Dollars and Sense
Steve Stoute's mouth races like an auctioneer's. It's hard to keep up sometimes. He rushes to complete sentences, taking detours along the way (at least three fragmented thoughts will jam up the pipe pre-point). If he BlackBerrys you, he'll type the entire message in the subject line, not the body. Sure, it only takes a second to hit that return key, but time is money. And currency, in his opinion, waits for no one.
The whiz behind Fortune 500 companies like GM and McDonald's has that carpetbagger swagger and a high-watt smile. Be wary when it ï¬‚ashes, though, because he's probably deciding which route to take as he laughs his way to the bank.
Stoute's track record for meshing hip-hop characters with by-the-numbers corporations is no joke, however. Ask Columbia Records, Interscope, Reebok and Hewlett-Packard if his Translation Marketing and Consulting company understands branding and strategic planning. Jay-Z made it a point to shout out the round mound of negotiations at his Reasonable Doubt 10-year anniversary concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall this past summer. Why? Because Stouteâ€”who ignited Nas', 50 Cent's and Gwen Stefani's careersâ€”made Jay-Z an even richer man, orchestrating big-money deals like his S. Carter sneakers, Carol's Daughter skincare and the upcoming Jay-Z Blue line of endorsed products.
Slouched in his penthouse glass-ceilinged ofï¬ce in Manhattan's Times Square, Stoute lays his game plan quite ï¬‚at on being a businessman and his business, man.
KING: You just got back from traveling overseas on Jay-Z's world tour. What was that like?
Steve Stoute I wanted to see how people were going to react to Jay internationally. I knew London was gonna get it but not Dublin, not Glasgow, Czechoslovakia, Milan. Milan now wants to get into the Rocawear business. What I do as a cultural barometer for Madison Avenue is [assess] the social transfer. 13,000 people throwing up the Roc in Milan? 12-year-old girls reciting his rhymes? The hard ones? It was really interesting to see that.
Did you come away with new ideas for marketing globally?
What I came away with is that you do not have to homogenize the message to have global appeal. I play to whatever the consumer is. I want a transparent relationship with them. As marketers and artists, we think we have to put a spin on it, but if we put the time in, we don't have to.
Being close friends with both Jay-Z and Nas, what was it like seeing them onstage together overseas?
I tried to link them years ago. I knew how much they would get along but the time wasn't right. But sitting onstage and looking at two of my friends after everything . . . . I made my first million dollars with Nas; Jay and I are making global moves right now. It's funny to see the evolution of the relationships and the dialogue and as grown men how we change and see life.
How have you been able to jump from artist to artist, and still remain politically correct?
I've been criticized my whole life for that. I used to talk to [Flavor Unit CEO] Shakim Compere a lot about this; he's the mayor of hip-hop because he always knew how to move in and out of camps. For some strange reason, I've had thatâ€”I'll walk in a room and not feel uncomfortable. I'm not into gangs and crews, I'm into individuals. But when there is money involved, those lines become blurred really easy.
But there is so much emotion connected to this game. How do you extract that side?
A lot of guys in this business are girls. I don't know why there are emotions involved. I know money. I know financial reward. If I can add value to what you are doing, through an idea or through money, then why should anyone be emotional about that? There is nothing emotional about money. It's very clear and defined. A 10 is a 10. A 20 is a 20.
Continue reading this interview in the December â€˜06/January â€˜07 issue of KING on newsstands now!
EXCERPTS FROM STEVE STOUTE'S INTERVIEW WITH KING MAGAZINE
ON 50 CENT
Look at what 50 Cent did with his opportunity. You gotta take your opportunities that seriously. And that's just really what it is. Actually, I signed him over to Sony. I left Sony to go over to Interscope and that's basically the end of the story. I left Sony and Sony ended up dropping him and his story ended up turning into [what it is now]. I mean he's said something about me on a record, but I think there is mutual respect. I mean, I'm not a rapper. I hope there is a mutual respect. I respect everything he's done. I think he respects everything I've done. I think the mutual respect is the reason why there haven't been any issues.
BEING AFRAID OF SUCCESS
A lot of people are afraid of success. A lot of people like to say the word success and they use it freely, too freely. Then there is the whole thing about what is your definition of success, which is something that changes. Some people value quality of life more than money. Some people value money.
