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Tuma Basa talks YouTube’s relationship with hip hop and Black artists’ ownership goals

REVOLT caught up with Tuma Basa to discuss the relationship between YouTube and hip hop, the breakdown of monetization, and what it really means to diversify content.

Tuma Basa REX/Shutterstock

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It’s no secret that music is a universal language — and YouTube can be seen as the Rosetta Stone of streaming platforms. But, behind every revolution is a leader, and Tuma Basa has gladly taken the reins of this multidimensional platform as he serves as the Director of Black Music and Culture at the company. With the Midas touch in the music industry, Basa previously led music departments at MTV, BET, REVOLT and even oversaw the rebranding of the RapCaviar playlist.

Though YouTube and other streaming platforms are connecting people around the world like never before, Basa has been prioritizing the visibility and representation of Black artists during his tenor. “It’s that we’re not being left out. Certain countries have serious histories of consciously leaving entire groups of people out. The inclusion and equity part is more about fairness and active community-building,” he told REVOLT about the importance of inclusion and diversity. “That’s a leadership thing. It’s making people feel not only worthy, but that their value, the worth, is actively appreciated or acted upon.”

We caught up with the REVOLT alum to discuss the relationship between YouTube and hip hop, the breakdown of monetization, and what it really means to diversify content. Check out our conversation below!

How do you see YouTube changing the landscape of hip hop and its accessibility?

I don’t think it’s about how I see YouTube. It’s how I think hip hop should see YouTube. Hip hop should see YouTube as a loophole — as a way of building, exposing the music, and increasing its reach. Unlimited reach in terms of planet earth and then making money off of YouTube.

Why do you believe hip hop is the most-viewed and the fastest-growing music genre on YouTube in the States?

All of us, at this point, grew up on hip hop. We all know that when hip hop embraces something fully, you feel its presence. That relationship between YouTube and hip hop goes way back to Soulja Boy. I want to stress that this didn’t happen overnight. This is not sudden. This has been gradual. When I say Soulja Boy, we’re talking about the Superman. That was the infancy of YouTube. This is something that’s been building and accumulating for a long time.

In general, I believe that hip hop has been number one for a long time. Now, hip hop as a culture is just focusing on the outlets, platforms, or media formats. Remember when the DVDs came out and how hard hip hop went into the DVD world? Now it’s with streaming because, basically, YouTube is a huge part of the streaming revolution. It’s the same types of energy or focus.

As far as engagement is concerned, how have you seen the relationship between Black artists and YouTube foster over the years?

The engagement has been there even before I was working at YouTube. These are facts. Now, it’s just more formalized and there’s more awareness with formal programs like the Black Voices Fund. Because they have a name or because there’s a process, internally, the funds are allocated to it. When relationships evolve, there’s more formalization and structure.

An opportunity doesn’t exist if you don’t know it’s an opportunity. Opportunity is not walking around with a name tag that says, “Opportunity,” you know what I mean? That’s a reality, but now when you have a relationship, you don’t need a name tag. It’s a relationship now. Then, we start putting labels and say, “Hey, yeah, this is my BFF, girlfriend to wife, etc.” That’s how relationships evolve.

How would you explain monetization to someone who doesn’t know what it is?

I’m speaking as a self-proclaimed elder in the culture. We know we make dope dynamic content as a culture. Something happens that’s dope. Something else that’s dope will happen the next day, etc. Now, as a culture, it’s making sure that we reap the benefits of it and we are the ones who are ahead, and stay ahead. Monetization is not just creating content and you get all the social capital and the likes. How do you convert that into economics? Is it making a living, funds, or finances to sustain, to pay bills, or to make more?

What do you define as diversified content?

For me, diversity is deep — think diversity is different from variety. Of course, it is semantically. I’m sure it is different, but diversity is recognizing people’s unique experiences, identities or understandings, and understands the cultures and the paradigms. The real diversity is when it’s not just about all people being represented. It’s that you’re really looking for different points-of-view. You’re really looking for people from different journeys.

Diversity keeps life interesting because all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh, this is how they do it. Oh, I don’t understand that.” Even with views, “I don’t agree with that. However, this is interesting in the fact that there are people who think or live like this. I need to be exposed to that because that makes me a better stronger person.”

How important is it for Black people in the music industry to take ownership over their content?

I credit social media and the internet, but we have a generation of young Black people who know how important it is. They know about things like owning masters and things that weren’t or rarely talked about in previous generations, or only spoken in industry circles. Now, you have people who know the value and [are] positioning themselves, and they leverage when they’re dealing with these big partners to maintain ownership. We have entire songs about buying back the block.

When we got to the point where knowledge is becoming common knowledge, it’s like ownership is power... These young kids know better than that. It’s good, I’m glad and that’s what this is about.

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