Lyor Cohen is a storied music industry executive: he’s the former head of 300 Entertainment and currently YouTube’s Global Head of Music. However, no one would blame you if you've just relegated him as the guy making the “OK” hand gesture in that cursed image Kanye West posted to his Twitter a few weeks ago in which Kanye was wearing a Make America Great Again hat. To be more specific, Cohen is the guy in the middle of the photo; the one in the left is Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grange.
we got love pic.twitter.com/Edk0WGscp6— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
In an interview with Pitchfork about YouTube’s new music streaming service, Cohen explained how the now infamous photo happened and whether he knew the alternative meaning of the hand signal he makes in the photo.
Like Pepe the Frog before it, the “OK” signal has been co-opted by the alt-right, and the connection was made all the more suspicious in the light of Kanye’s support for Trump and other conservative figures like Candace Owens. Back in April, a spokesperson for Cohen and YouTube told Spin that Cohen’s hand gesture was “representative of the company he founded, 300 Entertainment and absolutely nothing more.” He was also pictured making the symbol at least three times during Cardi B's "Gold Album" release party on April 10.
Cohen gave a slightly different explanation for his hand signal to Pitchfork, suggesting it really was just an “OK”: “Isn’t that scuba for when you’re in the water and you’re all good?” he said.
In addition, Cohen told Pitchfork the photo was very casual, and its infamous status after making it to Twitter has become a surprise to him. “We were [in Calabasas] because Kanye wanted to play us some music,” Cohen said. “I was on the way to the restroom and there was Lucian and Kanye was coming out, and he said, ‘Oh wow, we’re all together. Let’s take a photo.’”
“I thought he was going to take a photo and send it to Lucian and myself,” Cohen continued. “I had no idea that he was going to put that on social media.”
In the end, Cohen sounds like he’s more interested in the music. “I don’t love his politics but I was really impressed with the music,” Cohen said. “I think he’s doing himself a disservice by not leading with the music."
During the interview, Cohen also touched on the controversy between 300 and Migos. "300 was the biggest hurdle. They tried to hold us against our will," Offset told Complex in February. "It wasn't never no in-house hurdles we ever had, like where it had been a problem. With 300, that was the biggest thing, going through times and situations with them." The rap group was signed with 300 from 2014 to 2017, and Culture was their last release with 300.
“Culture was a huge success, right? Oftentimes artists get upset with labels but I think part of being a label is being truthful,” Cohen said. “Oftentimes, record companies have to make unpopular decisions but the spirit of that is intended for the artist’s benefit and the consumer’s benefit as well. I believe Culture was a classic. It was very tightly constructed—much more tightly constructed than Culture II was.”