YouTube Music’s Director Of Music and Culture Talks The Importance of Representation In The Industry
Credit: Michael Brandy

Tuma Basa has been putting his indelible imprint on the music industry for many years now. His RapCaviar playlist on Spotify completely revitalized the way hip hop listeners experienced the streaming app. Or maybe you’ve felt the shift that MTV and BET made in the digital direction some years ago. Yep, that was all Tuma. Now, most recently he’s brought his eye for innovation to YouTube Music as their Director of Black Music and Culture to help amplify the Black talent on the app. So far, he’s spearheaded the #YouTubeBlackVoices Fund, a grant program honoring over 130 gifted Black creators internationally. Inspired by 2020’s social justice awakening, YouTube announced the $100 million fund would be dedicated to providing resources for Black creators. 

The Congolese-American visionary has always had a love for culture and music. Originally setting out to be a musician himself, he noticed that much of the industry lacked the infrastructure that was needed to take artists in the direction the world was moving, so he dedicated his career to building those pathways himself. This was most recently evidenced by YouTube Music’s intimate gathering he threw at The Crown in New York City to celebrate November officially being deemed Hip Hop History Month by the US senate. The event featured some of the most important pioneers in the industry, as well as the next generation that are moving to push the culture forward.  

Tuma sat down with Essence to discuss the incredible event, his career as an innovator in the music industry and the importance of being seen and heard. 

Tuma, what does the recent passing of the Hip Hop Month resolution mean to you? In your storied career, did you ever think something like this would come to fruition? 

Not only did Hip Hop make its way into a congressional resolution, it was unanimously passed by the Senate. If that’s not evidence of how far Hip Hop has gone, then what is??? It means a few things to me. The first is the official acknowledgement of an American Art Form that was born in The Bronx and raised all over (like a military brat)…and also traveled the world. The second thing it means to me, is that there’s a certain level of maturity that has occurred. The fact that there are now people in Congress (like Rep Jamaal Bowman) who grew up in the culture and are now representing where they’re from (geographically and culturally) and long-time advocates like the Honorable Re Maxine Waters, who has been an OG defending the culture since the 90s when it was under attack by adversaries like C. Delores Tucker, really really says something. We often talk about the economic successes in the culture but it’s time now to recognize the political victories too!

Why was it important to celebrate the moment during the recent NYC event? 

Because if we don’t, who will? In all honesty, it was as much an excuse to get together as it was a celebration. We wanted to bring together folks who are dedicated to hip hop within their trades. Whether it was journalists who were dedicated to informing the culture on the most up to date occurrences/developments or label executives who are repping every day with every bone or tastemakers like DJ’s who are the heartbeat of the culture. 

What were some of your favorite moments from the night? 

The discussion from the Cultural Council was my favorite part of the night. It was designed to have each generation represented. Kevin Liles repping the OG point of view, DJ Nyla Symone repping the digital native generation and Jersey Jinx repping that middle generation that experienced hip hop in analogue and led the way during the blogosphere/mixtape era. The generational transfer of knowledge that happened in real time on that stage was amazing. Everyone was all ears when Ralph McDaniels jumped on stage and dropped some gems.  His story of how he directed Nas’ first video and now Nas has directed the new documentary about  him and Video Music Box. That was another testimony of how far hip hop has come. 

I loved acknowledging the other OGs in the room too…like DJ Premier, Big Jon Platt, and Londell McMillan. They have paved the way for future generations to be successful curators, executives and lawyers, respectively. We must give credit where credit is due. Also all the photo opps, seeing tastemakers like B Dot and Cory Townes smiling in pictures with legends like Slick Rick. That meant everything.  

I want to pivot a bit here and talk a bit more about your journey to where you are today. Did you always have a passion for hip hop culture? 

My passion for Hip Hop culture blossomed in the 90s when I was a teen living in Zimbabwe. I used to spend a lot of holidays in a tiny country called Swaziland (now called Eswaitini). I used to do marathon sessions of watching VHS tapes of Yo! MTV Raps and dubbing cassettes of releases that weren’t yet out in Zimbabwe. Back then, it was hard work to get new music and keep up on the latest news from the hip hop world in America. Whenever I could get my hands on an issue of magazines like The Source,  Rap Pages or Rap Sheet, I’d read every page. I came back to the States for college in the mid-90s and was able to get my foot in the door in the late 90s. Looking back, those three stages in the 90’s molded my passion for the culture and the intensity of my desire to contribute to it in a positive way.

 You’ve spearheaded so many important initiatives at Youtube Music for Black creators. Do you have any advice for those looking to take their career to the next level? 

My advice is to protect your passion. Nourish your passion. Cultivate your passion. It’s no coincidence that the words cultivate and culture come from the same root word in Latin. That’s how you grow organically, taking your career to the next level with dignity!

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