How to PimpYour Friends, Sell Your Culture and Get Rich Doing it: The Steve Stoute Story

by Dax-Devlon Ross

 I worry sometimes, that the Joshua generation in its success forgets where it came from. Thinks it doesn’t have to make as many sacrifices. Thinks that the very height of ambition is to make as much money as you can, to drive the biggest car and have the biggest house and wear a Rolex watch and get your own private jet, get some of that Oprah money. And I think that’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but if you know your history, then you know that there is a certain poverty of ambition involved in simply striving just for money. Materialism alone will not fulfill the possibilities of your existence.

Barack Obama,

March 4, 2007

Selma, Ga

 Steve Stoute

Back in 1995 then nascent rapper Nas hired Steve Stoute as his manager. Stoute subsequently guided Nas’s unsteady transmutation from prodigal thug poet with mediocre Soundscans to multi-platinum mafioso-black nationalist who many felt (and still feel) is a perennial underachiever compared to what he could’ve been had he never linked up with Stoute. More than a decade later the two are still industry heavy-weights, but their respective relationships to hip-hop seem to be at odds. Nas’s latest album, Hip Hop Is Dead, is an inspired elegy to a commercially saturated culture that “went from turntables to mp3s/From “Beat Street” to commercials on Mickey D’s,” while Mr. Stoute is making a sizeable living showing that same “Mickey D’s” (and other corporate dinosaurs completely out of touch with urban culture) how to use hip-hop to market themselves to a younger generation. According to the Greater Talent Networks Speaker’s Bureau, Stoute is “respected by corporate America for his unique access into the heart of the trend-setting urban youth market.” In the last few years he has become a corporate “hit-maker” for brands” like Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger and McDonald’s by showing exactly what they need to do in order to get kids to buy stuff they don’t need.

Now, I don’t begrudge Mr. Stoute for making a living, but it does trouble me that we’re quick to blame rappers for watering down hip-hop, but we rarely call to task “hip-hop” executives who use their industry capital (their connections and presumed “authenticity,” that is) to sell hip-hop to corporate America. As it stands, the Steve Stoutes of the world– the behind the scenes culture brokers– are unconditionally applauded and acclaimed for helping to enrich corporations with dreadful third-world labor practices. They’re labeled geniuses for showing stodgy companies – whose only interest in inner-city youth is making millions off of them – how to slickify a product with a “hip-hop” edge so they’ll crave it.

Just as Michael Eric Dyson, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, John McWorther, Cornel West and others perform as unelected HNICs in the political and intellectual sphere, the Steve Stoutes perform a similar role as paid spokerspersons in the commercial sphere these days. It’s crucial, therefore, that just as we critique those leaders when warranted, we do the same to those who claim to represent and speak for young black and brown America in billion-dollar boardrooms.

That being said, the current issue of Businessweek Online features a cover story on Stoute. He discusses his  marketing partnership with GM, which has spawned the company’s line of commercials starring T.I. and Mary J. Blige, and a new limited edition Yukon Denali, the Jay-Z Blue.

Check the article out and let us know what you think.

 the HNIC Report