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Lyor Cohen Profile

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Lyor Cohen: The Basics:

  • Who: Lyor Cohen, US Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group, formerly of Island Def Jam Records
  • Born: October 3, 1959, New York City, USA
  • Significant Achievements: Expanding the Island Def Jam label
  • Years Active in the Industry: 1980s - present

The Early Years - On the Road with Run D.M.C.:

Lyor Cohen dabbled in the music industry throughout his college years, and after graduating University of Miami with a degree in business, he headed out to L.A. and started managing a club. Things changed for him when he booked a then new rap group Run D.M.C. This was the mid 1980s, and rap music was starting to cross over into the mainstream. Cohen left L.A to work as Run D.M.C.'s tour manager and eventually made his way to New York City, where he started working with Russell Simmons of Def Jam/Rush productions to set up a management business. Throughout the 80s, he continued to work as Run D.M.C.'s manager.

Rush Associated Labels:

In 1990, Cohen started Rush Associated Labels, aka RAL, to release music by some of the smaller acts managed by his and Simmon's Rush management company. RAL was essentially a feeder label for Def Jam Records - after acts were developed by RAL, they would go on to sign to Def Jam, which by then had major label backing, and receive a bigger push. RAL was Cohen's baby, and it's links to Def Jam proved to be a winning formula for both labels. In 1999, Cohen was instrumental in hammering out a $100 million deal with Universal to buy Def Jam. Universal then brought Cohen on board to run their new Island Def Jam imprint.

Growing Island Def Jam:

Under Cohen's leadership, Island Def Jam grew into one of Universal's biggest money makers, earning up to $700 million per year for the label. Cohen used his connections from his early music management days to bring some of the biggest independent labels into the fold, include:

Although Cohen had the golden touch as far as Universal was concerned, his time at Island Def Jam was not without controversy, and during his Island Def Jam years, Cohen found himself at the center of several lawsuits.

Irv Gotti, Murder Inc, and Money Laundering:

Cohen's work with Irv Gotti, head of Murder Inc, earned him his most serious brush with the law. Cohen helped Gotti set up Murder Inc Records, by giving Gotti $2 million in start up capital, distribution through Island Def Jam, office space at Universal and by serving as a board member. At this time, Gotti was under investigation by the FBI for drug trafficking and money laundering. Murder Inc's offices were raided and Gotti arrested. Cohen was investigated for involvement in the crimes, but claimed he couldn't remember what his role at Murder Inc was. Cohen was never charged and Gotti was eventually acquitted.

TVT Records and Contract Violations:

Cohen found himself in court again in 2002, this time defending himself against a civil suit filed by TVT Records against both Universal and Cohen personally. TVT charged that Cohen breeched a contract agreement with them, and initially, TVT won $132 million from Universal and $56 million from Cohen. After a series of appeals, the cumulative amount TVT received from Cohen and Universal was reduced to $126,000. Cohen came out of the case under a great deal of scrutiny, however, when the appeals court judge singled him out for "morally reprehensible" behavior and hinted he believed that Cohen had lied in his testimony.

The Move to Warner Music Group:

After his legal troubles at Island Def Jam, Cohen decided to jump ship and accepted a position at Warner Music Group in 2004. He rose the role of American chairman and CEO of the label and brought on board many familiar faces from his Island Def Jam days. One person he hasn't convinced to come with him is Irv Gotti, who still runs The Inc. Gotti was resentful of Cohen's treatment of his through his legal troubles and has opted to keep his label at Universal.

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