Rob Stone, Co-Founder of Cornerstone Agency and the Fader Magazine, Dies at 55

Rob Stone, who co-founded the influential music marketing company Cornerstone Agency and the magazine the Fader, died Monday after a battle with cancer, according to social media posts from his family and his longtime friend and co-CEO Jon Cohen. He was 55.

“It is with a heavy heart and sadness we share the news of the passing of Rob Stone,” his family wrote. “Rob bravely fought cancer over the past year. He chose to keep his diagnosis private in order to focus on his family. He was a truly amazing person who lived an incredible life.”

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The agency, which Stone launched with Loud Records founder Steve Rifkind in 1996 — who stepped aside for Cohen the following year — became a pioneering force in music marketing, incorporating the tactics of hip-hop street marketing teams and bringing dozens of major brands into the music space, including Sprite, Bushmills, Converse, Coca-Cola, Diageo, Reebok and others, even the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

The pair founded the Fader — a large-stock, photo-heavy magazine with a sharp eye for up-and-coming artists — in 1999 as a companion to the marketing company, and used both to create a template that was quickly followed by Vice, Complex and Conde Nast, among others. Based in New York but with offices in Los Angeles, London and Sao Paulo, the company grew into a mini-empire of more than 100 employees and more than $100 million in annual revenue. It later expanded into film with Fader Films, which Stone focused on later in his career. It released documentaries on the late rapper XXXTentacion in 2022, including “Look at Me,” among other projects.

The company’s presence at festivals such as SXSW via their “Fader Fort,” which featured showcases from dozens of up-and-coming and major acts, became a staple of the 2000s and 2010s, growing to the size of several city blocks filled with stages, food and drink tents, and product display areas.

Both natives of Nassau County on New York’s Long Island (and born nine days apart), Stone and Cohen met and became close friends as seventh graders and attended high school together. “We discovered hip-hop together — I’ll never forget listening to Run-D.M.C. for the first time in Rob’s car,” Cohen told this writer in a 2015 interview with the pair. The pair began working together at SBK Records, a start-up major label co-founded by industry titans Charles Koppelman and Martin Bandier, after graduating in the early 1990s.

“[Cornerstone] really started in that first year at SBK, because we would talk about our frustrations with major labels, like, ‘Why don’t we have our own company? We could do this,’” Stone said. He left SBK to join Clive Davis’ Arista Records, where he worked in the marketing department and played a major role in the crossover success of the Notorious B.I.G. and other hip-hop artists. A framed poster in Stone’s office was autographed by the rapper, calling him “#1 cool white man.”

He left Arista to launch Cornerstone with Rifkind as a promotion company in 1996. The following year, Rifkind stepped back to focus on Loud and Cohen stepped in as Stone’s partner. The pair had learned their marketing and negotiating chops at the major labels and soon brought those skills to bear on brands, just as hip-hop was breaking into the mainstream during the late 1990s.

“We were working [several labels’] projects to radio, so we had all these indie and alternative acts and this hip-hop roster,” Stone said. “We started talking: ‘How do we grow the business?’ And we stumbled upon music and brands with Sprite. The lightbulb went off: There was a lot of marketing that could be done around music and brands.”

The company and the Fader grew into powerhouses: brands lined up for its sleek, street-savvy approach to marketing products, while the Fader promoted hundreds of new artists, adventurously giving many of them their first covers — in a heavy paper stock, high-production-value magazine, no less. In a message celebrating its 100 th issue, the founders listed Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, M.I.A., the Strokes, the White Stripes, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Phoenix, Miguel and Rick Ross as artists who had their “magical first covers” with the Fader.

The Fader Fort had a stacked lineup at SXSW each year: One year, West brought much of the roster of his label G.O.O.D. Records, and artists from Gorillaz to Lil Yachty performed there over the years.

While the company’s impact eventually became overshadowed by ones it had influenced — notably Vice and Complex — it has remained a strong force in the industry, with Stone and Cohen occasionally sparring but always remaining a unit. As the company reached its 28th anniversary this past June 17, Stone shared several posts of including photos from its early days and shouting out Cohen and early colleagues Andy Cohn and Anthony Holland, among others.

“What a ride it’s been,” he wrote. “The good the bad the highs the los, the wins the learnings. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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