Undoubtedly one of the most attended talks at SXSW so far, Lyor Cohen’s keynote filled four meeting rooms at the Austin Convention Centre, with another two reserved for a live stream.
The now Global Head of Music at YouTube/Google took the stage this morning (March 15) to take delegates through his storied career, from his time as a promoter in West Hollywood, to how he met and came to tour manage a young Run-DMC, became a label head and entrepreneur, almost sunk Def Jam, and the phone call which sparked his move to Google.
In typical Lyor Cohen fashion, the industry vet was joined onstage by DJ D-Nice, from hip-hop luminaries Boogie Down Productions (whom Cohen tour-managed in the ’80s). D-Nice soundtracked his stories using track snippets from the likes of Beastie Boys, Slick Rick, Redman, DMX, Sum 41, Fetty Wap and Camila Cabello.
In between anecdotes about his time as a club promoter and his first agreement with YouTube back in 2006 – where in exchange for the hosting of his acts’ clips he took a share in the company’s ad revenue – Cohen detailed his most distressing time in A&R.
“We would never have predicted that The Beastie Boys were going to leave Def Jam in 1988, Rick Rubin was not far behind,” he said. “We pushed on anyhow. That year we released Nation of Millions by Public Enemy and later that fall, Slick Rick.