GETTING IN THE GAME BY ROAD MANAGING 80'S HIP-HOP ACT KID N' PLAY
I don't count what I had to do to get on. You're on! The difficult conversations you got to have, situations you've got to defuse, that you don't feel like defusing. Shit that you want to do to people that you can't do. It goes all over the place. You are responsible. Accountability. You don't even want to deal with that at a certain period in time. You don't want that on call 24-hours-a-day accountability. But that's part of it. People see Puffy in the G5 or Jay in a boat, they look at the boat, they don't look at the accountability. That boat has a direct attachment to accountability. That plane has a direct attachment to accountability. You want to see that, but [if] you don't want to see the accountability, that's your problem.
DOING WHAT YOU DON'T WANT TO BUT HAVE TO FOR SUCCESS
I knew that in order for me to be successful, based off of my individual skill set, we all have individual skill setâ€¦we all think we are good at a lot of things but there are certain things that we really are talented at that come natural to us. I would say that I was willing to sacrifice my time in order to be successful. I remember Jimmy [Iovine] told me one time when I used to complain about my hours in my twenties doing two jobs and he said, "Do you think Steve Jobs or Bill Gates had great times in their twenties? The guys that you want to be like, the guys that you aspire to beâ€¦that those guys was having a great time like their peers in their twenties? You gotta do what you gotta do man.â€ It just felt right, it felt like the right answer, ya know? I have a lot of aspirations in life, a lot of it is financial, I am not afraid to say that. A lot of it is personal as well. Speaking from the financial aspect of it, it takes a lot of heavy lifting to put them planes, the boats, them cribs on the board. And I'm willing to do all that for that, â€˜cus I like that, like that. By the way, I have no control over it. You gotta listen to Jay's song on the Black Album called "Allureâ€. I wasn't a street guy; I never attempted to sell anything, contraband. However, I could understand the allure of the trappings of everything else that comes from financial success. You strap up ya boots and say, "I'm willing to go through all that to get that.â€ That's all; it's as simple as that.
What Jay is doing is inspiring. What Jimmy is doing is inspiring. There is a way of life that I would like to model my life to live [and] to lead that's inspiring. The point of wanting to build something that can be transferred from generation to generation, that's an inspiring thought. There are people and ideas that I have, that inspire me everyday to bust my ass. I bust my ass. We could put up anybody on the work and I'll go hour for hour, I don't care about that, I don't care anything about that, about hours or being tired and not getting sleep. Because you can't say you want something and complain about what it takes to get it! That does not even calculate in my brain. That's a very important thing that people need to read. I don't know how you could ever say you want something but then don't have a way of getting what you want, but keep being fixated on something but don't have a way, don't have an idea and don't want to put in the time to figure that out. Do yourself an easy favor; don't say you want that thing. It'll make you sleep better at night.
THE NEW GENERATION'S HUSTLE GAME
I can tell you one thing, the game has gotten spoiled, because like I said, it started getting easy. When Run and them niggas and Russell had to put in that work to get recognized, they had to put in the work. Then all of a sudden, when the shit just got hot people was getting in, if you were a dude that knew somebody that knew how to rap, you are in the game! There is no other industry that that can happen. Now the game is critical again. Who really knows what they are doing? Who knows how to figure it out?
You need a real marketing plan. You don't need to just put out a vinyl and have the first single with a singing hook. That ain't the plan no more, you need digital, motion picture feature film, blogs, you need everything. In '95, '96, the only marketing plan was a hot song, let's go, let's do it! The pressure is on and you can see who can rise above that and you can see who can't. It's all deep water and a lot of guys are drowning.
INDUSTRY INSIDERS WITH THE KNOW HOW
I really like what [Jive Records executive] Mark Pitts is doing and I like what [Disturbing Tha Peace Records CEO] Chaka Zulu is doing and I like what [music publisher] Big Jon is doing. [Jive Records executive/Violator CEO/50 Cent's manager] Chris Lighty is a made man. I'm talking about the next generation of guys. They all have the same demands that I have, because they are in the record business and they are succeeding with the new environment. Remember I told you niggas are drowning? Ask them who's drowning. They'll tell you.
FORTHCOMING BOOK PROJECT
My book speaks more about the urban economy and its effects on mainstream America. Economics. It's not as motivational as Kevin Liles' [Make It Happen]. My book is more about the facts of what we have done as a culture to change the landscape of American finance.