×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Lyor Cohen Says He Almost Signed Drake, Skirts ‘Culture Vulture’ Criticism in Interview

YouTube's Global head of music also side-stepped a question about being photographed with Kanye West and a MAGA cap on "The Breakfast Club."

For a guy who has genuinely been at the forefront of the hip-hop business since the early 1980s, Lyor Cohen – a major league manager at Rush Productions, a boss at Def Jam,  the man behind 300 Entertainment and YouTube’s current Global Head of Music – isn’t known for being all that chatty, which is what made Cohen’s candid, history-spanning, 70-minute appearance on morning radio show “The Breakfast Club” on Wednesday (August 1) unique.

Cohen gave Breakfast Club co-hosts DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God the goods on everything from his pre-industry employment (“I worked for the National Bank of Israel”), to Drake’s rumored signing to Def Jam before his Cash Money deal (“The truth is Drake shook my hand”), to going against the grain of Jewish record executives who encouraged him not to do business with Public Enemy (Cohen took Chuck D to the Holocaust Museum out of spite), to winding up in a selfie with Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge and a Trump-loving Kanye West wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. “I didn’t see the hat… I was fully immersed in the experience [and] honored to be there,” he said of the photo opp at West’s Calabasas home.

Cohen recalled his early days entertainment job when he got to New York City was bringing Run-DMC on the road, and coming up with the phrase “Who’s house? Run’s house!” on the “Tougher Than Leather” album.

He also spilled a dab of tea on several of the artists he’s known and worked with in his time, including Rich The Kid wanting to leave 300 Entertainment, and the troubled DMX (surprisingly, the no-nonsense Cohen will sign artists with drug or crime problems because he’ll take “talent over issues” any day). When Charlamagne brought up Dame Dash’s recent claims that it was Cohen who busted up Roc-A-Fella Records, Cohen told the host to ask Jay-Z and Dash about that issue. “Who’s Dame Dash? I don’t even know him,” said Cohen. Charlamagne clapped back testily, “Y’all made a lot of money together,” and threw out the notion that Cohen built his career by being a “culture vulture.” Cohen sidestepped the criticism.

Then there’s the aforementioned Drake deal that still seems to deeply disappoint Cohen. “It doesn’t matter. He didn’t stop the party. I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for his fans. It’s all good. It didn’t hurt my feelings, but I’m old school. I come from a different thing.”

Those old school business dealings and notions of loyalty and values were much on Cohen’s mind considering how he handles his business, in the past and in the present. There is the currency of signing new artists for big bucks based on internet memes and Instagram hits rather than time in or song craft. Cohen called that “day-trading” and would prefer to see labels returning to the old days of artist development. There is a focus, on Cohen’s part, of artists getting in on  the “You Tube hustle…. creating your own channel,  figuring out that algorithm.” Then there is the competition of throwing around million dollar deals just to land the next hot name.

“I never signed an act because I was afraid of losing them. I only signed an act because I wanted them on my label. Different mentality these days. I never signed an act because … ‘another label is interested in me,’ I say ‘Go ahead with yourself. I’m not interested in you anymore.” Modestly, he stated, “I’ve touched more rap music than everybody combined.”

Cohen focused too on the question of “what is a label in the 21st Century,” and, for artists preparing to sign their name to a deal, “to do so with their eyes wide open. Labels want to sign smart.”

As for executives poised for success in what Cohen calls the coming “golden age of the music business,” he predicts Quality Control’s Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas will “make fortunes” and be the impresarios of tomorrow.

Watch the full interview below.

More Music

  • Rob Thomas during the Chip Tooth

    Rob Thomas, INXS' Andrew Farriss Honor Late Michael Hutchence With Surprise Duet

    More than two decades since INXS frontman Michael Hutchence died, beloved ballad  “Never Tear Us Apart” is still being heard in venues throughout Australia and as recently as Saturday night (Nov. 16), when Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas brought out INXS’ Andrew Farriss to the stage. The two led a poignant 9,000-person singalong at Bimbadgen [...]

  • SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Harry Styles"

    Harry Styles Premieres New Song, Plays Trash-Eating Dog on ‘Saturday Night Live’ (Watch)

    The past couple of seasons of “Saturday Night Live” have seen some impressive hosting/musical performer double-duty stints, including Childish Gambino, Halsey and Chance the Rapper — and last night Harry Styles was more than up to the challenge. The singer appeared in nearly every skit — including turns as a naïve office intern, a gangster, [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen

    Bruce Springsteen Stuns Fans With Two-Hour Set at Jersey Shore Club Stone Pony (Watch)

    Bruce Springsteen stunned attendees at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey Saturday night with a two-hour performance at a private event benefiting Boston College. The lucky 400 attendees for the invite-only event got a 22-song set that included hits from his albums “Born in the USA,” “Born to Run,” “Greetings from Asbury Park,” [...]

  • Elizabeth Warren Taylor Swift

    Elizabeth Warren Backs Taylor Swift in Big Machine Battle, Slams Private Equity Firms

    Taylor Swift’s battle with Big Machine has spilled into the political arena. Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren retweeted Swift’s Thursday message about her former record label preventing her from performing her old hits at the American Music Awards, adding that Swift is “one of many whose work as been threatened by a private equity firm.” [...]

  • Cynthia Erivo

    Cynthia Erivo Almost Gave Up Singing to Become a Spinal Surgeon

    Before Cynthia Erivo went on to become a Tony and Grammy winner, she nearly gave up singing to be a spinal surgeon. In her “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” conversation with Alfre Woodard, the “Harriet” star said she had been singing since she was toddler. Her mother noticed she’d hum while eating her food when [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content