Say what you like about Steve Stoute -- author ( The Tanning of America), branding expert, former label exec, artist manager and Grammy rabble-rouser -- but the man knows his way around the rap business. At South by Southwest on Saturday, he was interviewed by another authority, writer Dan Charnas, who has worked at The Source magazine and Profile Records as well as authoring the definitive book, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop.

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Stoute was in a deeply philosophical mood about rap and its impact. "Hip-hop helped change the way Americans see each other… it was the Trojan horse that brought the culture into households." He also argued that hip-hop had created a historic integration movement too: "Hip-hop culture has done more to bring people together than anything since Martin Luther King."

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Later, he related his frustrating fights with radio and TV stations about initially accepting rap into their rotation: "Even successful African-Americans in media didn't support it." Advertising agencies were no better, only taking rap seriously when executives' kids could "fact-check what I'd tell them about rap."

Billboard Q&A: Branding Expert Steve Stoute

Stoute even suggested that in some ways, segregation actually had benefits for African-American culture as it led to the development of black magazines and black TV channels. "It was the only proving ground for black culture." Now though, he said he sees no need for that as part of cultural integration: "You got to remove that whole 'black' thing so that it's not separate anymore."

Towards the end, Stoute and Charnas were a study in contrasts about the future of the rap business. Charnas delivered a heated rant about his concern that hip-hop again will become an outcast culture, as it first was.

Stoute countered in a more reflective tone: "I know the opportunities in front of us and what's there. I'm working on the evolution of the art form, working on the deeper penetration [of rap] into the psyche of
America."

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