When technical difficulties torpedoed Teddy Riley and Babyface’s anticipated Verzuz battle last month, Black Twitter responded in perfect Black Twitter fashion: memeing the debacle into oblivion. Meme Zero came courtesy of the husky, bearded man dancing behind Riley to “The Show.” A weed carrier, people figured. An Instagram hype man. But folks familiar with the music industry knew exactly who the cat in the hat was: Breyon Prescott, a songwriter and executive in the third decade of a long career.
The South Carolina–born, D.C.-bred exec started his career running a label for former NFL wide receiver Andre Rison and bringing Gillie Da Kid to Tony Draper’s revered Suave House Records. Prescott later managed soul singer Angie Stone as she embarked on a successful solo career, then added Jamie Foxx to his client roster, turning the then-aspiring musician into a Billboard-charting, Grammy-winning artist. In 2015, he joined Epic Records as head of A&R, where he signed and A&Red artists like Rick Ross, Diddy, Yo Gotti, French Montana, and DJ Khaled. Now Prescott is starting a sports management company with Quavo of the Migos and working on a new jack swing docuseries with Riley. Not bad for a hype man.
I tricked Kanye into understanding how amazing Jamie would be on “Gold Digger.” I said, “Kanye, give me a CD to the Ray Charles part.” He gave me a CD. I said, “Aww, I got his ass now!”
LEVEL caught up with Prescott to relive that chaotic first night of the Verzuz battle, hear the story behind songs like “Slow Jamz” and “Blame It,” and find out why if Dr. Dre ever decides to enter a producer battle, he’d be a lock. If you didn’t know, this is called the show.
LEVEL: You have a storied career in the music industry — plaques, awards, collaborations with the greats. But last month, you added another accomplishment to the mantelpiece: becoming a viral meme.
Breyon Prescott: It was an incredible moment. I had no idea what’s happening in real time. I saw my phone blowing up like it was an emergency. At first, it was, “Hey, you guys are echoing,” [or] “Move the microphones.” I’m not the guy that handles tech and sets up microphones — I was there to support my man Teddy. The music came on, and I did what I would normally do: dance. The memes are out of this world. To be compared to the Michael Jordan [crying] meme is crazy. I had some industry people laughing at me, but I didn’t take it personal.
The first battle didn’t go as expected. What were Teddy’s original plans going into that battle?
Teddy was thinking what anybody would be thinking about: “When Babyface plays this, I’ma play that.” His mindset was on delivering for the culture, for the people. Playing the right things for people sitting at home to make them dance, smile, and remember where they were in those times. In these hard times, trying to bring people out of this funk.
I drove four hours, from L.A. to [Las] Vegas. There’s only one hotel open: the Renaissance. I stayed in that hotel and worked with Teddy on Friday night to get everything together and get him ready for Saturday. If not for what happened Saturday, you don’t get to Monday. I guess God wanted it to happen that way. Like Teddy said, it was the rematch of a massive fight.
A lot of people were frustrated with Teddy for the technical issues, but I appreciated that he was trying to make a real show out of it. Did it upset you to see people criticizing Teddy that first day?
I never looked at Instagram — I’m dancing, grooving. I couldn’t see the comments or anything until the next morning. You wake up to texts like, “You guys blew it.” I was like, man, look at the thought process and goodness of this guy’s heart. He got up to do this and put all this work and energy into this. He spent money to get this ready for the people. I felt a bit heavy on him. When it all came down to it, the music quieted all the haters and naysayers to bring back the respect for what this guy has done for the culture for three generations.
What is your relationship with Teddy like?
That’s my big bro. Just like Jamie Foxx — he’s my partner and has been for over 22 years. The genius part about those guys is they listen to other people who have great ideas that can influence things that they’re doing, so it makes it easier on the friendship, and it makes it easier on the business. It’s kind of like the new version of what Babyface and L.A. [Reid] had. We’re both musically inclined. By no stretch of the imagination am I anywhere near those three icons, but I’ve done enough in this business to be respected. I think me and Teddy, we get along great to stretch our careers into some other directions now, film and television. Teddy is going to be scoring films now. He has his docuseries, his movie, books, his memoir, so there’s so many other things to branch out from this thing that opened up a whole new fan base for Teddy.
You began managing Jamie Foxx just before his music career took off. How did you two hit it off so well?
