Reid: Starting over with 'amazing
Q&A / ANTONIO "L.A." REID
By SONIA MURRAY
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/13/04
At last Sunday's Grammy Awards, Antonio "L.A." Reid was in the curious
position of being the unemployed record exec behind the label with the most
Or at least he was "officially"
Turns out, hours after he left Arista Records on Jan. 13, he was in talks
about a new job.
And on Tuesday, two days after Reid stood on stage with Atlanta rap duo
OutKast as they won Grammy's top prize, album of the year, officials at
Island Def Jam announced that Reid was their new chairman.
In his first in-depth interview since his departure — in between selling his
Atlanta home and picking up a son from school — Reid talked about what led
to his surprise resignation, his plans for Island Def Jam and the Atlanta
artists he discovered, signed to LaFace Records, and is now leaving behind
Q: Let's start with why you left Arista.
A: It was a mutual decision by me and the management of [Arista parent
company BMG] that I step down. I realized that [my tenure] had run its
course. I'd done all I could do in that situation. And I couldn't have
stayed with the terms that were laid out to me.
Q: Obviously the phone started ringing pretty quickly afterward.
A: [Laughs]. Good news travels slow, and bad news travels really, really
fast. Look, I'm a hardworking guy, and hopefully my work speaks for itself.
. . . And when I became a free agent, I had options immediately.
Q: In all the news stories on your departure, the continuing theme was you
were out because you lost a lot of money at Arista.
A: I choose to look forward toward my new responsibilities at Island Def
Jam, not back at BMG or Arista. But let me say this: [BMG] is a privately
held company, so any numbers that were put out there should be looked at
with that in mind.
Q: The Whitney Houston deal [in which the troubled vocalist was reportedly
paid $100 million] was pretty public. And that's what many articles pointed
to as the big reason for Arista's supposed losses. Any regrets about giving
her that deal?
A: No. I have no regrets about giving Whitney Houston that deal. Whitney
Houston remains in my mind the crown jewel of Arista Records. If I regret
anything about Whitney Houston, it's that we weren't able to have more
Q: OK, on to your present job. Differentiate the responsibilities between a
president and CEO of a label, and chairman.
A: Chairman is definitely a step up. . . . And in this particular role,
Island Def Jam are two labels, and each of the presidents of those two
labels report to me. I manage the operations of two companies and many joint
ventures as opposed to one company and a few joint ventures.
Q: You sound really excited about this.
A: I have two amazing brands that have meant so much for so many years. One
[Def Jam] is the largest, most successful hip-hop label, and I get to carry
that torch forward and try to develop new artists that really sit with the
brand. Island is a more rock-leaning and pop label — same thing. Same goals.
I'm going to work toward managing great people and great artists.
Q: At the same time, it's hard not to look back at your career and not think
you may have been short-shrifted a bit. You and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds
start a label in Atlanta and you find and establish future superstars like
TLC, OutKast and Usher. That success at LaFace leads you to New York and
Arista, where you continue to have success with the LaFace acts as well as
Avril Lavigne and the like. Now you've left Arista, and Arista keeps the
artists you established your credibility on. It's like you're starting all
A: First let me say, those artists, whether it's OutKast, Usher — everybody
must know I love all of them — Pink, TLC, everybody. It's a very difficult
thing emotionally to separate from these people, many of whom I've known
since they were kids. I wish them the absolute best, and I will remain a
friend to all of them. . . . I'm listening to the [upcoming] Usher album so
I can give my opinion on final selections, and officially, he's not my
artist anymore. But there's still that connection.
At the same time, if I have to walk away from my babies, there's no one I
feel safer leaving them with than [BMG North American chairman] Clive Davis.
If I was leaving Usher in the hands of an accountant, I'd worry. But in the
hands of Clive Davis, there's an opportunity for him to continue to grow.
Finally, yeah, in a lot of ways I am starting all the way from scratch. But
we're talking about Island Def Jam — Ludacris, Jay-Z, Melissa Etheridge,
Mariah Carey, Hoobastank, Sum 41. I'm walking into a couple of amazing
companies here with amazing rosters. What I personally built, yes, that's
gone. But that's exciting. My run with Arista and LaFace was like 15 years.
It's good for me to be faced with new challenges. I've got a fresh slate and
a blank canvas. I rather like this position I'm in.
13 FEBRUARY 2004