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Sharp Notes January 22 2004

REID AND WEEP: The odds were against L.A. Reid from the moment he left Atlanta, where he built LaFace Records over the course of a decade, to move to New York. Few in the music industry would bet on Reid to succeed in taking over Arista Records from Clive Davis, the legendary record mogul who founded and ran Arista for 25 years. And sure enough, after less than four years on the job, Reid was served his walking papers last week.

But between his arrival in May 2000 and his departure, Reid seemed — at least on the surface — to have succeeded very well, indeed. There were the carry-overs from LaFace — OutKast, Pink, Usher — who all reached new levels of success during Reid's Arista tenure. He had super-producers (the Neptunes) and remained on the cutting edge of new Dirty South sounds (Bone Crusher, YoungBloodz). He even scored with a teen rocker Avril Lavigne and a Brit crooner Dido. In fact, the week Reid got canned, Arista artists had the top three songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (two from OutKast and Kelis' "Milkshake"), plus the week's fastest rising single (Usher's "Yeah"). So what gives?

The conventional wisdom is that Arista's parent, BMG, is tightening its belt in anticipation of a merger with Sony. And Reid just spent too much money breaking records — so much that the return often failed to cover the investment. Perhaps his biggest mistake: In 2001, he re-signed Whitney Houston with a deal worth $100 million. Sure, this was before all the Whitney/Bobby loony-tunes really hit the roof, but c'mon — anyone should've been able to see, even three years back, that Houston's career had peaked.

Still, there are insiders who wonder if there's more to the story. After all, Reid's not the first record exec to overspend. In fact, Davis virtually wrote the book on blank-check promotion. Could there have been a power play involved? Maybe a little payback from Davis, who had Arista taken away from him (and was given another BMG-distributed label, J Records, as consolation prize)?

Well, it just so happens that if the BMG/Sony merger goes through, Arista is likely to be folded into another BMG label — quite likely the Davis-led RCA/J Records — which would essentially put Davis back in control of his old label.

I'm just saying ... .

Anyway, L.A., if you need a place to launch a new label, we know a city down South where the weather is warmer and the folks are on your side. C'mon back, no questions asked.

OUTKAST IS ...: "OutKast is the Beatles of hip-hop." So said U2's Bono when he stopped in Atlanta last week to pick up his "Salute to Greatness" award at the King Center. That's funny, someone we know wrote those exact words three weeks earlier in the pages of CL. ... OutKast is the subject of a goofy new tribute, The Lounge Below, which features lounge versions of songs from "Crumblin' Erb" to "Hey Ya!" ... . OutKast is the recipient of six NAACP Image Awards nominations, which matches its six Grammy nods. And the group will perform live during the Feb. 8 Grammy Awards telecast, joining Parliament/ Funkadelic, Earth, Wind & Fire and Robert Randolph & the Family Band in a special segment dedicated to funk music. ... OutKast is still at No. 1 and No. 2 on the Billboard singles charts, for seven weeks now. ... OutKast is, inevitably, in talks with Polaroid to allow use of "Hey Ya!" (with it's "shake it like a Polaroid picture" line) in commercials. ... OutKast is reportedly getting close to finally settling that lawsuit with Rosa Parks. Allhiphop.com reports that, under terms of settlement, Arista would help educate hip-hop fans about Parks and the civil rights struggle.

PERSONALITY IN CRISIS: Atlanta music scene veteran Jon Kincaid — best known for his long-running "Personality Crisis" show, Sunday nights on WREK-FM (90.1) — underwent bypass surgery last week after suffering a heart attack. Since he has no health insurance, friends have set up a fund for him and plan to hold a benefit sometime in February. To donate via PayPal, or to send get-well wishes to Kincaid, go to www.personalitycrisis.org.??