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The white boy on the keyboard was the group's sonic brain: Scott Storch, the human jukebox. During practice, bandmates liked to hurl song titles at him — anything in the Top 40 in the past 20 years — and watch his fingers spring to action. "Scott's mind is a computer," Jackson says. "His memory is his greatest gift."
Jackson, an all-business, frugal family man, became Storch's career-long manager. He says their relationship "falls somewhere between me being his father and me being his big brother."
Band members received $40 per diem in "food and weed money," says Dice Raw, then the group's teenage rapper. But Storch drove a Jaguar XJ and lived with a girlfriend in a South Street apartment. "Scott was broke too," Dice explains, "but he would spend it the first day he got it."
"I don't want it to make me lazy," Storch would explain. "I want to get rid of it so I'm forced to work."
Then he would cop a new watch or a Range Rover. "Money never changed Scott," Dice says. "It just enhanced him."
Storch was never one for the road grind. So in 1995, when Jackson swung him a $10,000 advance from Ruffhouse Records to join a conceptual hip-hop/soul/pop trio called Madd Crop, he quit touring with the Roots.
The project never birthed an album, but it marked Storch's musical adolescence. Bandmate Chuck Treece remembers Storch as a "tyrant in the studio" who drew inspiration from his own eclectic musical tastes: Barry White, Average White Band, the Ohio Players, early Stevie Wonder. "And then he took that swing and put it into our music," Treece says. "Even when he was programming a beat on a [drum machine], this cat made everything swing."
In 1998, Philadelphia rapper Eve introduced 25-year-old Storch to Los Angeles gangsta rap demigod Dr. Dre. Storch moved to Los Angeles to help produce tracks for Dre's Chronic 2001. The music Storch helmed — most memorably the addictive piano symphony behind the hit "Still D.R.E." — sealed his status as a top prospect in hip-hop production. After working with Dre, he partnered with beatmaker Timbaland to co-write Justin Timberlake's smash "Cry Me a River."
Though a millionaire by age 26, Storch already showed symptoms of an allergic distaste for bill payment. In 2001, the posh Le Montrose Suite Hotel in West Hollywood won a decision against him for nearly $3,000 in unpaid room bills.
Following the megahits with Dre and Timbaland, Jackson persuaded Storch to hoard his golden touch for himself. In 2001, Storch returned to South Florida to set up shop with his own company, Tuff Jew Productions. Says Jackson: "By then, we knew he could be a superstar in his own right."
Yolanda Storch digs through her musty bedroom, which is clogged with hundreds of magazines featuring articles about Scott. She's looking for an audiocassette she made with him when he was 11.
Scott's grandfather shuffles, aided by a walker, into the living room, which is decorated with stuffed cats, Italian kitsch, clown puppets, and seated Barbie dolls. Photos of Scott and Matthew — on Santa's lap; in garish prom suits — cover every surface.
Julius is a lucid former Brooklyn storekeeper with a big, square head and skeptical eyebrows. He wears a polo shirt and boxy blue jeans. The octogenarian Jew gained an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop by mining mention of his grandson in music magazines at bookstores.
"Did you know that Scott won producer of the year in 2005? Did you?" he demands. "He beat out Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and Kanye West."
Yolanda once read that her son returned to South Florida to spend more time with her. That's not the way things turned out. He'd send for her and his grandfather two or three times a year, shuttling them by limo to Café Avanti or Smith & Wollensky in Miami Beach, where he'd sit with a silk shirt undone to his abdomen, shades blocking his eyes, and a new girl by his side. "There were always bodyguards at the table, and they'd listen to the conversations," Yolanda recalls. "Ninety percent of the time, he was in a hurry to get done with dinner because he would say so-and-so was waiting for him at the studio."
Once his spending began to get out of control, she tried to persuade him to slow down a bit, to maybe buy a Burger King or two. He didn't listen. "Ma, this is my image. This is what's separating me from other producers," she remembers him replying. "They expect this from me."
Nowadays, Scott is in Los Angeles, attempting to make a comeback on Dr. Dre's upcoming album, Detox. Asked to handicap his grandson's shot at regaining fame, Julius doesn't hesitate: "I think his chances are very good. Perhaps if he stays away from those jerky broads, like Paris Hilton or Lindsay —"
"Daddy, don't say that!" Yolanda screams, suddenly emerging from the bedroom.
"Lindsay Lohan is a jerky broad!" he continues, undeterred. "She's a lesbian and —"
His daughter clasps a hand over his mouth. "Don't say that! Scott's going to get angry! He's going to disown us! Just say, 'I hope Scott gets his career together and becomes the world's top producer again.'"