Me and Jamie met with me managing Angie Stone on tour in Los Angeles at the Amphitheater [during] the Angie Stone and Maxwell Tour. Jamie came into Angie’s dressing room and said, “Man, I’ve been trying to sing, and nobody would take me serious.” I’ve always thought Jamie was talented since In Living Color. This brother can act, sing, dance, play the piano. I came to L.A. and took Angie to Jamie’s house and started working on songs with him. Me and Jamie hit it right off immediately. I started working with him for two years before we actually did music — we were brothers, friends, business partners — managing his music career and on the road with him a lot. That started what it would be; the next step was getting acclimated to the music industry and teaching him what we needed to do to be taken seriously as a recording artist.
Your first album together was Unpredictable, right?
At the same time of me getting business with Jamie, Kanye West had moved to L.A. and was looking for a record deal, and nobody believed in him. I’ve known Kanye for over 20 years, being in the New York scene with Angie and him producing records and remixes. We met up one day, and he said, “Man, I got something special to play you.” Imagine when that brother played me “Slow Jamz.” Kanye was like, “I think Jamie would be perfect on this.” And I said, “You think?” I knew from the first second of hearing that record.
He jumped in the car with me, and we went to Jamie’s house. Jamie didn’t know who Kanye was, because he didn’t have a recording career yet. He’d just gotten out of the hospital; his jaw was wired up. He played that record in the back of the studio. Jamie was like, “That’s cool. Bre, you say let’s do it? Let’s do it.” He didn’t know what that record was going to be. He sung it the R&B way first, and Kanye and myself was like, “Nah, you can’t sing like that. We got to sing it a little more hip-hop.” In true fashion, he knocked the record out the park and went away to do a movie.
After the movie, when Jamie gets back to L.A., he says, “Let’s go take a trip to Miami.” At this time, Jamie doesn’t know what’s happening with the record. I told him, “You know that record that you think wasn’t going to do nothing?” He said, “Yeah, what’s up with it?” I said, “It’s number one.” Jamie lost his mind; to be a recording artist is the thing he wanted most out of anything in the world. That’s what he came to California to do — a classical piano scholarship down at San Diego. That was the start of a long career of almost 10 million records sold with Jamie. We’ve done singles and number one records, but that was the one that set it off for us.
I’ll never be able to get back the joy of being in front of 8 million people at one time with Teddy Riley and Babyface, two of the greatest guys to ever do it. It was a joy and an honor and a blessing to be a part of it.
People respect Jamie as one of the most multitalented people in the business, but it’s a trip to remember there was a point where he just wasn’t respected musically, even though he was singing on The Jamie Foxx Show and had an album in the ’90s.
Everyone always tries to find multiple artists you want to work with, but it’s lightning in a bottle to even find one. To transition Jamie from In Living Color to The Jamie Foxx Show to playing Wanda to being a really serious recording artist? It’s damn near impossible. You got to find the right record, the right image, then you have to hope the record goes. So, all those things have to happen — and then you have to get people off the fact that he’s a comedian, that he was dressing like Wanda, to be taken seriously. To put out three amazing albums, have 10 number ones, that’s hard. It’s damn near impossible for artists that do it every day, and this was something where he would go in and out with me after movies. The dedication he had, after a film or comedy tour, to carve out time to go with me in the studio and trust that these were going to be the songs that shape his music career, some of the songs that shape the culture of R&B.
Were you also involved with him when he made Ray?
I was trying to tell everybody before Ray came out that he’d win the Oscar. We knew this because we saw this guy perform Ray every day down in New Orleans. He did the first Vanity Fair cover and GQ cover, and I was running around with the magazine in my hand, like, “Give me a record deal!” Nobody believed in us, but I knew that performance was going to spark something historical.
“Slow Jamz” allowed me to put Jamie in position, because I had a deal with Clive Davis. Clive don’t let anyone perform at his Grammy party — and we had to convince him to let three new artists do it with that one, ’cause Kanye had never been on that platform, nor Twista or Jamie. We performed the record at Clive’s Grammy party. Lyor Cohen, Jimmy Iovine, every record executive was like, “I want to sign Jamie Foxx!” Clive Davis is who I always wanted to be with, who I have done all this other success with. I knew that once Clive took it serious, the world would take it serious.
You were also involved in “Gold Digger,” right?
