"You have to see this girl," he said.We went back to his office and he introduced me. She was a startlingly beautiful 17-year-old from Barbados. She opened her audition with a Beyoncé song, singing, but the whole time piercing me with these laser eyes. I saw her determination, her commitment. I saw someone who was going to be a big star someday. My head was spinning. She sang another song, "Pon De Replay," that would become her first hit. After she was done, I looked at Jay Z.
"Don't let her leave the building," I said.
I left it to Jay Z's guys to close the deal, and she signed her contract that day.
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After signing Rihanna, Jay Z and his team did the A&R for her first album, and I had nothing to do with it. The funny thing about Rihanna's success was that we signed two girls at that time -- Rihanna and a lovely young lady named Teairra Mari. We had an in-house company showcase and Beyoncé happened to be there with Jay Z. Teairra Mari, Rihanna, a four-girl group called Black Butterfly and Ne-Yo performed. At the label, we thought Teairra Mari would be the big star. We spent more time on her, did more work on her, paid more attention to her. Rihanna already had a hit with "Pon De Replay," but we still thought it was the other girl. A bell went off for me, however, when, after the showcase, Beyoncé came up to me.
"That Rihanna girl," she said, "she's a beast."
Excerpted from Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who's Next by L.A. Reid with Joel Selvin. © LaCoCo LLC. Published with permission of HarperCollins.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of Billboard.