Dexter Story’s journey through the music industry is like few others. Seemingly living multiple lifetimes in his 48 years, this renaissance man has had careers spanning from product manager for artists like Snoop Dogg, Musiq Soulchild, & LL Cool J, to booking acts for a busy LA nightclub, being signed as a rap producer by Sony, managing Meshell Ndegeocello, and ultimately finding himself as an artist. We sat down to discuss Story’s debut solo record on Kindred Spirits entitled ‘Seasons,’ but got a lot more story than we paid for. Check out part one of the interview focused on his career as a music exec below and look out tomorrow for part two where we discuss the record and more!
How did you get started playing music?
I have to credit my next-door neighbor who I called Uncle George. Before my parents even really knew I was into music, he was the guy that went, “Well I think Dexter likes music,” and he took me to guitar lessons. So my first instrument was guitar. My parents were like, “Wow, we didn’t even know.” After that of course I was hearing music in church and started playing with a church band as well when I was around 15. Then it was local bands, high school bands, and stuff like that. One of my best friends, Peter Washington, is one of the most recorded jazz bassists in New York right now. He and I had some childhood bands early on doing some funk and R&B. We were into some obscure stuff man—we were really into Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. We were junkies on that stuff.
At what point did you start to branch out onto other instruments as well?
Around the same time. When I was about 15 or 16 I got that Tascam PortaStudio 244. Tascam was in the reel-to-reel business, but with this machine they were getting into the cassette market. It was then that I realized I could play guitar and then add drums and then add bass. So I started practicing other instruments—mainly drums, bass, and keyboards. Once I discovered that was how Prince was doing it, I got into doing all of the instruments. I saw Prince do it; Rick James dabbled in it too. I was also really into looking at how people like Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway and Sly Stone played a lot of the instruments. So that really tripped me out when I got the little 4-track and found out I could do it too.
So you were pretty serious about music early on.
Yeah, but I fucked up at one point actually. I was doing all of this great music on the little four-channel Tascam and I started working jobs because I needed to pay for my little addiction. I was doing some real naughty stuff man; I started selling drugs. I remember I was selling rock to support my habit—not a drug habit, a music habit. It becomes an addiction man! That’s why Guitar Center is blowing up. It’s an addiction for people who need to have the latest gear.
So I was out selling rock one day and I didn’t realize that I was selling it across the street from James Gadson’s house! He grabbed me and my homeboy and brought us over to his house. He wasn’t reprimanding us, but he kind of just grabbed us up. I don’t know if even to this day he realizes he was instrumental in kicking me off the street. But when I went up into his house, I saw all of this equipment and I was like, “Yo, how did you get all of this?” He just goes, “By playing music and playing on records.” That’s what made me realize I didn’t need to do anything else but music to make the money to support my music addiction.
Once you got refocused on the music, who did you start playing with in the LA scene?
The LA music scene came in a few different stages for me. When I was playing in church and with Peter Washington, we had our own little scene. I wasn’t connected to anybody else. I was in high school and did the forge-my-own-way type of thing. I didn’t feel like I had to answer to anybody—that youth mentality or the rebel spirit. That was my first iteration of the scene. Then I left LA and went to UC Berkeley. I followed Peter up there—I didn’t know what college was all about. But he was a year ahead of me and went up there for college, so I figured I could go too. Somehow I got in. This was before it became heavy Ivy League status. Tuition was $800 a semester. So I moved up there and stayed for six years. After that, I moved straight to New York in the early ‘90s. I was living in Brooklyn from ’90-92 in the heyday of hip-hop. So I got to see the heyday of jazz and hip-hop in New York at that time.
In college I had switched to drums for the most part. Peter was paying bass and needed a drummer to practice swinging. So I started studying hardcore on the drums throughout my time in Berkeley and New York. Now this gets crazy man. Sony gave me and my brother a record deal with Randy Jackson and I was able to move from New York back to LA. My brother [Tim Story, Director of Barbershop, Taxi, Fantastic Four, ect.] was rapping—he was a rapper before he started directing films. People have no idea! He was rapping with Ice-T back then. We were all about hip-hop. So I was producing him at the time, but Sony didn’t like our demo. My brother kind of gave up on rap at that point and started directing videos. That was the beginning for him, directing music videos.
At the same time I kind of gave up producing once we were dropped from Sony. From there I started composing music for film—I did his student films. That didn’t pay my bills, so I told my manager that I needed to find a job in the music industry. Thus began my behind-the-scenes work as a music marketer. I worked for Fully Loaded Records and did the promotions for Ghetto Mafia and some other artists. I was then hired by Priority Records right at the end of Westside Connection all the way through Snoop Dogg’s The Last Meal. I became Snoop Dogg’s product manager and The Last Meal sold 2 million copies when records weren’t selling millions of copies anymore. I was going full-on record label working with BMI, Vanessa Williams, Priority, and all of these places.
Def Jam recruited me and I moved back to New York to be the Product Manager for Montell Jordan, Musiq Soulchild, Redman, LL Cool J and a bunch of other acts. In 2004 I was working on all of the Bad Boy stuff that was coming over and got recruited by Bad Boy soon after. So they hired me in 2004 or 2005 and then Puffy fired me immediately as he is known to do. Sylvia Rhone tried to recruit me after that, but I was fed up with New York, so I moved back to LA. That’s what I call my third homecoming. The first person I called when Puffy fired me was Carlos Nino who told me to come back and start playing music again.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)