A hip-hop mogul's story goes from bling to bust
MIAMI - Just a few years ago, Scott Storch was one of the top producers in pop music, living in a $10.5 million mansion on an exclusive Miami island, driving a phalanx of luxury cars and dating the likes of Paris Hilton and Lil' Kim.
Nowadays, Scott Storch, 34, is missing in action. He owes more than $500,000 in real estate taxes and had a warrant out for his arrest when he failed to show up in court in a child-support case last month. He has not had a top-10 hit in three years. He still has his waterfront marble mansion, but his lawyer, Guy Spiegelman, says Storch is attempting to refinance it after a "catastrophic occurrence this year" resulting from "mismanagement." Storch no longer works with his old manager or publicist. He hasn't talked to either of his children in months.
Replete with tragic details and bad behavior, the ballad of Scott Storch may be the swan song of the bling era, a riches-to-rags tale of excess, poor decisions, and a hobbled music industry.
Raised in South Florida and the Philadelphia area, Storch is a high-school dropout from a broken middle-class family who turned serious musical chops and intense ambition into a high-flying career. Vanessa Bellido met him when they were both in high school and he was a talented keyboardist.
"He always knew what he wanted to be," she says. "He would play the piano unbelievably. He was like, 'I'm going to make it, I'm going to make it.' Even at 15 he was an old soul. Real smart, real different."
While still a teen, Storch was a founding member of the Roots. He produced their breakthrough single, "You Got Me," which helped Philly's acclaimed live hip-hop band win a Grammy and gave the sandy-haired Jewish producer serious hip-hop credentials.
Deciding he preferred studios to touring, Storch moved to Los Angeles to work with Dr. Dre. There his keyboard loops helped form the basis of such hits as "Still D.R.E." He produced seven tracks on Christina Aguilera's "Stripped" album, including "Can't Hold Us Down," which featured Lil' Kim.
Storch decided to return to his Florida roots to, as he has said, build his empire. Beginning in 2003, the hits rolled in: Beyoncé's "Naughty Girl," Terror Squad's "Lean Back," 50 Cent's "Candy Shop," and Chris Brown's "Run It."
Storch had the quintessential producer's talent for coaxing career-making performances out of both veteran and new artists.
"When we created that 'Baby Boy' record, Sean had only worked with Jamaican producers," says Atlantic Records chairman and CEO Craig Kallman, referring to the 2003 single by Sean Paul and Beyoncé that Storch produced and that helped to make Paul an American recording star. "Scott was able to adapt himself to the sound of Jamaica but also to contemporary R&B and hip-hop. He was able to straddle both lines."
And yet there are similarities in many of Storch's records: sinuous keyboard riffs that reveal Storch's interest in Middle Eastern melodies coupled with thumping, staccato beats. In 2004, everyone wanted the Storch sound, and he reportedly commanded $100,000 per beat. An extensive Rolling Stone profile called him "hip-hop's Liberace" and said he had earned $70 million.
Fame brought added responsibilities: In 2004, Storch reunited with the child he had fathered 12 years earlier with Bellido. He moved Bellido and their son Steven to South Florida: Bellido calls it "one of the happiest times in our lives."
Three years later, the producer began paying for another son, the now 2-year-old Jalen Daniel. Bellido and Jason Setchen, the lawyer for Jalen's mother, Dalene Jennifer Daniel, both say Storch was inconsistent but not a deadbeat dad.
"Once able to get his attention, he stepped up to the plate and did the right thing across the board," says Setchen.
Other producers were as hot as Storch in 2003 to 2005. But Storch flaunted his multimillionaire status like a hip-hop Gatsby. Many say the fame went to his head. He had a public flare-up with Aguilera over the cost of a private jet to fly him out to produce her '06 album "Back to Basics." He also traded insults with fellow hit-maker Timbaland, who called Storch "just the piano man" in one track.
Storch's career had some serious stumbles: He was supposed to help his then-girlfriend Paris Hilton become a music star, but he said his songs for her were deemed too sexual and not released as singles. He signed reality TV show star Brooke Hogan to his music label and produced eight of 12 tracks on her album "Undiscovered," but the record flopped.
Storch has continued to work with top-name artists, including producing tracks on recent albums by Mariah Carey and Fat Joe. But he has not been able to crack Billboard's Top 10 since 2005.
And he has paid neither his 2006 nor 2007 real estate taxes. At the start of this year, he stopped paying child support for both his kids and fell into several months of arrears before being sued by both mothers in separate cases.
It's unclear just why Storch fell so far so fast. The producer did not return repeated requests for an interview.
"There was some mismanagement and some other errors. He got jammed," Spiegelman, his lawyer in the child support cases, says. "I don't think he's going down, I just think he's having difficulty. It's a cash flow problem."
But both outside observers and people who know Storch see other factors at play besides mismanagement. When Storch has been sighted recently in public, he has looked gaunt and unhealthy. The producer was a flamboyant smoker of marijuana; in 2004, he was fined for possession of marijuana and paraphernalia.
Those who have worked with Storch think he can have a comeback. And even the people who have personal reasons to hate the player don't.
Bellido fears that Storch's identity is so wrapped up in his riches that he is ashamed to appear publicly and clean up his mess.
"I think he's embarrassed," Bellido says. "I don't think he's going to be right until he has his money."