- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2008

— 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, Mr. Storch, 34, is missing in action. He owes more than $500,000 in real estate taxes and a warrant out for his arrest was issued last month when he failed to show up in court in a child-support case. He has not had a top 10 hit in three years. He still has his waterfront marble mansion, but his lawyer, Guy Spiegelman, says Mr. Storch is attempting to refinance it after a “catastrophic occurrence this year” resulting from “mismanagement.”

Mr. 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, Mr. Storch is a high school dropout from a broken middle-class family who turned serious music chops and intense ambition into a high-flying career. Vanessa Bellido met him when they were 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. ”

Founder of the Roots

While still a teen, Mr. Storch was a founding member of the Roots. He produced the group’s breakthrough single, “You Got Me,” which helped Philadelphia’s hip-hop band win a Grammy and gave the sandy-haired producer serious hip-hop credentials. Deciding he preferred studios to touring, Mr. 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.

Mr. Storch decided to return to his Florida roots to, as he has said, build his empire. Beginning in 2003, the hits rolled in: Beyonce’s “Naughty Girl,” Terror Squad’s “Lean Back,” 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” and Chris Brown’s “Run It.”

Mr. Storch had the quintessential producer’s talent for coaxing career-making performances from 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 Beyonce that Mr. Storch produced and that helped make Mr. 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.”

THE STORCH SOUND

Yet there are similarities in many of Mr. Storch’s records: sinuous keyboard riffs that reveal Mr. 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, referring to his jewelry, called him “hip-hop’s Liberace” and said he had earned $70 million.

Fame brought added responsibilities: In 2004, Mr. Storch reunited with the child he had fathered 12 years earlier with Miss Bellido and moved her and his son, Steven, to South Florida. Miss Bellido calls it “one of the happiest times in our lives.”

Three years later, the producer began paying for another son, Jalen Daniel, now 2. Miss Bellido and Jason Setchen, the lawyer for Jalen’s mother, Dalene Jennifer Daniel, say Mr. Storch was inconsistent but not a deadbeat dad.

Other producers were as hot as Mr. Storch from 2003 to 2005, but Mr. Storch, dating movie stars and heiresses and conspicuously consuming, flaunted his multimillionaire status like a hip-hop Gatsby. Many say the fame went to his head. He had a public flare-up with Miss Aguilera over the cost of a private jet to fly him out to produce her 2006 album, “Back to Basics.” He also traded insults with fellow hit maker Timbaland, who called Mr. Storch “just the piano man” in one track.

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 were not released as singles. He signed reality-TV-show star Brooke Hogan to his Storch Music Co. label and produced eight of 12 tracks on her album “Undiscovered,” but the record flopped.

Mr. 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 cracked Billboard’s Top 10 since 2005. 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 children and fell into several months of arrears before being sued by both mothers in separate cases.

FALLING FAR AND FAST

It’s unclear just why Mr. 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,” Mr. Spiegelman, his lawyer in the child support cases, says. “It’s a cash-flow problem.”

Outside observers and people who know Mr. Storch see other factors at play besides mismanagement. When Mr. Storch has been sighted recently in public, he has looked gaunt and unhealthy. In 2004, he was fined for possession of marijuana and paraphernalia.

“If he’s got managers and accountants and various investors looking out for his interests, it would be hard not to notice that money wasn’t coming through,” says Debbi Gibbs, president of Just Managing, a company that manages producers.

Careerwise, Mr. Storch may be a victim of his own success. “Most producers outside of a small number who focus on trying to be hit makers try to focus on new creative collaboration with whatever artists they’re working on,” Mr. Gibbs says. “That’s when that magic happens and hits you didn’t see coming come. Anyone who tries to create a hit formula is doomed to very short-term success, given the fast pace of musical taste.”

NO SAVINGS

Mr. Storch seems also not to have saved for a rainy day - a fatal mistake in pop music. “There’s no 401(k) plan in the music industry,” says Infamous. “You can’t be stupid and just throw your money away.”

Those who have worked with Mr. Storch and those who have only heard his music think he can have a comeback. Infamous theorizes that Mr. Storch may be cooling things down purposefully in order to come out strong with something new.

He developed a reputation for arrogance; many see his failure to care for his offspring while tooling around in a Ferrari, as reprehensible. He hasn’t shown up for his court cases, but his lawyer has said he will meet his financial obligations.

Miss Bellido sees Mr. Storch’s lifelong materialism as his Shakespearean flaw. His identity is so wrapped up in his riches, she fears, that he is ashamed to appear publicly and clean up his mess. “I think he’s embarrassed,” she says. “I don’t think he’s going to be right until he has his money.”

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