The vast majority of the hip-hop industry records during vampire hours. Most artists and producers arrive at the studio around 10 p.m. and work till five or six in the morning, meaning most modern hip-hop is recorded between midnight and 4 a.m. So, just after 10 p.m. one Friday night in Miami, superproducer Scott Storch is on his way to work, driving to the Hit Factory Miami in his white convertible Lamborghini, slicing down the freeway doing eighty, totally stoned.
He’s in a red T-shirt, jeans and multihued Nike Air Force Ones, and he’s glistening like the morning dew because of an obscene amount of jewelry, including a thirty-four-carat yellow-diamond ring worth $3 million, a thirteen-carat white-diamond ring, a $250,000 diamond-encrusted watch and three iced-out chains around his neck. Call Storch hip-hop’s Liberace. He’s worth $70 million, the result of his work with Dr. Dre (he co-produced “Still D.R.E.”), Beyoncé (he produced “Baby Boy” and “Naughty Girl”), Justin Timberlake (“Cry Me a River”), Lil’ Kim (“Lighters Up”), Fat Joe (“Lean Back”), 50 Cent (“Candy Shop”) and Chris Brown (“Run It” and “Gimme That”). But even after a slew of great clients, he’s still bitter about those few who don’t call back.
Storch is driving to the studio to work on a song for Jessica Simpson called “Mr. Operator,” another piece of the large body of work he has coming out in the next year, including songs he made with Nas, Ludacris, the Game, Mario, Eve, Mya and Jay-Z. “I’m working with Jay-Z on his new album,” Storch says, the Lamborghini engine behind his shoulder roaring like a lion. “The first time we ever really worked together. We got some fire.” He’s also working on an album for Brooke Hogan, Hulk’s daughter, which will be the first release from Storch’s new label, Tuff Jew. “I heard her sing and I thought, ‘She’s not just a celebrity’s daughter.'”
Storch is thirty-two, super-rich and draped in the massive self-confidence of a successful producer. An artist’s success is due to talent and hard work, as well as elements much harder to quantify like image, timing and It factor, but a successful producer knows he has made it on intelligence, taste and work ethic, and not unquantifiables. Storch is filled with the self-satisfied arrogance particular to multimillionaire hip-hop superproducers like Pharrell and Kanye. He carries himself like a prince strolling through the kingdom with nary a care. He’s cocooned by quite an entourage (five assistants, a team of armed bodyguards, a driver, assorted friends and hangers-on), so there’s always someone nearby, ready to do anything he wants — get some tea, roll up a joint, pull out the Ferrari. Superproducers like Storch, Pharrell and Kanye are hip-hop’s answer to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the nerds who grew up and took over. But as much as artists need producers, producers need artists, too, so right now, as his Lamborghini smooths through the Miami night, Storch is in a bit of a foul mood, upset that some of the superstars who are on his résumé are not in his future.
“I worked with Beyoncé on her last album,” Storch says. “I wasn’t invited to the new album. I only delivered three hit records last time. But a lot of artists figure they want to try something different. Whatever. There’s certain artists who are loyal and certain ones don’t really care and don’t give you the opportunity to follow through with them again. I’m insulted by a lot of the artists I delivered hits to.”
“Like Christina Aguilera.” Storch made seven songs for her most recent album, Stripped, two of them singles, and helped her sell 12 million records worldwide, but he’s not working on her new album, Back to Basics. “I told [Christina’s people] I needed a private plane to get out to L.A.,” he says. “I had to bring equipment, clothes, my people. You want me to move my life from Miami to L.A. for six months, and you can’t get me a plane to do it? She didn’t go to bat for me. And I truly cared about her as a person and a friend and as an artist.”
But the situation most upsetting to him now is the as-yet-unreleased album by his ex-girlfriend Paris Hilton. “She’s cool,” he says, “and she surprised me not as a singing talent, but she has a cool little timbre in her voice that’s reminiscent to Blondie and Cyndi Lauper.” He made nine songs for her album. (He says they made records but not movies.) “I put my heart and soul into that. I delivered incredible music. She’s a wild girl, and within my music I think I captured the essence of what Paris really is in life.” They cut sassy club pop such as Britney might make, records for the clubs that pivot not around Hilton’s voice but around her cult status and sexual image.
But recently Hilton’s label decided Storch’s work was too racy for the audience it wanted to attack. For Hilton’s first single the label chose “Stars Are Blind,” a bouncy Euro-reggae song produced by Fernando Garibay, known for his work with Enrique Iglesias and Ashlee Simpson. Storch was not pleased. “They came to Scott Storch,” he says, “and I gave ’em some hot shit, and they smacked me in my face and disrespected me. The record label has destroyed the introduction stage of Paris’ project. [The first single they chose] is a safe, contemporary pop record. My stuff is more daring, and I feel like it would’ve been something to open people’s eyes.” Now he’s unsure if all nine of the songs he made will be on the album.
Long before Storch was wearing yellow diamonds and bickering with Paris Hilton’s label, he was a middle-class kid who grew up in Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale, the son of a court reporter and a singer. Storch loved all sorts of music, from George Gershwin to 2 Live Crew. All the songs he loved he tried to work out on the piano. “As a kid, I used to sit there and figure out how to play everybody’s song, and through learning all those songs I learned how to put chords together, and it evolved till I could say, ‘Hey, I just wrote that.’ ” In the ninth grade, Storch dropped out of school to pursue a career in music. When he was sixteen, his parents kicked him out of the house. “My father didn’t believe in my music,” he says. “I don’t blame him.” From sixteen to nineteen, Storch was broke, sometimes struggling to eat. He worked at Pizza Hut, did construction and played keyboards wherever he could. Then he became a founding member of a little quartet called the Square Roots, which grew to become the Roots. “I brought to the table the musical tone of the group, and I became one of the main authors of compositions.” But after a few years in the Roots, he woke up one afternoon and decided he didn’t want to be a keyboardist in a band — he wanted to be a producer. “The touring life wasn’t for me,” he says. “I like to wake up in the same place most days. And I’m really into sitting behind a mixing console and listening to music all night and making music all night. I’m a studio rat.”
