Reid first began his music career as a drummer, with his first appearance on record being with the Cincinnati funk rock outfit
Pure Essence. Pure Essence released one solitary 45 in the mid-
1970s. They later appeared on local FM rock radio station WEBN's second annual LP compilation, but the group was renamed 'Essence'. Reid would experience more mainstream success when he became a member of the 1980s R&B band
The Deele, best known for their 1988 hit "
Two Occasions", a song on their third album
Eyes of a Stranger. The band had broken up before the success of the single, then reunited to promote "Two Occasions" as it rose up the charts under
Solar Records. The song peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
1989–2004: LaFace Records and Arista years
After The Deele disbanded, Reid and bandmate
Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds founded
LaFace in 1989 through a joint venture with
Arista Records, with funding from Arista Records creator
 The label soon became one of the premiere destinations for popular African-American entertainers who created Black Pop music that was easily accessible to both Urban and Top 40 radio formats. Reid signed 14-year-old
Usher to the label, whose six album releases have sold 65 million units worldwide.
 Other popular acts on the label during its peak include
Toni Braxton went on to sell more than 65 million records each, becoming two of the most successful acts in music history.
 Initially headquartered in Atlanta, the label played a significant role in building the current landscape of the Atlanta music industry.
- Hitco Publishing Group
Reid formed the Hitco Publishing Group in 1996, as a joint venture with Windswept Music.
 While starting up Hitco, Reid, looking to connect to a new market of producers, songwriters and talent, hired
Shakir Stewart whom he saw as someone with "a finger on the pulse of the next generation of hot producers in the Atlanta music scene".
 Shakir's first job in the music industry was as a creative executive at Hitco; he went on to become a senior vice president at Island Def Jam Music Group.
L.A. Reid, regarding the challenge in marketing current music artists, as quoted in
The Hollywood Reporter, February 9, 2011.
"The most vital lesson [Reid has] learned from 22 years working at record companies? 'That you keep the doors open and the lights on and a star will walk in,' he says. 'I learned to stay in business. People are still buying music, dancing to it and dressing like it. They're using it to sell cars and CoverGirl makeup, so we sell product lines with our artists. The popularity of music is at an all-time high. How we monetize it is sometimes a moving target.'"
In May 2000, Edmonds and Reid sold their remaining 50% stake in
LaFace to parent company
BMG. The label became an imprint of Arista Records, with Arista taking on sales, marketing, and promotional duties for its acts. At this time, Reid also succeeded his mentor
Clive Davis as president of Arista Records.
LaFace was merged into
Arista Records with Reid being promoted to president and CEO of
Arista Records. In 1997 Reid was accepted to the Harvard Business School
 Advanced Management Program in preparation to become CEO of
Arista Records. In 2000. Reid signed his first unknown artist, pop/rocker
Avril Lavigne, to
Arista. Her debut album
Let Go sold 6 million copies in the United States. As president of Arista Records, Reid signed artists such as
P!nk (whose November 2001 album
Missundaztood sold 5 million copies in the US) and
Ciara (whose September 2004 debut album
Goodies sold 3 million copies in the US).
Under Reid's tenure at Arista, Usher (whom Reid originally signed at LaFace) completed production on his multi-platinum hit 2004 album
Confessions, which went on to spawn 4 #1 hit singles and sell 10 million copies in the United States alone. Outkast's
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below also went on to sell 10 million copies and won a Grammy Award for Album of the year.
2004–2012: Island Def Jam Music Group and The X Factor
Following the merger of
BMG, L.A. Reid was released from his contract at Arista in 2004 and became the chairman and CEO of
The Island Def Jam Music Group in February 2004. Reid is noted for bringing
Mariah Carey's career back to prominence with her multi-platinum 2005 album
The Emancipation of Mimi after her career had stalled from 2001 to 2003 with less than stellar sales and general lack of public interest for her two previous projects
Reid also played a role in the successes of artists such
Bon Jovi, and
Justin Bieber and was credited for the musical comeback of
Jennifer Lopez with her 2011 album
Love?. Reid stepped down as Chairman/CEO of Island Def Jam in March 2011.
