Standing in a dimly lit room inside Miami's Hit Factory Studios, Scott Storch bobs his head to a tinny beat looping at jackhammer volume. "Play that again," the producer tells his engineer, who is seated at a Mac G5 desktop. Storch grimaces. He grabs the mouse and scrolls through a seemingly endless list of tracks. "No. That isn't right."
It's not just the beats that are amiss: For years, the hit-making producer was never seen without his oversize, oh-my-God-what-a-douchebag aviators, but today you can see his eyes. In his glory days, Storch would wear his sunglasses as he flaunted his fleet of 20 luxury cars, 18,000-square-foot mansion, and yacht; when he had Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton or Lil' Kim on his arm; when he was high-fiving hard-partying bros like celebutard Brandon "Greasy Bear" Davis; when he rolled up to the MTV Video Music Awards. It was great theater: the shlubby wigga bathed in diamonds and flashbulbs, his bling-era excess reflected in the shades.
But now his eyes look tired and sad and very bloodshot. In the course of a three-year Tony Montana–esque cocaine bender, Storch hoovered his way through $30 million before filing for bankruptcy and entering rehab early this year. Now 35, he's back in the studio 10 hours a day, trying to recapture his mojo. But where he used to work with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Justin Timberlake, he's now crafting beats for Gucci Mane, an up-and-coming Atlanta hip-hop artist best known for beating a murder rap in 2006. As Gucci tries to match rhymes to the music, Storch, wearing faded jeans, white sneakers, and a pink T-shirt—a Jacob the Jeweler diamond watch his lone vestige of bling—pulls a Ziploc bag of weed from his pocket and begins rolling a joint on a nearby speaker.
"Yo, is that that California shit?" Gucci asks. "That shit fucked me up last night." Storch nods and gives a forced smile. A few minutes later, when Gucci turns his attention to a song called "911," Storch decides he needs another spliff. The instrumental tracks pulsing from the speakers are vintage Storch—staccato rhythms, sinister keyboard flourishes—but maybe too much so: The overall effect is a little dated, a little tired. Storch announces he's hungry, then struggles to explain his pizza order to a studio employee: "No, that's two cheese slices with ricotta, not two ricotta slices."
He fishes out his money clip, which holds nearly a grand in cash, and makes a show of peeling off a pair of $20 bills to cover orders for himself and the crew in the studio suite. It's a conspicuous display, but no one seems to notice, and soon Storch grabs a two-foot bong and lights a bowl. The hit makes him cough so hard he has to step out into the sultry Miami night to get some air.