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Industry pundits might think twice about laying odds the Grinch will steal Reid's—or Arista's—Christmas.
REID SET TO PROVE HE'S RIGHT
Arista Chief Carries On Despite Naysayers
It ain't easy being Reid.

The man who succeeded Clive Davis as the chief of Arista 17 months ago after a successful run at LaFace, the label he founded with partner Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, currently has two records in the Top 10—pop compilation Totally Hits 4 and Usher's 8701, which is taking off in a big way thanks to his guidance.

But the yang to Antonio "L.A." Reid's current sales yin comes this time in the form of a business headache that should never have happened. Tthe unprecedented leaking of sensitive (and accurate) details of BMG's possible buyout of Sean Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment to the NY Post may have undone what should have been an amicable separation for Combs and Arista.

Reid, who introduced Combs to Davis and helped get the initial Bad Boy deal done, reportedly had worked out friendly terms under which Combs was free to shop for another deal while the nuts and bolts of a Bad Boy buyout were negotiated. Bad Boy's high overhead is too much for Arista to continue to support during lean times for BMG, and Reid and Combs reportedly agreed that both could do better if Combs found another partner. But the leak, which exposed critical deal points including Combs' compensation, has thrown a wrench in the works—and it may have killed the deal altogether.

According to insiders, in addition to having his own figures aired, Combs is upset with the low value attributed to Bad Boy as reported by the Post. That figure—$20 million—compares unfavorably to other recent deals, such as the $120 million UMG paid for 45% of Def Jam or the $30 million Island Def Jam paid for 50% of Roadrunner.

Nobody with knowledge of the situation is blaming the Combs camp for the leak. Rather, these observers say the leak sends an ugly and unmistakable signal that the turmoil that has wracked BMG's upper ranks over the past year has brought a serious disloyalty factor into play. And the negative light shed on Combs as a result certainly isn't helping Reid's otherwise good relationship with the rap titan.

Reid has been the subject of much behind-the-scenes carping since he got the call to fill Davis' legendary shoes, and—like Gene Bartow following John Wooden—has also taken hits in print. An unprecedented slam in an August issue of Billboard came in the form of a review of Blu Cantrell's So Blu, in which the reviewer chose to open by saying that "industry pundits" were laying odds against Reid. (Reid later responded in a scathing letter, angrily noting he expected more from an "industry bailiwick" such as "the bible.")

But aside from the Puffy brouhaha and jeers from the sidelines, Reid's year is looking up. His work with Usher on 8701 included scrapping most of the album and spending millions to re-record it. And in spite of the scoffing of many industry Einsteins, it appears to be paying off. Second single "U Got it Bad" is turning the project, which has caught fire at radio and is seen as a real step forward for a more mature Usher, into a bona fide multi-Platinum success. The album has sold some 1.1 million OTC in the U.S. since its Aug. 7 release and is currently #9 on the HITS Top 50 Albums chart.

And while Bad Boy and Edmonds' Nu America (the joint-venture label deal Reid made with Edmonds last year) may be headed elsewhere, four other L.A. Reid-orchestrated joint ventures—with Shek'spere, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Trackmasters and the Neptunes—are intact and releasing product. That these four continue to be viable partnerships debunks the theory that Reid is under pressure from BMG brass to thin the joint-venture herd.

And with Usher and Totally Hits 4 in the Top 10, a Toni Braxton holiday album released Tuesday and projects from Faith Evans, Pink and OutKast coming, industry pundits might think twice about laying odds the Grinch will steal Reid's—or Arista's—Christmas.

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