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Steve Stoute Breaks Down How Jay-Z’s Sneaker Deal ‘Put Reebok In the Conversation’ with Nike and Other Brands

Jay-Z has been changing culture since the mid-’90s and expanded his independent model of doing business to include major corporate partnerships by the 2000s. One of the first examples of this is his signing with Reebok in 2002 and putting out his own sneaker line in 2003, just like some of the athletes the rapper could see as he sat courtside at NBA games.

Steve Stoute, photo via Instagram, @clubshayshay

He did not make the deal alone. Then-music executive, manager and marketing genius Steve Stoute facilitated this deal for the “Can’t Knock the Hustle” artist.

Stoute held concurrent roles as the executive VP of Interscope Geffen A&M Records and president of Urban Music at Sony Music from 1999 to 2009. In 2017, he founded the music distribution platform UnitedMasters, where he still serves as CEO. Additionally, in 2004, he founded the music marketing agency Translation. He is also an author of the book “The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy,” released in 2011.

Stoute Dishes about Jay-Z Deal

During his sit down on the “Club Shay Shay” podcast, Stoute shared with Shannon Sharpe how he infiltrated the sneaker wars with rapper soldiers like Jay-Z, JadaKiss, Allen Iverson and 50 Cent.

Jay-Z’s deal was a little different than most. According to Stoute, he became a 50/50 partner with Reebok for the footwear project, a deal that didn’t require much persuasion from Reebok’s end.

Sharpe suggested that the unconventional deal made him a partner and not an “ambassador,” to which Stoute replied, “Jay-Z’s not the ambassador for anything except himself.”

“A lot of times these brands will throw a large sum of money at an athlete or an entertainer. How do you convince them to take less of this and become [a] partnership or equity stake?” Sharpe asked.

Stoute said that Jay-Z understood from the beginning, as an independent artist, the profit that comes from “selling music out the back of a trunk” like Master P and Luther Campbell.

Like those artists, he “learned the margin was there” when you take a percentage of sales.  

“That was the first time you got a chance to look under the hood and realize, wait a minute, this thing that cost me, you know, a dollar to make that I could sell for $16. All that money there that’s mine,” Stoute explained, noting that being a boss was what Jay-Z always was, and so he banked on the partnership versus getting a lump sum of money in the beginning.

During the interview, Stoute also reminded Sharpe that Reebok did not have a good reputation in the Black community for being a cool sneaker, referring to them as “skips [sneakers that people skipped over].” They had never worked with music artists, focusing only on sports like most sneaker brands at the time. His goal was to show the company the overlap between rap music and the court.

He also noted how one key component in Jay-Z’s marketing strategy was not to exclusively wear his shoe or Reeboks, but to sometimes wear Nike’s, because that showed authenticity, which is core to the Brooklyn native’s brand.

“People ain’t gonna believe me if all I did was wear my sneakers. I gotta show them that I choose to wear my sneakers like I choose to wear those. It’s an option,” Jay-Z reportedly said to Stoute in the early millennium.

The Translator said, “This whole idea like [to] only wear your sneakers, he knew that would that looks fake because that wouldn’t be real. What’s real is, ‘I do like these. … I also do like those … which created an option … which put Reebok in the conversation.”

Hov collaborated with the brand to release a collection of shoes and clothing, notably the S. Carter sneakers inspired by Gucci. Marked by an 11 percent uptick in shoe sales and a 20 percent increase in shares, Jay-Z’s collaboration coincided with a short-lived boost for Reebok, according to Complex.

50 Cent’s sneaker was also a major factor in this surge in sales, and he reportedly earned $80 million from the venture.

After four years, Jay-Z parted ways with Reebok.

The sneaker has been out of circulation for some time. However, Jay-Z broke out a crispy white pair during the 2024 Super Bowl.

Shaq and Allen Iverson, recently appointed as executives at Reebok, aim to bring back Jay-Z’s S. Carter line and G-Unit sneakers by 50 Cent.

During a recent episode of Complex’s “Sneaker Shopping” podcast the two ballers talked about what they want to do.

“We know Jay-Z. Jay-Z, if you watching this we want to holla at you,” Shaq said.

“50, when I call you, holla. Jay-Z, we’ll be calling,” he continued. “We definitely want to give the fans and the consumers what they want.”

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