The New King Of Pop

For the past five months, Antonio "L.A." Reid has held court as the head of Arista Records. See how he came to power and how he intends to preserve his throne.

Ohio-based R&B band The Deele. “He signed with Solar Records as a band member, so he has experience as an artist and a songwriter. He also has a publishing company, and experience as a song publisher. He’s a producer who started a record label and plugged it in with one of the greatest guys [Clive Davis] ever at Arista. And he signs acts,” continues Jam, sounding like a proud father.

But not just any acts. Reid and LaFace partner Edmonds signed the likes of Toni Braxton, TLC, hip-hop group Outkast, and Usher. “Taking all of that into consideration, yeah, who better?” Jam asks.

Edmonds, who was also Reid’s bandmate in The Deele, seconds Jam’s endorsement. “From the very beginning, L.A. was always a manager of artists. In the band [The Deele], he was the band leader who took on the problems of the other members, and he made sure that we ate and had a place to stay,” he says.

In 1989, the duo formed LaFace Records, partnered with Arista, and made their first No. 1 hit, Damian Dame’s “Exclusivity.” Since then, the duo has boasted 33 No. 1 hits and three Grammy Awards. During that first year, Reid and Edmonds produced and wrote for Whitney Houston’s third album, I’m Your Baby Tonight, which sold 4 million copies and gave the label its first No. 1 pop hit.

In 1992, LaFace signed TLC and scored three R&B-pop hits with “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” “Baby-Baby-Baby,” and “What About Your Friends,” from the group’s first album, Oooooooh, On the TLC Tip. Later that year, LaFace’s triple platinum (3 million copies sold) sound track album for the Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang introduced diva Toni Braxton.

To this day, Braxton and Reid still work closely together, although the two will admit there was tension between them a few years ago when Braxton filed for bankruptcy-and
took the LaFace label to court. “The bankruptcy did stress things between us,” acknowledges Braxton. “But now we get along fine.”

LaFace’s superstar group, TLC, also filed for bankruptcy. Reid says these are just minor blemishes on his record, considering both cases were settled, and TLC and Braxton still work professionally with Reid. “I can’t say L.A. was responsible [for the bankruptcy]. The system is just corrupt,” says Braxton. “It should never be a flaw on him. LaFace was a joint venture, and there were a lot of people involved.”

Reid says that when he first came to Arista, it was apparent many of the people there had not come to work solely for Arista-and they certainly weren’t interested in working for him.

“People definitely had issues in the beginning,” maintains Reid. “There were clearly a number of people who were here because of my predecessor and they treated me distant and cold. It has taken some time to weed through. But in the months I’ve been here, I’ve almost turned the entire company around.”

Arista is built on joint ventures, similar to the one it had with LaFace. Reid has implemented his turnaround strategy

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