YouTube Head of Music Lyor Cohen Talks Tech-Creative Divide, Signing DMX, Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ and Who Should Run Def Jam

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Shirley Halperin
·2 min read
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To get a sense of YouTube global head of music Lyor Cohen, the person, imagine the type of brash, gruff New Yorker that might inspire a character called “record man” or “music biz exec” in a movie. After starting his career as a roadie for Run DMC, Cohen went on to head Def Jam Records in the mid-1990s and, over the next decade grew the label that would become home to the likes of Jay-Z and DMX into a formidable force in music. With that experience, he helped create the soundtrack that would play an important role in propelling hip-hop music from niche to mainstream to everywhere.

Cohen brought that talent for discovery, development, A&R, marketing and operations to Warner Music Group in 2004, which he ran as head of worldwide recorded music until 2012. In 2016, YouTube came calling for Cohen, who had in the meantime launched the indie label 300 which made its mark by releasing Migos’ first hit, “Bad and Boujee.” Cohen accepted the top music job at the video giant and was tasked with, among other things, overseeing domestic and international music partnerships in addition to artist and label relations.

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YouTube and the music business have not always been happy bedfellows, mainly due to conflicting interests as it relates to UGC, or user generated content, and its use of copyrighted works whose master recordings often belong to the record companies and its publishing to other adjacently interested parties.

It would stand to reason that being a top destination for music, YouTube and the labels should be working in concert, and one of Lyor Cohen’s MOs, now coming up on five years at YouTube, is to make it so.

On the latest music edition of Variety‘s “Strictly Business” podcast, Cohen shares his views on the place of record companies and hip-hop today, including who should run Def Jam following the Feb. 2020 of Paul Rosenberg, and offers his thoughts on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame contender LL Cool J, the recent passing of DMX and of Cardi B’s “WAP.”

Listen below or wherever podcasts are heard.

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

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