For a few more years he was broke, but he knocked on doors until he was producing songs for Capone-N-Noreaga and Busta Rhymes. Then his friend, Philly rapper Eve, introduced him to Dr. Dre — his big break. “At the time, I saw Dr. Dre desperately needed something,” Storch says. “He needed a fuel injection, and Dre utilized me as the nitrous oxide. He threw me into the mix, and I sort of tapped on a new flavor with my whole piano sound and the strings and orchestration. So I’d be on the keyboards, and Mike [Elizondo] was on the bass guitar, and Dre was on the drum machine, and we were like a band, and we’d go in there and make crazy beats every day.”
Storch played on the 1999 album 2001, and working alongside Dre enhanced Storch’s sound, his work ethic, his reputation in the industry and his bank account. The album sold more than 6 million copies, and in 2000 Storch bought his first Ferrari. But after a few years, Storch decided he wanted to build his own empire, so he left Dre’s team and moved to Miami.
At ten past one at the Hit Factory, Storch sits in the studio and scarfs a Philly cheesesteak and inhales a few joints. He has an extraordinary weed habit, lighting up a new joint every half hour or less. “I only smoke when I’m awake,” he says, not exaggerating. Then he settles in behind his console with a drum machine on his left, a keyboard in front and an Apple Mac G5 on his right. The computer, something Dre exposed him to, gives him access to an infinite bank of sounds. With his keyboard and his computer, Storch can manipulate any instrument in the history of the world. For hours, Storch sits in his little console, bouncing to the beat in his black-leather executive’s chair, experimenting with kicks, snares, drum patterns and keyboard lines, adding little bits to Jessica Simpson’s song like a painter dabbing on a canvas. Storch doesn’t write words and, unlike most modern superproducers, he doesn’t talk on his records. He just makes beats, but he doesn’t use samples — he composes. “I was one of the first in hip-hop to master the art of playing the stuff,” he says.
Many producers make beats on their own and sell them to the highest bidder. Storch prefers to spend some time with artists to feel their vibe. “I like working with people directly,” he says. “I’ll sit and talk with the artist for a night. They go home, I make a beat. They come back the next night, and I’ve got a song together.”
Storch’s music is often dramatic, with a sinister keyboard line snaking through. “I don’t like to make superhappy stuff,” he says. “I like serious-sounding records.” His knowledge of music is encyclopedic, and his personal study of Indian and Middle Eastern music often informs his sound. You can hear snatches of it in the sinuous keyboard lines on Fat Joe’s “Lean Back,” Beyoncé’s “Baby Boy” and 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop.” “I have great respect for that type of music,” Storch says. “That way of playing is different than our American music. The notes are different, the scales are different. They have half-notes that are in between the tones. It’s some really interesting stuff.”
But Storch purposely keeps his music simpler than he could make it so that it’ll sell to millions of Americans. “It’s a chore for me to hold back my mind to do this simple shit,” he says. “The best musicians technically — they make the least. A great jazz musician doesn’t really ever sell huge amounts of copies. People want something they can understand, something they can break down in their head and understand the rhythms. There’s more money in those little songs.” Storch knows where the big money is. A brand-name producer gets four or five “points” (percentage of profits) for each song he produces on an album. If he makes several songs on an album, a producer can end up earning more from CD sales than the artist. Storch had several songs on Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love (more than 4 million sold), 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (more than 6 million), 50’s The Massacre (more than 5 million), Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP (more than 9 million) and Aguilera’s Stripped (more than 4 million).
That’s why, at 6 a.m., after five straight hours tinkering with Jessica Simpson’s beat, when Storch jumps in his Lamborghini, he drives to an island and pulls up to his mansion, a classic Italian villa with a strong Greco-Roman theme, a gaudy residence that resembles the mansion Al Pacino’s Scarface lived in. In the main house, there’s seven bedrooms and fourteen bathrooms, high ceilings, three levels, marble floors, marble columns, gold-plated bathroom sinks, a huge eat-in kitchen and a great view of Biscayne Bay. There’s also two fountains, a pair of two-bedroom guesthouses, a pool cabana and garage space for eight cars. Storch bought the place in the spring. The sellers asked for $16 million, but Storch says he got it for eleven, a record price for that area. “This home isn’t for everybody,” he says. “It’s a little intimidating for a typical family.” Out front there’s all sorts of exotic cars — a Ferrari, an SLR McLaren, a Rolls Phantom, a Maybach, an old Trans Am, several Bentleys — and out back, parked in the bay, is his 125-foot, $20 million yacht named Tiffany. He sold his previous yacht, Storchavelli.
Around 7 a.m., after a long night at the office, Storch is in the rec room, fatty in hand, his eyes starting to close. The Jessica song is almost done, Mya is arriving in a few hours to work on a song, and on his phone there’s messages from DMC and Ja Rule, looking for tracks, and a text from someone else looking for something steamier. “U COULD BE GETTING YOUR DICK SUCKED RIGHT NOW,” it reads. He laughs: “If this ain’t heaven, it’s hell.”