds ominous, he nods. "You know what it's got, though?" he says, with a gruff laugh. "It's got chutzpah!"
This article first appeared in the Sept. 27th issue of Billboard.