RIP Rob Stone

Biggie, Fader, Obey Your Thirst - you know Stone even if you don't know him by name

RIP Rob Stone

Rob Stone passed away at the age of 55 this past week. He would have turned 56 on July 12. Cancer. F***.

I wouldn’t know his name until 1999, when The Fader launched. It was an other world Rolling Stone to 17-year-old me. Funkmaster Flex was on the cover. Otherworldly.  No, let’s say it was a portal INTO other-worldly worlds. Especially for a suburban kid with more expansive than my small town (and pre-internet as we know it) musical interests.

In 1986, Stone left Long Island to go to college in Albany to study marketing and finance. Hip-hop was happening at the time. Maybe not quite in Albany. But it had his attention from growing up on LI. 

He’d go to work in the music industry directly out of college at SBK Records. 

When EMI Records started looking at Sean Combs for a potential deal a few years later, the execs didn’t know enough about hip-hop, so they put their twenty-five-year-old “kid” on it. That kid was Rob Stone. 

The “kid” had been a promoter and already some noteworthy work on several “crossover” radio stations. He knew what worked, meaning he knew what DJs would play and audiences would tune in for. Regarding Sean Combs, he had thoughts.

Partly due to Combs’ presentation, and partly due to Stone, this is how EMI moved from Vanilla Ice to Bad Boy. 

Talk about being at the center of a pivotal moment in pop music history.

Stone had gotten to know the program director at Hot 97, Steve Smith. Between Combs’ talents and Stone’s awareness of the radio station’s taste, you already know what happened - 

It was 1994. 

Craig Mack and Notorious B.I.G. happened first. 

Later, it was Usher, Outkast, Faith Evans, and more.

So many more. 

It didn’t take long for him to launch his own media and promotion firm, Cornerstone, in 1996. Corner-Stone (get it?) would be a key orchestrator of Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, Nike’s “Better Than I’ve Ever Been Campaign,” amongst others. 

I may have to write posts (plural) on this aspect alone.

If you ever made art and wandered how to get paid, Stone is one of the coolest people you could study.

Stone got artists paid. He got brands aligned. Having the vision to see how music, culture, and the business of promoting worked together is a remarkable skill.

Especially in the 90s. Especially as the 90s progressed. Because the internet came, print media was dying, and he helped navigate that too.

The Fader was a revelation in 1999. It was a revolution as it became the first magazine available on iTunes a few years later. Vision, again. 

And beyond music and media, Stone had numerous charitable projects too, including in cancer research and getting music to kids with cancer.

I didn’t know him. Good dude feels like a massive understatement. Dan Charnas calling him a real one seems like it only even scratches the surface.  

There will be obituaries. There will be cool stories. And if you want more context, I urge you to read Dan Charnas’ book The Big Payback for it’s sections on Stone, which really helped give me a sense of just how big his influence was on my life.

F*** cancer.

RIP Rob Stone.