Tuma Basa, YouTube’s Director of Black Music & Culture and the founder of Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist, has spoken to NME about hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, YouTube’s new FIFTY DEEP programme and why Soulja Boy deserves his props as an innovator of “youth culture.”
The Congolese-American’s career has been heavily intertwined with the genre. Earlier in his life, he helped programme hip-hop music on BET – where shows like Rap City earned the network huge ratings, VJed on MTV in the early ‘00s, and even worked with rap mogul Diddy for three years at Bad Boy Records.
One of his biggest feats, however, is creating the popular Rap Caviar playlist for Spotify: now the most-followed rap playlist on the streaming platform and meant to represent the creme de la creme of all things hip-hop.
“I didn’t pitch it necessarily,” Basa said, explaining how Rap Caviar came about. “[Spotify] asked me, ‘Hey, we need a name for a flagship playlist.’ This lady called Molly sent me a text [of] a picture of Puff [Diddy], and then I thought of Rap Caviar.
Basa also revealed that the title was inspired by the late music executive Andre Harrell, who founded Uptown Records and was a mentor to Diddy, another innovative spearhead in hip-hop. “He taught me a lot,” he said. “When he was young, he used to be a rapper [in a group called] Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They called themselves ‘The champagne of rap.’
“So, Andre Harrell, [someone] who taught me so much [and] gave me so much time and wisdom, used to always talk about a concept that he created which is now commonly known as ‘Ghetto fabulous.’ The whole inspiration was very much influenced by Puff and Andre Harrell.”
On August 11 – the day many hip-hop historians have agreed was when the genre started when DJ Kool Herc threw a “back to school jam” in the Bronx – YouTube launched its new “cultural campaign” FIFTY DEEP to celebrate and educate others on hip-hop and its culture, “saluting how far [the genre] come”. In the official announcement, Basa wrote that the mission of the programme “is for every generation to dig into the gems of YouTube’s archival treasury of Hip Hop.”
Lyor Cohen, who is the Head of Music at YouTube, said to Basa that for Hip Hop 50, “We [YouTube] cannot treat our acknowledgement of this milestone as an opportunity. We have to treat it as a responsibility.
“We make it easier for people to discover, consume and participate in hip-hop culture. That’s what FIFTY DEEP is about. FIFTY DEEP is making it easy to dig into the treasures and gems [that] live on YouTube.”
The programme includes a visual library of 2,000 videos that “have changed the game” for hip-hop music, a custom Yoodle (YouTube’s version of the Google Doodle) to pay homage to the phenomenon of type beats, and a Google Arts & Culture Hip Hop Hub to collate “a wide range of cultural institutions’ collections and curated stories.”
Adamant that Hip-Hop 50 should be “treated with nuance and sophistication,” Tuma Basa agreed that the educational elements of the programme are the most important. “We call[ed] it FIFTY DEEP on purpose,” he said. “We do not put a time stamp on it so, next year, when it’s not year 50, but year 51, year 52 [we will still be championing hip-hop]. This is the kickoff.”
Tuma Basa also included Soulja Boy’s achievements in his blog post. On August 14, Soulja Boy aired his frustrations about being left out of many of the genre’s anniversary celebrations and the disregard for “birthing the new wave of rappers.”
He tweeted: “When I came in the game they said I killed hip-hop. But really, I birthed the new wave of hip-hop with internet/streaming. Ahead of my time. #HipHop50
“Now everyone vlogs their career like me. Now everyone uploads their music to the internet. Now everyone goes live for their fans. I started it. Thank me or not. Flowers/Credit or not. #HipHop50”
When I came in the game they said I killed hip hop. But really, I birthed the new wave of hip hop with internet/streaming. Ahead of my time. #HipHop50
— Soulja Boy (Draco) (@souljaboy) August 13, 2023
Now everyone vlogs their career like me. Now everyone uploads their music to the internet. Now everyone goes live for their fans. I started it. Thank me or not. Flowers/Credit or not. #HipHop50
— Soulja Boy (Draco) (@souljaboy) August 13, 2023
NME asked why it was so important to name-check the revolutionary rapper. “I was at MTV, programming videos [and ‘Crank That’] was blowing up on YouTube,” Basa replied, citing the then-17-year-old’s ‘Crank That’ as the first time hip-hop was “poppin’” on the platform.
“In my opinion, that was the beginning of YouTube being a destination to discover youth culture – at that time, it was youth culture,” he continued. “That was a phenomenon. Let’s not forget how phenomenal that was. Here is a kid [from] Mississippi [who] does his dance, blows up. Do you know how many people have copied [this] since then?
“Give the man the respect for the things he accomplished. Those early achievements [were] innovative. Let’s show him some respect. There are a lot of people that understand [how] important the moment was, not just for YouTube, but for hip-hop. [‘Crank That’s success] ushered in the do-it-yourself ethos.”
When asked about the future of his beloved genre that he’s championed for decades, Tuma Basa said: “What is the future of hip-hop and YouTube involvement? Non-stop. To quote young Drake. It is non-stop.
“Hip-hop has always been evolving,” he added, reflecting on how far the genre has come. “It’s always been an ongoing, continual thing. [Hip-Hop 50] is a beautiful excuse to celebrate the past, preserve the heritage and tell the stories of [its] history.”
He continued: “Even when hip-hop was popping in the streets and it didn’t reflect in sales or radio play, we knew it was popping because on the street level [and] there were these hidden markets. That’s how I look at the culture: it’s not something that you can easily measure.”
As promised, YouTube’s Hip-Hop 50 celebrations will continue after August. Next week, Tuma Basa will be in London for the annual YouTube Legacy Party which celebrates all pioneers of UK rap music this year and is hosted by Cohen.
Also, there will be a one-day educational summit called Future Insiders with SocialFixt on September 4 “to inspire creators from Black creative hubs.” The founders of the Strawberries and Creem Festival, SK — who manages Ivorian Doll – and more will be on the panel.
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