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IOWA Magazine | 06-23-2022

YouTube's Tuma Basa is a Hip-Hop Trendsetter

A seasoned music executive on the frontlines of a streaming revolution is helping Black artists go global.

Tuma Basa (98BA) knows how to tell stories and amplify voices through music. This fluency has helped the industry veteran—who’s rubbed elbows with everyone from megastar the Weeknd to Afrobeats newcomer Fireboy DML—become a major disrupter while working for media giants such as BET, MTV, Spotify, and YouTube.

Listen to Tuma Basa share how he became a hip-hop trendsetter for YouTube.

“Music has its own language, and I can translate what’s universal about it,” says Basa. He’s been in the business for more than two decades and currently is the director of Black music and culture at YouTube. The self-described “wannabe rapper,” born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is at the forefront of music’s digital evolution—and assists Black artists in elevating their careers, monetizing their success, and forging new connections.

“Each of my jobs has given me a front-row seat to change,” says Basa. He credits the latest streaming technologies with shifting control away from the industry’s traditional gatekeepers, such as radio stations, and creating more equal access for Black musicians around the world. Now anyone can upload content—whether it’s music, videos, or behind-the-scenes footage—and choose how and when to share their art.

These multidimensional media platforms are shaking things up, just as Basa did by creating Spotify’s popular RapCaviar playlist in his role as head of global hip-hop programming. This list amassed nearly 9 million followers—and even inspired a live concert series.

“When I curated a playlist, it was up to me—my ears, my memory recall, my experiences—to fill in the puzzle pieces,” he says. Those experiences extend from Coralville, where the young Basa lived while his father, Gatsinzi Basaninyenzi (86PhD), completed a University of Iowa doctoral degree, to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where the family moved when Basa was 13.

“I still remember pedaling my Schwinn Predator through backyards on my paper route for the Iowa City Press-Citizen,” he says. “It felt like coming full circle when I returned for college.”

Basa transferred to Iowa as an undergraduate student in 1996. There, he majored in economics, joined the Minority Business Student Association and Phi Beta Sigma, and regularly tuned in to KRUI’s hip-hop show on Friday nights. A recruiting fair in the UI business college helped him land an internship at BET, which turned into a full-time job and led to leadership positions at MTV, P Diddy’s REVOLT TV, and Spotify.

After signing on at YouTube in 2018, Basa traveled the world—meeting with musicians, club owners, event planners, and tastemakers—until the pandemic curtailed these excursions. “Black music is global,” he says. “And culture creators everywhere can help determine what’s popular in music, so it’s important to build relationships.”

With that philosophy in mind, Basa also lent a hand in 2020 to launching the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund, a multiyear program providing seed grants for 135 international Black artists. Such efforts earned him accolades in September 2021 at the Black Music Action Coalition’s inaugural Music in Action Awards, which celebrated insiders and activists who made significant contributions to social justice, change, and equity. Basa, along with Motown chairman and CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam, won the Clarence Avant Trailblazer Award, named in honor of an American music executive, entrepreneur, and film producer.

During his acceptance speech, Basa, who recently became a father, spoke to the power of music’s language and the meaning of his life’s work: “Everything we do is for the future—not just ours but for the generations unseen.”


BASA’S PLAYLIST FROM HIS UI STUDENT DAYS, CIRCA 1997

Listener discretion advised.

ILLUSTRATION: MEL CERRI

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ILLUSTRATION: MEL CERRI Click on the image above to view the full poster.

BASA’S PLAYLIST FROM HIS UI STUDENT DAYS, CIRCA 1997

Listener discretion advised.



ILLUSTRATION: MEL CERRI Click on the image above to view the full poster.

BASA’S PLAYLIST FROM HIS UI STUDENT DAYS, CIRCA 1997

Listener discretion advised.


Join our email list
Get the latest news and information for alumni, fans, and friends of the University of Iowa.
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