How Jay-Z Met H.P.: Blame Hip Hop Branding Wizard Steve Stoute

Former record exec Steve Stoute and the case of the secret chewing-gum jingle.

By the late 1990s, with the advent of file-sharing and mp3s about to turn the music industry on its head, Mr. Stoute decided to change careers. In 1999, he partnered with renowned adman Peter Arnell—best known for the iconic DKNY campaign—to form the marketing company PASS. (The company couldn’t obtain certification as a minority-owned business and in 2002 was sold to a Hispanic agency, Cultura; Mr. Stoute remained chairman until 2003.)

Mr. Stoute was a quickly adapted to this new world. “Steve Stoute has the best instincts creatively and strategically on pop culture, marketing and youth of anybody I’ve ever met,” Mr. Arnell told Adage.com. (Mr. Arnell’s own instincts were more questionable; he was the force behind the disastrous 2009 Tropicana redesign.)

“Steve is an open person,” former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman told The Observer. “He sees himself on a long journey on which he keeps meeting people and building strategic pieces along the way.”

“He’s curious about everything,” added Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter, a friend who wrote the foreword to Mr. Stoute’s book. “He’d ask about your clothes. He’d ask about what you’re doing. He set about making himself into something and, God knows, he did it.”

Steve Stoute has strong opinions on branding. He was offended, for example, by what he considered the ham-handedness of Kodak’s recent campaign featuring Rihanna and a slew of other musicians.