Women in Music 2019

Lyor Cohen & Tuma Basa Reflect on Their Careers With a Celebration of Hip-Hop Hosted by YouTube Music

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YouTube Global Head of Music, Lyor Cohen and Director of Urban Music, Tuma Basa talk 45 years of Hip Hop with Genius' Rob Markman.

On Tuesday night (Nov. 19), a selection of hip-hop lovers gathered at Vandal in New York City for a celebration of 45 years of hip-hop hosted by YouTube Music. The two men of the hour, global head of YouTube Music Lyor Cohen and YouTube's director of urban music Tuma Basa were joined by their colleagues for an intimate discussion, moderated by Rob Markman, about the genre. 

From its inception in the Bronx, to now becoming a cultural movement that holds a strong presence across the globe, the growth of the genre has been undeniable. “I love seeing how global hip-hop has gotten,” Tuma Basa tells Billboard. “Part of it is validation, but more importantly, it’s opportunity. Remember hip-hop represents socioeconomic mobility. Hip-hop is about the come up.”

As two veterans in the hip-hop world, Cohen and Basa gifted attendees with irreplaceable stories and advice. Here are a few takeaways from the discussion:

Lyor Cohen is not the biggest fan of “Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith. 

Although many consider the song as a pivotal moment for the iconic hip-hop group, Cohen’s opinion differed. “I tried to fight it,” he says about the record. “Everything was going so well for us. We were selling out arenas. I thought it was too early, unnecessary, and I wouldn’t mind if someone else got that record.” He then went on to say he thinks Run-D.M.C. would have been bigger if it weren’t for “Walk This Way,” and the song signaled “the beginning of the end” for the group. 

Tuma Basa sees many similarities within hip-hop and Afrobeats 

While examining the growth of hip-hop, Basa delves into how he feels the come up of another genre feels familiar to him. “There are a lot of parallels with early hip-hop and Afrobeats,” says Basa. “A lot of the organic build up, the ecosystem, the clubs. Right here in New York it was happening.” Basa who was born overseas and lived internationally for 12 years of his life before moving to the United States, has a keen ear for noticing what is happening within the genre. “The radio is now starting to catch up,” he continues. “The spirit of what’s happening with Afrobeats is a very similar spirit.” 

Lyor Cohen says being wrong helped him create a strong foundation 

As an important figure during the early days of hip-hop, Cohen was faced with many challenges that not too many knew how to solve. “I was wrong every day,” he candidly says. “But I was gifted to be in a time period where the competition felt that [hip-hop] was a fad. We didn’t have any money, no clout, no experience. Nobody wanted it, so nobody snatched the ball from us. I made every possible mistake organically.” By the time everyone else realized hip-hop wasn’t a fad, Cohen had the knowledge to stay on top of his game. 

Tuma Basa believes storytelling is the way to bridge the generational gap in hip-hop

Thanks to his many years in the industry, Basa is seen as a mentor to countless budding professionals, and he believes it takes effort from both the younger and older generation to keep the culture strong. “I believe in generational transfer. Where I’m from, the way we learn about our past is through oral tradition,” he says. He highlights the importance of never wanting to make younger hip-hop lovers feel ashamed for not knowing certain things about the culture, but rather enlightening them through storytelling, while “avoiding the ‘you weren’t there’ [dismissal]” at all costs.

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