Back in 1994, a Clive Davis-helmed Arista Records bought a 50 percent stake in Bad Boy Records. When the deal was done, one man was given the daunting task of acting as a liaison between the two companies. Rob Stone, then the youngest VP in charge at Arista, was charged with taking Arista’s urban acts to the mainstream via radio and MTV.
In May of 1994, Stone undertook the job and worked closely with Sean “Puffy” Combs and Bad Boy Records’ marquee artist, The Notorious B.I.G. Stone now runs Cornerstone Marketing, a premiere lifestyle marketing firm based in New York City. But in the ’90s, he was right there in the mix during one of the most exciting times in music history. AllHipHop.com exclusively talked to Stone about Biggie and all that was going on at the time:
AllHipHop.com: First of all, how was it being in such an important spot, right between such mighty musical forces?
Rob Stone: I was truly blessed to be in with Puff and Biggie from the start. The path that got me there is interesting. I was working at SBK Records in ’94. Puff had just left Uptown and was speaking to major labels about joint venturing with Bad Boy. I had been to his Daddy’s House parties and knew of him, but the first time I met him was at the Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side. Daniel Glass and Fred Davis, my bosses at EMI, brought me along to their meeting with him.
The conversation was about Puff becoming SR VP of Urban Music at EMI Records and getting a joint venture with his Bad Boy label. I remember Puff arrogantly confident, boasting that he had the textbook on how to make hit records, and he would show it to anyone because no one could do it like him. He went on to say, ‘I talk on the intro to all my records, so when they hear my voice they’ll know the sh*t is hot.’ Well, he backed that up with nothing but hit after hit. Soon after that meeting, I was hired by Clive Davis at Arista as VP of Promotion and oversaw the development of Arista’s urban artists at radio and acted as liaison to LaFace Records and newly announced joint venture, Bad Boy.
AllHipHop.com: Can you give an overview of what it was like in that period of time?
Rob Stone: It was an amazing time in music. Not to say now isn’t great, but back then to see a young hungry Puff in action was awesome. Swagger was bizerko and again, what he did with Bad Boy the next few years, backed it up like nobody’s business. At the same time Steve Smith had created “Where Hip Hop Lives” at radio stations, specifically HOT 97. KMEL in San Francisco had their tag line, “No Color Lines,” and Hip-Hop music was primed to break through to the mainstream, but it needed stars and it needed a movement. Puff, Biggie, and Bad Boy were that movement and Puff would not be denied. Puff and BIG coming together was the perfect storm of talents that complimented one another, and whose combined efforts yielded much more than the sum of their parts.
AllHipHop.com: Would you consider Biggie a friend? What about Diddy?
Rob Stone: It was always business first. I was a rep for their record label, Arista, and BIG was signed to Bad Boy, which was owned in part by Arista. We had a job to do. Through the times we shared being on the road, some comedy and some drama, we became friends. But more importantly, as a young label exec, there was respect and admiration. BIG and Puff respected my work ethic, my knowledge, and my ability to help them accomplish their goals, and I had complete admiration and respect for BIG and his talents, and Puff and his vision, and I never took that for granted. I’d like to think that BIG and I would be friends today. The coolest piece of memorabilia I have is a signed poster by BIG. He called me the “#1 cool white man.”
AllHipHop.com: Can you tell the readers what your dealings with Biggie and Bad Boy were like?
Rob Stone: I was fortunate in a sense to get involved in the beginning. Bad Boy was new, but you could tell it was going to be a force. Puff’s tenacity was infectious not only with his staff, street teams and artists, but to those of us who were fortunate to be around him. Kirk Burrowes, Bad Boy’s first GM, was in charge of day to day early on and brought a level of stability to the label. Ron Gillyard and Jeff Burroughs brought that same stability as they succeeded as GMs. Dealing with Bad Boy was always intense. Not a bad intense but intense. Conversations with Puff, whether phone calls or meetings, had an edge. He wore the importance of Bad Boy’s success on his sleeve, and there was no shying away from it. You had to really believe in a point of view if you were going to voice it, otherwise you would get shut down and shut down hard. But if you made your point and it was going to improve a campaign or single choice, you would be acknowledged and earn respect.
AllHipHop.com: Do you have any awareness of Biggie wanting to leave Bad Boy or, at least, looking to renegotiate?
Rob Stone: I never heard any talk of it when I was with him or his crew. I think some of that came later on. I would say that BIG was incredibly shrewd and a super fast learner, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would’ve looked to improve his deal and set up his business with favorable terms. Back then, not many people came into the rap game, signed a deal, blew up and then were content with their original deal. That’s just not how it worked.
AllHipHop.com: How was the so-called East Coast/ West Coast war at that time and did it affect your job at all?
Rob Stone: The East-West thing did affect our jobs as to where and when we could travel. It truly seemed more in the press then in our day-to-day, though. When the Vibe article hit, Clive Davis, president of Arista, brought it up in our executive meeting. It was taken very seriously, but I think a lot of us didn’t fully understand the magnitude and what it eventually lead to. It’s truly tragic.
AllHipHop.com: Where were you when B.I.G. was tragically slain, and how did you feel?
Rob Stone: I was home in New York, not out in L.A. Mike Kyser, a counterpart of mine at Def Jam, who knew how close BIG and I became, was the first call. I heard him on my voicemail, say over and over, Rob, they got BIG, they got BIG. Then Harold Austin who programmed KKBT in L.A. called. Then Steve Smith from HOT 97. They were trying to figure out in the midst of this monumental loss, what the right message was to send out on the airwaves to the Hip-Hop nation. None of it made sense, coming off of Tupac’s death and now BIG. It was hard to think clearly or know the right thing to do. I remember thinking how crushing this was for his children, his mother, and then our generation. It also came at a time when it felt like he really was in control of his future and had reached a new comfort level in life.
AllHipHop.com: I know it is hard to imagine, but based on what Biggie was doing, thinking or feeling, do you have any opinion on where he would be had he lived?
Rob Stone: I know he would’ve built an empire, just has he has built a legacy for all of us to carry on. His impact on the world can be seen every time a Biggie song gets played on radio, at the club, at a stadium, or in a car driving down the street. He was only 24 when he passed and think of the impact he has had on the world. Many people don’t even know what they’re doing until they’re in their late 20’s. He will be missed but always heard from. I hope we all can learn a lot from him, his music, and his legacy. I’m always amazed by the particular new details and nuances I can pick up each time I listen to his music. He was truly the best that ever did it.