YouTube, the internet’s default music player, just hired away a key employee from its competition. On Friday, Billboard reported that Tuma Basa, the former global programming head of hip-hop for Spotify, is leaving the Swedish streaming giant for the music industry’s longtime adversary YouTube. The news arrives only one day after Basa, who curated Spotify’s massively popular RapCaviar playlist, stepped down, and the same week Spotify filed paperwork for an initial public offering.
The hiring of Basa would make one of the higher profile music moves by the Alphabet-owned company. Late in 2017, there were reports that YouTube was about to make another go at a subscription music service, codenamed Remix, after numerous failed attempts to get a successful premium service off the ground. Now in case you forgot about 2014’s YouTube Music Key—I won’t judge you. Or if you don’t remember 2015's YouTube Music—again, this a judgement-free zone. Despite neither product catching on with consumers, music remains a major driver for YouTube, so the company isn’t going to give up.
(YouTube and Basa did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.)
Even last month during the Recode Media Conference, Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO, called YouTube Red, the company’s for-pay subscription service, a “music service.” The baffling quote would appear to be a more of a slight dismissal of Red’s premium video output, which has been mostly a flop. Still after the strumbled efforts of Music Key and YouTube Music, there’s little to show that Remix will be any different.
That’s where Mr. Basa steps in. The curator started at Spotify in 2015 and piloted the RapCaviar playlist to over 9 million followers, making it the service’s most popular genre-specific playlist. Last year, TrackRecord reported that 85 percent of music on the playlist came from major labels, so it’s not like Basa spent all his time flipping through obscure playlists to find under-heard artists to champion. The major label pipeline system he created at Spotify wasn’t all that different than how traditional radio worked.
When Basa quit, industry speculation swirled around where he was headed. Sources pointed us towards Apple Music, which would’ve felt like a major blow to Spotify. Def Jam, the legendary Rick Rubin-born label was also rumored as landing spot. And reports even pointed to music industry vet Steve Stout’s startup United Masters. The breadth of industry options apparently open to Basa shows just how powerful his reputation has become.
YouTube’s Remix service is rumored to be arriving in the early part of 2018, so fans of RapCaviar will hopefully get to hear Basa’s invisible handiwork soon. Personally, I’ll just trust whatever YouTube’s algorithm decides is the next rap song I need to hear.