Behind the scenes, Tuma Basa has been at the forefront of the genres formally umbrellaed under “Urban Music” for the better part of the last two decades. Now, as the Director of Black Music & Culture at YouTube, he’s helping artists, songwriters, and producers carve out their own slices of the industry with self-made content, amplifying their voices through video.  

We speak with him just hours after Mary J. Blige and Jazmine Sullivan nearly blew the roof off of the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. Joined by DJ D-Nice and up-and-coming acts YEИDRY and Yung Baby Tate, the ladies performed in celebration of YouTube’s latest initiatives to prioritize inclusivity.

“I had a meeting with (Lyor Cohen, YouTube Global Head of Music) this morning. And I was telling him last night was such an example of passion from the people who were in the room,” Basa said of the concert. “Everyone who was in the room wanted to be in the room, right? Nobody was there because they felt obliged.”

He noted that even though each artist had relatively short sets, they each gave 100% to the crowd. It’s that drive and willingness to create the best possible experience that excites Basa. 

“The thing is sometimes people do things [just] to get it done. Last night, people did things to get it dope,” he added. “And that’s how I feel about the whole night. Everyone just went a hundred.”

Tuesday’s concert was a true full-circle moment for Basa, as he lived right in the Apollo Theater’s backyard until just before the pandemic began. While entering through the artist entrance in the back, he had a vivid memory of entering the Apollo from the front entrance just after the tragic death of Aaliyah while working in the music programming department at BET. He says he was just as in awe of the magic of the venue back then as he was on Tuesday night.  

Now, as the head of Black – not “urban” – music (“No matter what the industry jargon is, [Black music] is what it is,” he stressed) at the do-it-yourself entertainment platform, Basa, much like the Apollo, is giving music artists and creators a chance to push their careers to the next level.

“Just like the Apollo, people come to YouTube to show the world what they’ve got, to get discovered, to blow up,” Basa told the audience on Tuesday night. “YouTube brings music to all corners of the world. We’ve seen emerging artists upload their first videos from their bedroom then go on to top the charts, headline world tours. That’s the power of YouTube.”

Through the just-announced #YouTubeBlack Voices Music Class of 2022, Basa plans to continue to get things dope, amplifying Black voices both in front of and behind the microphone via the YouTube platform. 

“So what we did last year with the Black Voices Fund, everyone was happy and everyone learned so much, whether it be through Future Insiders, which is the community program, or the actual artist grants,” he said of the program. But this year promises to be even bigger and better. 

The new class will not only feature recording artists from all over the globe but in a new expansion, will include songwriters and producers. To top it all off, the classes will have the opportunity to come together to co-write and collaborate for the first time ever. Class members will benefit from dedicated partner support from YouTube, seed funding invested into the development of their channels, and the opportunity to participate in training and networking programs focused on production, fan engagement, and wellbeing.

In addition, the program has added an inaugural “mentor member” to the class; none other than Hip Hop icon and the genre’s most notable storyteller, Slick Rick the Ruler. 

“It’s an honor to partner with YouTube via the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund initiative to utilize my platform and art to share as an example of what endurance, the power of imagination, and pure authenticity look like,” Slick Rick said of the partnership. 

With the inaugural 2021 class having achieved incredible feats on the YouTube platform far outperforming expectations, expectations are high for the newest crop of artists. 

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