Interview: Steve Stoute Talks About Working With Jay-Z, Nas, and "The Tanning of America"

Interview: Steve Stoute Talks About Working With Jay-Z, Nas, and "The Tanning of America"Interview by Toshitaka Kondo. Photography by Tom Medvedich. Styling by Mike B.

There was an interview where Dame Dash talked about the breakup of Roc-A-Fella. He said one of the reasons why was because you and Jay had gotten real close and his influence waned.

 

If your relationship with somebody’s falling apart, don’t blame it on the third party cause we’ve gotten close. Jay-Z and Dame Dash obviously grew far apart. Dame felt like they grew apart because Jay and I grew closer as friends. The truth is that Jay is a loyal guy, so that wouldn’t have made a difference either way had their relationship been where it should’ve been.

 

I have this theory, don’t blame the bat, blame the player swinging the bat. I had nothing to do with it. If your relationship with somebody’s falling apart, don’t blame it on the third party cause we’ve gotten close. You’ve grown apart.

They obviously grew far apart and he felt like they grew apart because Jay and I grew closer as friends. The truth is that Jay is a loyal guy, so that wouldn’t have made a difference either way had their relationship been where it should’ve been. Because there had been a period where all three of us had been friends. So, my response to that is that’s not true.

I’m sure now if you were to ask him Dame would say that his and Jay’s relationship fell apart and it had nothing to do with me. They had all kinds of issues, who owns the Roc-A-Fella name, this, that, and the third. It was all over the place.

Have you seen Dame in a while?

No. Maybe you can find him.

You also worked with 50 Cent—

I signed 50.

Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. You were talking about executives spotting talent, and you spotted his talent before a lot of people. What was it about him that you saw? How did you even find him?

A producer that I was managing at the time brought him to me. He was signed, actually, to Jam Master Jay first. He was down with Onyx. And he was getting out of that deal and I signed him to Sony. The guy really is “get rich or die trying.” Period. End of story. And he is in your face and unapologetic about it.

He had that mentality, plus he’s not afraid to say what he says and honestly, after going through the issue where he got shot, he had gotten even better. His voice was more unique and then he got focused. So he was really, already good but that unfortunate event made him better. His attitude, his work ethic, and his talent, he had the whole package.

You were still at Sony when he got dropped, right?

 

I think Kobe was a better rapper than Shaq, he was more smooth with it and really cared about the lyrics and the flow. To this day I still speak with Kobe and he stays in tune with the lyrics and what they mean.

 

I had left Sony. One of the errors I had was having the opportunity to sign him again, at Interscope. He ended up signing through Aftermath but I had the opportunity to sign him on Interscope.

I was leaving the record company to go into advertising at the time, what I couldn’t explain to him was that I was moving on.

I didn’t want to sign people and not be there, I was going to the advertising business. But I was happy he ended up with Dr. Dre and he became tremendously successful. So it all worked out.

Another interesting thing in the book—you signed Kobe, right?

Yeah.

Why do you think Shaq worked as an artist, but Kobe never did.

Well Kobe was really loyal to a group of guys, he was part of a group. So what happened was he was really loyal to them and it took a long time for him to see that that concept wasn’t necessarily going to work.

A year and a half transpired between us getting started on the record to when he decided he could put out a solo record. And that year and a half was a window in which people would accept that, coming off with Shaq. And we blew it, we didn’t take advantage of it.

Times were changing fast. When Shaq came out, he rapped with the Fu-Schnickens and it worked out. It’s funny, I think Kobe was a better rapper, he was more smooth with it and really cared about the lyrics and the flow. To this day I still speak with Kobe and he stays in tune with the lyrics and what they mean. We never even completed a project, he obviously had other things on his mind.

Switching gears, what do you say is the most interesting part of your book?

 

There was a time where there was a white kid listening to hip-hop and he would wear his hat backwards and they would actually call him a wigger. And I’m always saying, “That’s not a wigger, that’s a kid who grew up on hip-hop.” And a black guy who didn’t necessarily involve himself in quote-unquote “black things,” cause he skateboarded or he was interested in other things that weren’t necessarily driven by black culture, didn’t make him an Uncle Tom.

 

There was a time where there was a white kid listening to hip-hop and he would wear his hat backwards and they would actually call him a wigger. And I’m always saying, “That’s not a wigger, that’s a kid who grew up on hip-hop.” And a black guy who didn’t necessarily involve himself in quote-unquote “black things,” cause he skateboarded or he was interested in other things that weren’t necessarily driven by black culture, didn’t make him an Uncle Tom.

Well the thing that I think is the most interesting part of the book is, those individual stories are great, but it really underscores this whole notion that hip-hop culture has done a lot to transform the general market consumer.

Hip-hop started as this niche moment, and the values of it, the cultures that it carried on its back; language, clothes, the way you wear your clothes, the items that you consume, all came with the music as an art form. And those things helped transform how people buy, shop, speak, engage.

There was a time where there was a white kid listening to hip-hop and he would wear his hat backwards and they would actually call him a wigger. And I’m always saying, “That’s not a wigger, that’s a kid who grew up on hip-hop.” And a black guy who didn’t necessarily involve himself in quote-unquote “black things,” cause he skateboarded or he was interested in other things that weren’t necessarily driven by black culture, didn’t make him an Uncle Tom.

It was this blending of cultures that started to come about and gave people a different understanding of ethnicity and cultural values. And I think that’s what this book really speaks about is how hip-hop helped bring that and help put that whole moment in the spotlight.

Tags: steve-stoute, jay-z, nas, kobe-bryant, 50-cent, t-i, justin-timberlake
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