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How Hip-Hop Created a Culture that Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy

by Steve Stoute with Mim Eichler Rivas

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-592-40481-0
Publisher: Gotham Books

An innovative advertiser shares views on cross-cultural marketing, using lessons from the explosion of hip-hop.

Stoute, founder of Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging, specializes in forging connections between established corporate brands and the community of musicians, rappers, actors and sports figures generally referred to as “urban.” His basic point, repeated frequently, is that the demographic and social changes suggesting America is becoming more multi-hued and tolerant (the so-called narrative of “tanning”) present new and exciting opportunities for promoting products in a competitive marketplace. He ties this argument to hip-hop’s rise and gradual commercialization, starting with the grassroots success of the first Sugar Hill record “Rappers Delight” and the legendary 1986 concert where Adidas’ German executives first heard Run-DMC’s “My Adidas.” Stoute argues that the aspirational nature of hip-hop—the crucial sense of outsider identity it provided from the 1970s through the ’90s—makes it the ideal medium for merchandising everything from luxury goods to soft drinks: “being brand-conscious was nothing new for African-Americans—who I contend are the absolute best consumers in the world.” By the early ’90s, writes the author, advertisers and corporations perceived hip-hop’s credibility and sales potential but were in dire need of “translators”—i.e., cultural point men who could demystify its codes and rituals. This led Stoute to transition from RCA’s black music division to advertising; he realized “tanning” was affecting all aspects of consumer culture. The author’s strength is his recall of various real-world examples of “tanning” in the lucrative, high-stakes arena of mass culture, seen in the success of Mary J. Blige, LL Cool J, Will Smith and other luminaries. He also discusses business narratives such as the “soft drink wars” and the changing fortunes of Reebok and Tommy Hilfiger to illustrate how his principles can help brands stay nimble and attuned. However, his specific prescriptions for businesses often seem general and dependent on buzzwords.

An unabashed celebration of branding, bling and the potency of marketing and consumer desire.