The music guru who changed the industry gives an inside look with the stories behind the songs—this week, music mogul L.A. Reid (born Antonio Reid) released Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who’s Next. His memoir (written with Joel Selvin) gives a behind-the-scenes look at the journey from his R&B roots in Cincinnati to discovering and mentoring some of the biggest acts in pop music history. The names on that neverending list are massively impressive—everyone from OutKast and Usher to Meghan Trainor, and every artist in between.
The 59-year-old, currently running ship as chairman and CEO of Epic Records, says he knows a star when he first sees them. He also knows how to hone on their talent by marketing their next big hit. With L.A. Reid, it’s all about that big single. The album is essential, but it’s the single he always expects to reel listeners in.
In Sing to Me, L.A. dishes on everything from Whitney Houston’s decline, his involvement in TLC’s much publicized bankruptcy, and aiding Mariah Carey’s triumphant comeback to passing up on signing a young Lady Gaga.
Also included are stories of how he and his partner in song, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds (the Face in LaFace), connected; writing Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step I Take” as a love letter to his own ex-wife, singer Pebbles; merging major labels Arista and LaFace; and tapping Jay Z as his successor as the president of Island Def Jam. L.A. Reid has truly seen it all.
The three-time Grammy winner offers readers a glimpse into his judging experience on Fox’s The X Factor, and details exactly what his process entails when he’s looking for the next star on the rise. Aspiring singers, get your pens and notepads ready to take diligent notes. You can’t lose with the man who has the best track record in the business.
During a recent promo tour, L.A. Reid gave EBONY.com a short preview of Sing to Me, discussing three favorite musical acts that he successfully launched into modern music’s all-time golden era: the ’90s.
When I First Knew Toni Braxton Was a Star
“I specifically remember Kenneth and I went to go check out these five young sisters in Maryland. They were called The Braxtons. Toni was playing piano and the other sisters—Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar—were all lined up in front. Who I immediately noticed was Toni. She had this really warm, smoldering, sultry voice, and such a round pretty face. She was a deep alto who would run the lines of being a smooth tenor. My God, she was just so gifted. Kenneth and I looked at each other whenever Toni would take lead and we both pointed that she needed to become someone professional.
“In the first few months, we had her record demos. At that particular time, we knew what to do with talent, but we didn’t know what exactly to do with Toni. We just knew we loved her. When we started recording with her, the way she would sound and execute those records, it was magical. Her first single, ‘Love Shoulda Brought You Home,’ is the perfect example of how brilliant her texture is. She’s really great. I love her, and she has one of those voices that will last forever.”
Creativity Set TLC Apart from the Rest
“T-Boz had a very unique tone of voice. She sounded more like a guy than a girl. Her voice was extremely raspy, and in a good way. Instead of being cute and trying to have major sex appeal by wearing short dresses and huge high heels, everything they wore was baggy, and it all appeared as if a B-boy should be rocking their style of gear. They were tomboys. TLC were rebels and way ahead of their time. Even the content in their lyrics. They were singing about safe sex. Remember when they covered their eyes with the condoms in the ‘Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg’ video?
“Left Eye was practically a women’s rights activist. They were always championing to push for equal acceptance for women. One of the greatest misconceptions about TLC is that they were just these lil’ pop chicks. That was certainly not true. They had more identity, musically and visually, than any other girl group out. And they outsold everybody. There’s not a girl group to this day who has beat their record sales. I still to this very day mourn the loss of Left Eye.”
Usher Continuing the Legacy of Michael Jackson
“Here’s something I’ve never ever said before: Kenny and I are huge Michael Jackson fans. You know how these artists today have their fan groups. If Michael was still alive, we’d be the leaders of his fan club. We always secretly wondered who would be the next Michael in terms of talent and success. My closeted vision was to make Usher into the next Michael. Usher can sing, he’s charismatic, he can dance his ass off and he’s good looking. Usher is a very wise individual, and well beyond his years.
“Whenever I speak to him, he always reminds me of my responsibility to the youth, every time! He’ll tell me, ‘L.A., it’s not always about the next hit record or making money, man. It’s about making music that can make a difference.’ Of all the artists I’ve worked with, I look at myself as a father figure to him, more any other artist. Him and Rihanna both. Now the tables have turned, and he’s a father now.”
For more stories on L.A. Reid’s experiences with Rihanna, Kanye West, Justin Bieber and more, pick up Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who’s Next, available now.