On his way to running a major label, Reid has clashed with many of the important people in his life, including Babyface; his first wife, Pebbles; and Toni Braxton (who once sued him), as well as Davis, who gave Reid the biggest opportunity of his career.
After more than a decade of running LaFace, Reid was eager to sell the label to Arista so he and Babyface could cash out, and he'd be free to run a larger label. At LaFace, he and Babyface signed the artists, produced their music, and made the videos, while Arista distributed, marketed, promoted, and sold the records -- and made most of the money.
Davis wouldn't endorse Arista's purchase of LaFace because, says a source close to the situation, he was worried about the label's balance sheet, which included large advances to acts like TLC, Toni Braxton, and Usher, and wanted to wait until those payments were recouped. This "pissed off Reid," says a source; other Arista and BMG executives had taken huge paydays, and Reid wanted to be rewarded for years of loyalty to BMG, including, he says, introducing Davis to Combs. Reid also thought Davis was claiming undue credit for the success of LaFace acts. "At this point," says the source close to Reid, "L.A. realized that Clive was for himself, and L.A. needed to be for himself." So Reid went around Davis and proposed a sale directly to top BMG executives.
Davis's contract was set to expire on July 1, 2000, and Zelnick reportedly wanted Reid to join Arista as CEO and president and report to Davis, who would become chairman for life. But Davis wasn't interested in the new title. As president of Arista, he had an arrangement with the company known as "phantom equity," because Bertelsmann, based in Germany, is a privately held corporation. In the fiscal year 1999, Arista declared revenues of more than $500 million in the U.S., a company record. Davis, says a source, earned between $15 million and $20 million in the final year of his five-year contract as well as a onetime payout "considerably in excess of $100 million," based on a percentage of the company's earnings.
Davis says he wanted to maintain "significant equity" in whatever position he took, and the offer of chairman did not include any. When Zelnick and Dornemann proposed the new job over dinner at Lutèce in November 1999, Davis got up and left. At this point, says the source close to Reid, L.A. was worried about taking any job in which he would report to Davis: "L.A. was afraid Clive would cut his balls off."
The night of the Lutèce debacle, Reid got a phone call at home asking him to run Arista. As part of the deal, BMG, which already owned half of LaFace, bought the remaining half for a reported $100 million.
Reid thought he was a rich man until he moved to New York. While living temporarily in the Four Seasons Hotel, he began to look for a three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. "My God!" he exclaims, eyes wide with horror. "Anything with real square-footage, 3,000 square feet or something like that, it's millions and millions of dollars! I just can't stomach it."
He also had to contend with relentless predictions that Arista's top acts would desert the label for Davis's new venture. Carlos Santana said he would follow Davis "wherever he goes," while Aretha Franklin regally declared, "If Clive leaves, I leave."
"I think all of those stories were planted by Mr. Davis's camp," says Reid.
In fact, no superstar act has left Arista. "There was no way" BMG would countenance big acts leaving Arista for J, says a source, because of simple economics. BMG gave Davis 50 percent equity in J, which means the corporation makes more money per CD with Arista acts than with acts on J.
Instead, Zelnick brokered a deal that allowed Davis to take five burgeoning acts, including Next, Deborah Cox, and LFO, a boy band whose album had sold more than a million copies. Reid says he didn't want to keep any of the five, though his general manager argued to retain LFO: "He said, 'Are you crazy? Have you seen LFO's sales?' " Reid shrugs dismissively. "I didn't love them, so I didn't fight."
Beneath the public congeniality, Reid and Davis disagree on significant events. Most significantly, Reid says he brought Puff Daddy to Arista. "I don't know why he claims that," counters Davis, who says the meeting was set up by Puffy's business manager, Bert Padell.
Puffy, whose deal with Arista made him a lucrative asset for BMG, confirms Reid's version: "L.A. had a meeting with me about bringing me to LaFace, and after I spoke to him, he was like, 'This is bigger than some production deal. I need you to sit and meet with Clive.' And he brought me to Clive. It was gracious of him, and also smart."
Reid says he and Davis have taken Christmas vacations together, though Davis says their two families were merely on St. Barts at the same time. When the offer came to replace Davis, Reid says, "my only concern was whether or not Clive would think I had betrayed him in any way." When asked if Reid did betray him, Davis offers an exoneration: "No. I really have no problem with L.A. Reid whatsoever. I will root for him. I will root for Arista. I will do everything I can to help him."
He means that literally: Davis and Reid are collaborating to pick songs for the singer Monica's second album, and Davis will continue to help with Santana and Houston albums. To Reid and Davis, the conflicts between them, which might destroy some relationships, are less significant than the opportunity to make a few more hits.
When Antonio Reid was 9, before he'd earned the nickname L.A., he became fascinated with his uncle Albert's drum kit. The third of four children, Reid saved $3 from tips he earned working in a barbershop, bought a pair of drumsticks, and banged on the floor to James Brown 45s. Brown often recorded at a Cincinnati studio, and Reid "would stand outside and hope to meet someone. Just the sense of being around the music got me excited."
His mother, Emma, was a seamstress, and his father was gone. Reid never asked about his father, who didn't keep in touch. "I think I've become a bit of an overachiever as a result of it to be quite honest," he says. "The way it affected me was, 'I'm gonna prove that I can be somebody, that I should be respected. And he should've been smarter.' "
His mother remarried when Antonio was about 6, but Reid won't offer his stepfather's name: "He ain't important enough." Sensing that Antonio was prematurely responsible, she gave him more latitude than her other kids, and by the start of his teenage years, he was playing in bands; significantly, he played in both funk and rock groups. One day, he wore a T-shirt with the Los Angeles Dodgers logo and was anointed with his enduring nickname, even though he'd never been on an airplane, never mind visited L.A.
Reid and his band moved to Indianapolis, where, checking out the local competition one night, he spotted Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, a shy, left-handed guitarist whose group let him sing only one song a night. Impressed and typically aggressive, Reid invited Edmonds to join his group, the Deele, which had a few minor R&B hits.