As the executive vice president of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, Steve Stoute guided the careers of such top hip hop artists like Nas and Eminem. As an author, he penned The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy about how his experience in the music industry translated into the marriage between urban culture and brand marketing. As an award-winning marketer and CEO of Translation; the Queens, New York native has been recognized as a change agent in hip hop.
From co-founding Translation Advertising in partnership with the legendary JAY-Z to joining forces with former management client Mary J. Blige for the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN), Stoute has made it a mission to bring the culture into the boardroom and demonstrate proper representation at all times. His industry-leading brand development and marketing firm has a client roster that expands beyond the most notable names such as Target, Estee Lauder, Budweiser, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co, Microsoft, Coca-Cola.
Name another figure in Black culture who can say they’ve been recognized as Innovator of the Year by ADCOLOR and honored with an American Music Award for producer credits on a movie soundtrack. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.
On top of being responsible for catapulting the music careers of Nas, Will Smith and Mary J. Blige, Stoute is praised for transforming a single-shop business operation into the multi-million dollar beauty empire we now know as Carol’s Daughter, and partnering JAY-Z with Reebok and Beyonce with Samsung.
During REVOLT Summit x AT&T weekend, Stoute will join fellow hip hop businessman Master P for an in-depth one-on-one where the two will discuss the importance of economic empowerment, circulating the Black dollar and transitioning from consumers to owners.
In honor of his groundbreaking moves, let’s look at seven of Stoute’s most iconic moments when he impacted Black culture through his passion for advertising and marketing strategy development.
1. Strategic Partnership With Disney
The importance of diversity and inclusion has been stressed far before brands have been releasing their numbers on social media to call themselves out for lack of representation in their boardrooms. During today’s cultural climate, media outlets and television networks are being held accountable for marketing to Black and brown audiences, but not necessarily including them in their decision making. On Wednesday (Aug. 26), it was announced via AdAge that Stoute’s agency, Translation, was enlisted by Disney to help brand partners become part of cultural conversations. Disney Advertising Sales division and Translation sealed the official deal on their multi-year relationship with its branded content studio and creative agency, Creative Works. Collaboratively, the strategic partnership will “offer clients and marketers a path to identify, activate and scale cultural insights to create non-traditional and innovative branded entertainment, anchored in Disney content.”
According to The Drum, Stoute praised his long-term relationship with Disney and deemed their conversations, which date back to last fall, as “magic.” “If you take Disney’s scale and creativity and you take our focus on culture and diversity as a theme in which all of work is created from,” Stoute described, “that’s when you have the opportunity to do something seismic.”
2. The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy
The highly anticipated Tanning of America was widely received by audiences after its release in 2012, which is a “revolutionary concept for business leaders,” claimed ESSENCE. The 320-paged book gives valuable insight specifically tailored to corporate America when it comes to successfully marketing towards today’s newer and more powerful consumer, The Tan Generation, which is described as a generation of Black, white, Asian and Hispanic consumers. The book further explores the notion of appealing to younger audiences without seeming inauthentic or trying too hard to cater to their needs through relevant cultural influences. “He’s the conduit between corporate America and rap and the street, and the music industry generally…he speaks both languages,” his partner JAY-Z said in an editorial review.
3. Brand Consultant For The New York Knicks’ Rebranding
In late January 2020, news broke that the Translation CEO would be working with the New York Knicks to develop campaigns to “elevate” their brand by establishing relationships with music and cultural influences. To better engage fans for the Knicks’ brand, Stoute worked collaboratively with businessman and MSG Networks executive chairman James Dolan to hone in on data and analytics technology. With ad partnerships already in place with brands such as State Farm, the NFL, Brooklyn Nets and Nike, Stoute’s Translation agency was no stranger to boosting fan sentiment in the sports and entertainment realm.
“His brand, and the New York Knicks brand, and MSG, stand on their own. That’s the way it has to be. Winning cures a lot of problems. Great marketing and exciting entertainment cure all problems,” said Stoute according to SportsPro about his collaboration with Dolan and the club’s executive team around their strategic approach to fan engagement. “The brand has to be strong regardless of the final score. When people are hopeful that things are going to be better, and it brings excitement, all of a sudden that becomes the brand.”
