Check out the interview excerpt below:
You are credited for breaking Rihanna out into the media. Can you please go into detail about that?
Jonathan Hay: Yes. I met Vada Nobles [the producer of Rihanna's first single, "Pon De Replay"] at a Starbucks in Orlando, Florida. I’ll never forget that day. Vada told me about this young artist named Rihanna who looked similar to Beyonce and he’d just finished her first single, called “Pon De Replay.” We went back to his home studio where he was working on finishing up the remix for it with Elephant Man. Honestly, the first time I heard the song I didn’t think it was going to work at all because Will Smith had a song out ["Switch"] at that time with almost that exact same beat. But I was intrigued by the project, nevertheless. At first, nobody seemed to really feel the song, so I started a publicity campaign, single-handedly. The whole idea behind the campaign was to get Vada Nobles out there as a producer so that ultimately people would forget about his past lawsuit and conflict with Lauryn Hill on her album The Miseducation Of Lauyrn Hill.
Jonathan Hay: Anyway, I sent the song to Jennifer Vineyard, my contact at MTV. She did me a favor and broke the story on Rihanna, “Pon De Replay” and Vada Nobles. Along with one of my partners, I then began to fabricate stories of Rihanna and Jay-Z, leaking false rumors to tabloids, working internet message boards, etc. We started to get an insane amount of media coverage very fast. There are so many things we did that people don’t even know about, not even Rihanna herself. She was completely unknown and I was paid by Vada Nobles to generate publicity. The mega Island Def Jam deal rumor, we fluffed and fabricated. Rihanna and Vada had no idea what I was doing behind the scenes, but my whole agenda was to get media for the song.
Jonathan Hay: If you check out Rihanna’s Wikipedia Page for “Pon De Replay.” you’ll see that it was on March 17, 2005 [through MTV News] that I helped break Rihanna out into the world. There was a lot more involved but I want to save that detailed interesting chapter for the book.
What do you mean by starting Rihanna rumors?
Jonathan Hay: I mean leaking out sensational stories and spreading them around in the news — to tabloids such as the National Enquirer, music and gossip sites and whatnot. Like when the rumor surfaced that Jay-Z had a new love life and was cheating on Beyonce…that was just to get attention. Rihanna had nothing to do with ANY of that, nor did she know what we were doing. I was just trying to break the single and stay employed by Vada Nobles. Even Vada didn’t know half the stuff I was doing. I kept my strategy a secret at the time because, honestly, everyone would have been against it, the tactics that I used. But I was only thinking about the end result - and look what happened…gossip sells.
Jonathan Hay: I feel awful but, yes, I leaked some of those stories. Looking back, I am ashamed of that; there was zero integrity in that maneuver. But this is entertainment and I wanted to obtain publicity - so I came up with some crazy stories and it worked. Rihanna is one of the biggest stars in the world now, and look at how she stormed into the business! Not to take anything from her - she is a great artist - but every artist needs a launching pad and there is nothing better than a good scandal to get the public’s attention. (Laughing)
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