In early 2011 Reid became a judge on the U.S. version of the British television singing competition
The X Factor, alongside its creator and former
American Idol judge
Simon Cowell, 80s pop star
Paula Abdul and former
Pussycat Dolls singer
Nicole Scherzinger, who replaced British recording artist
Reid was assigned the Boys category throughout the competition, aided by friend and singer
Rihanna at the Judges' Houses stage of the competition in
The Hamptons. His final four acts were
Phillip Lomax. Lomax was eliminated on week one of the Live Shows, with Astro being eliminated on week six.
Marcus Canty came fourth in the competition and was eliminated by the public vote in the semi-final (week eight).
Chris Rene was Reid's most successful act who came third overall in the competition, bested by
Josh Krajcik (who was mentored by
Nicole Scherzinger) in second place and
Melanie Amaro (mentored by Simon Cowell) who won the show. After the season ended, Reid worked with
Marcus Canty and
Chris Rene on their music careers.
In July 2011, Reid became the chairman and CEO of
Epic Records. The label's roster included various former
Jive Records artists.
In September 2012, Reid returned for The X Factor's second season along with
Simon Cowell, while
Nicole Scherzinger and
Paula Abdul were axed from the panel, along with Season 1 host
Steve Jones. Joining the judging panel were new judges
Britney Spears and
Demi Lovato, while
Khloé Kardashian and
Mario Lopez replaced Jones as co-hosts. Reid had his team of finalists in the "over 25's" including
Tate Stevens, the winner of the season.
Reid announced in December 2012 that he would not return for the
third season in 2013.
2013–present: Best selling Author and Xscape Album
One of the projects that Reid embarked on following his stint on
The X Factor, was remaking Michael Jackson songs after his death with the album
Xscape, released May 2014.
 Reid went through 40 years of tracks catalogued by the Jackson estate, and eight tracks of Jackson vocals set to new music from
Stargate and John McClain, the former A&M Records executive who is co-executor of the Jackson estate with John Branca. The originals they worked with were recorded by Michael Jackson from 1983 to 1999, the period just after
Thriller to just before
Xscape earned Gold certification.
In 2016, Reid published the New York Times bestselling memoir Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who's Next.
 The book was favorably reviewed by many in the industry, including
Soul Train, which stated:
"In "Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who’s Next," his memoir written with Joel Selvin, Reid vividly takes readers on a musical journey via fascinating stories and rare photos that chronicle his modest beginnings as a young musician in Cincinnati, to his storied and adventurous path to becoming one of the most successful music executives in history."
In Sing to Me: My Story of Making Music, Finding Magic, and Searching for Who’s Next, his memoir written with Joel Selvin, Reid vividly takes readers on a musical journey via fascinating stories and rare photos that chronicle his modest beginnings as a young musician in Cincinnati, to his storied and adventurous path to becoming one of the most successful music executives in history.
Additionally, under Reid, Epic Records began dominating the streaming business in 2016 and the company had four albums debut at #1 -
Travis Scott, and the final album from
A Tribe Called Quest.
 On March 3, 2017 Future made Billboard chart history by becoming the only artist in Billboard's history to release back-to-back / just one week apart, #1 album.
In May 2017, it was announced that Reid would exit his post at Epic Records following an accusation of sexual harassment made by a female staffer. In response Reid stated “I’m proud of my track record promoting, supporting and uplifting women at every company I’ve ever run. That notwithstanding, if I have ever said anything capable of being misinterpreted, I apologize unreservedly.”
 While at Epic Records, Reid relaunched the label as a hub for hip-hop acts such as Future, Travis Scott, DJ Khaled, with a proven track record in pop (Meghan Trainor, Fifth Harmony). Under his direction, Epic had steadily grown its market share to 3.63 percent, up from 2.56 percent when he took over in 2011.
 His winning streak culminated in a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit for Khaled. Reid turned around a label that, seven years ago, was essentially left for dead, ushering in a robust period during his tenure at Epic.