Kanye had a Ray Charles sample on the record originally. I tricked Kanye into understanding how amazing Jamie would be on this record. I said, “Kanye, give me a CD to the Ray Charles part of ‘Gold Digger.’” He gave me a CD. I said, “Aww, I got his ass now!”
I took that CD and went to Jamie’s house — Jamie didn’t know what I was doing — and I said, “I need you to sing exactly like you sung on those music cues for Ray. I need you to resing it on this empty blank CD.” He got it, rehearsed it five or six times, murdered it! I go back to the studio the next day. I play Jamie’s version for Kanye. Kanye thought it was the original version, and that’s how that record happened. He had to give me props on that.
When did you sign Brandy?
Listen, man. When they call her the vocal bible? She’s unbelievable—one of the most talented artists I’ve ever worked with. I’ve known her for a very long time before we worked together. She was singing live one night — I think it was R&B Live somewhere — and me and [BET’s former president of programming] Stephen Hill were there. I was like, “What is she doing? There’s no way Brandy should not be on radio with a deal.” I don’t know what record she was in between, but I took her into [RCA Records CEO] Peter Edge and we made a deal. We had a big record that I put together with her called “Put It Down,” with Chris Brown and Sean Garrett. Got her back together with Monica. We had an amazing time. An iconic genius in her field. Nothing but love for her.
I didn’t know you had worked with Dr. Dre until I saw Teddy’s IG post after the battle.
If I had to say I had a mentor, it would be Dre. Everybody says Clarence Avant — I’ve known Clarence for 20-something years, because me and his son are extremely close. But as a big brother, taking me in and allowing me to do something he’s never allowed anybody to do? Dre allowed me to help executive-produce the album he was going to put out. He trusted me to go to five different cities to work with T.I., Meek Mill, Lil Wayne. I took him to Miami to work with Rick Ross. We were onstage, and Dre got up and performed at LIV. People don’t remember that.
It’s been 10 years now, and that’s my brother more than any work. We hang out together, we eat food together, we talk about things. It allowed me to explore other businesses that I probably wouldn’t have explored. That’s my brother, and that’s why he wanted to speak to Teddy [before the Verzuz battle]. Him and Teddy had never worked together. They did “No Diggity,” but they had never worked in the studio together. So now him and Teddy are going to work in the studio. I’m trying to find the artist right now who can go in the studio to work with these guys.
Were you working with him on Detox, or on Compton?
Both of them.
Detox is like the unicorn of hip-hop. One of my homies who was working with Dre at that time said Dre would play unreleased music that’s better than anything that had come out in the past 10 years.
Your friend was right. When and if he ever does [a Verzuz battle], the world is in for a shutdown. He could battle you with 20 new joints that would feel like old joints and kill you, straight up. He could battle you with 20 new records and wouldn’t even have to play the records you want to hear because the ones he’d be playing for you would be so iconic and have iconic artists who are already on it.
If they had triple high def, that’s what his mixes would sound like in the studio. Pure perfection. I’ve heard Dre make people spit verses over 15, 20, 30 times. One line, one word. But that’s the difference in Dre’s sounds and Dre’s record sales and iconic guys. That’s why Kendrick is who he is, Game, Eminem, 50 [Cent], Snoop, Pac. That sound — you ain’t getting that nowhere else. He gon’ drive you. It’s a reason why they call him the doctor: He’s surgical.
You’ve made a career behind the scenes, being the person behind the person. Does this feel like a moment to push your projects more aggressively, or are you happier in the background?
I’ve always been in the middle. If it feels good, if it’s organic, I let it flow. Go back to Angie Stone’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You.” That was a number one record. I’m her DJ in that video. You got the “Blame It” video with all those huge stars — Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel Jackson, Quincy Jones, Ron Howard — I was in the video dancing with Jamie at the end of that. I’m the hype man for Jamie, I’m the hype man for Angie, I was the hype man for Brandy. But I’m also serious about my business — all these records today, I put them together. I put the writers with producers, I put the rapper on it.
If me dancing and having fun made people laugh in a time when people didn’t know where to turn to, I’ll do it all day. That meme is special; it means I touched the people in some way. I’ll never be able to get back the joy of being in front of 8 million people at one time with Teddy Riley and Babyface, two of the greatest guys to ever do it. It was a joy and an honor and a blessing to be a part of it.