Three nights before the 2018 Grammy Awards, as music-industry executives huddled at familiar corporate functions around Manhattan, Steve Stoute hosted an intimate dinner party in a private room above the posh Gramercy Park restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Stoute, the founder of ad agency Translation and former president of urban music at Interscope and Sony Music, declared that the gathering was “about culture, storytellers coming together in a room, celebrating greatness” -- a grandiose statement that actually seemed fitting when one surveyed the guests: Nas, Naomi Campbell, Colin Kaepernick, Darren Aronofsky, Quavo and Migos manager Coach K, art dealer Gavin Brown, Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri, artist Hope Atherton and Thelma Golden, director/chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem.
“They’ve all got something to gain,” says Stoute two weeks later in his art-filled Soho apartment, recalling the evening. It’s another broad statement that makes more sense when you look, for example, at the deal he brokered through Translation in 2017 for Gucci and hip-hop style legend Dapper Dan to create a joint fashion line and open a new Harlem atelier. In Stoute’s most recent act, he has been determined to deliver the recognition and compensation he believes are overdue to culture-shifting creators.
Nearly two decades after leaving Interscope at the peak of the music business to help artists JAY-Z, Pharrell Williams and 50 Cent sell more lucrative products like sneakers through Translation, Stoute, 47, is now mounting a music comeback. He surprised the industry last November when he announced he had secretly raised $70 million from investors in a round led by Alphabet, Andreessen Horowitz and 20th Century Fox for the startup UnitedMasters.