Steve Stoute went from managing artists like Kid ‘n Play and Nas to serving as president of Urban Music and Interscope/Geffen to founding his own advertising firm, Translation. In that time, Stoute also became managing director and CEO of Carol’s Daughter and expanded the beloved Brooklyn brand to a national cosmetics powerhouse backed by Will and Jada Pinkettt Smith and Jay-Z. Indicative of his business acumen, Stoute partnered with the Jigga Man on Translation and helped bring to life memorable campaigns like Samsung’s Limited Edition B-Phone with Beyoncé, McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” featuring Justin Timberlake and MAC Cosmetics’ partnership with Lady Gaga. Combining his expertise in the music business with a keen eye for spotting trends, Stoute made quite an impression on the advertising world and in 2009 the American Advertising Federation inducted Stoute to the Advertising Hall of Achievement, the industry’s premiere award for professionals age 40 and under. Now, Stoute adds author to his list of accomplishments with the release of his new book, The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy. We sat down with the mogul to hear what this new venture is all about.
BET.com: So your book comes out today, what inspired you to write?
Steve Stoute: I was at a concert one time and I saw white kids, Black kids, people over 40, people in their teenage years reciting the lyrics to [Jay-Z’s] “Big Pimpin” and I sat there and thought when it comes to the music and the culture, the dancing, their interpretation of the dance, it all felt like it was coming from one person. I’ve seen it in Cleveland, I’ve seen the same show take place in Australia and no matter where you go, there you are. Hip hop culture has brought people together in a way. And the term I used to describe it, is tanning.
What is tanning?
Tanning speaks to a mental complexion. It has nothing to do with African-Americans teaching the world how to be more Black, it has something to do with us all sharing our cultural values.
Who are you looking to reach through your book?
I intended the book for young professionals and college students. I hope that they really feel like this book is for them. This book speaks to a generation that now has this information and they should be marketing and promoting and communicating this notion going forward and stop putting people in boxes.
How do those boundaries blur so that people no longer want to label one another?
I checked all the boxes because many people feel there is nothing that describes them. They don’t fit neatly into any box and because of the idea of a tanned mental complexion, people are more open-minded. Hip hop music was the Trojan horse that brought the culture. The music video said what car to drive, how to rock your hat, how to wear your pants, what brand to drink. It’s not just about the music, it brought something far deeper, language, symbolism.
In the book you talk about being a cultural translator, you even named your ad company Translation. What does that word mean to you?
I’ve seen agencies push an agenda that had nothing to do with what the consumer really wanted and accepted. Translation was a company that I wanted to build with a mission statement to take consumers and the culture and find ways that brands could market to that culture and that consumer in the most authentic way without disrupting what the brand stands for. When we worked on McDonald’s with “I’m Loving It,” we weren’t trying to make McDonald’s a new brand but we were trying to make McDonald’s a brand that was going to speak to the next generation of consumers but not hurt what McDonald’s stands for as a family-friendly company.
So it’s really about translating those brands to the hip hop generation?
Where do you think the hip hop generation is heading ?
It’s a global generation now and you look at the Watch the Throne album being number 1 in 23 countries around the world released digitally. That’s just a simple example of the global tremors and penetration that hip hop has. I think that the hip hop generation sees color and doesn’t let ethnicity determine what drives you culturally.