4. Demystifying Pusha T’s McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” Jingle
When you think of McDonald’s, you think of a few things; a Happy Meal, a Big Mac, and the world-renowned jingle: Ba da ba ba ba, I’m lovin’ it. In 2016 during an interview with Hot 97’s Ebro Darden, Stoute revealed that Pusha T was in fact the original composer of the “ubiquitous” tune. Pusha T’s representative later confirmed that the rapper was indeed responsible for McDonald’s longest running campaign with the “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle.
Here’s the story: Pusha T was recruited to work with Translation for the campaign, which was one of its biggest projects at the time. “You know who did that? Pusha T. That’s crazy that Pusha T wrote the song to McDonald’s!” Stoute said to Ebro immediately dispelling any myth or factoid that Justin Timberlake and Pharrell were to be held responsible for penning the iconic four-second jingle.
5. UnitedMasters As A Distribution Replacement For Major Labels
Not only is he the founder and CEO of Translation, but Stoute is the brainchild of UnitedMasters, which gives artists the ability to distribute their music to all major streaming services (i.e. YouTube, SoundCloud, Tidal) as an alternative to shady record label deals. In 2017, UnitedMasters was born after Stoute, for nearly a year, secretly raised a $70 million Series A led by Google’s corporate umbrella Alphabet and joined by prestigious venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, Silicon Valley investors Floodgate, and entertainment giant 20th Century Fox.
How does it work? According to TechCrunch, said artists will pay UnitedMasters to distribute their music across major platforms, after which the company would split the royalties while the artist retains the rights to the master recordings. Following this, UnitedMasters does the work of gathering data and analytics to identify key demographics using a CRM tool to further assist the artist in targeting ideal audiences with paid advertisements when it comes to merchandise, tour announcements and ticket sales. “Look at music like gaming. You monetize the game to all the people who are most engaged. I wanted to bring that theory and thinking to music,” Stout explained about his company’s strategy.
UnitedMasters has since engaged in a global partnership with the NBA, Bose, iHeartRadio, AT&T, and NBA 2K20. “By having a partnership like this, it provides the artists coming through UnitedMasters the exclusive opportunity to be discovered and get the attention and gain new audience and fans on a global level through the National Basketball Association,” Stoute originally stated on his partnership with the NBA and how it would create a breakthrough for indie artists. Recently, UnitedMasters partnered with TikTok to allow its artists to distribute their original songs through major streaming platforms and sign deals with major brands.
6. The Brains Behind JAY-Z’s Reebok Sneaker
The music executive, entrepreneur, and brand expert strategically utilized all of his appropriate lenses to activate his creative direction for JAY-Z’s winning Reebok sneaker initiative. In 2003, the music executive was in the midst of transforming his brand into an ad agency man when he officially landed the endorsement deal with Hov for Reebok’s S. Carter Collection of sneakers. The rapper’s esteemed sneaker deal, for which Stoute was responsible, was said to be the blueprint for future business ventures and partnerships such as Live Nation, Samsung and Budweiser. “He would never, for any amount of money, endorse Reebok,” Stoute said according to Vulture. “But, what he would do is have Reebok be his partner in building the JAY-Z brand.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, “the response to the unexpected pairing was explosive, giving Reebok its fastest-selling shoe to date, helping the brand step out of Nike’s shadow.” Thanks to Stoute, the partnership demonstrated (a) the relationship between hip hop and Fortune 500 marketing was the missing link in strategic branding, and (b) Translation agency was there to bridge that very gap. His partnership deal later influenced rappers and influencers such as 50 Cent, Future and Rae Sremmurd to keep the collaboration between hip hop and Reebok alive.
7. Elevation of Carol’s Daughter Brand
In 2005, Stoute became the Managing Director and CEO of Black-owned natural hair and body care brand Carol’s Daughter. In this same year, the former CEO enlisted major Black movie stars, music artists and entrepreneurs such as JAY-Z, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Lebron James to invest $10 million into the Brooklyn, New York-based brand to assist with its plans for worldwide expansion. This executive takeover by Stoute clearly depicted that what he could do for Fortune 500 companies by connecting them to Black and brown cultural icons can also be done in the beauty industry. With Translation’s years-old relationship to Disney, Stoute collaborated with the household name to launch the Princess Tiana Beauty Collection exclusively for Carol’s Daughter. Under his leadership, Carol’s Daughter also launched Mary J. Blige’s limited edition “My Life” fragrance, which debuted on HSN.