Acclaimed Spotify curator to speak at University of Iowa events

Tuma Basa returns to his Iowa roots


Tuma Basa is a University of Iowa alumnus who now curates playlists for Spotify. He will visit the campus Friday and Saturday to speak with UI business students.
Spotify Tuma Basa is a University of Iowa alumnus who now curates playlists for Spotify. He will visit the campus Friday and Saturday to speak with UI business students.

IOWA CITY — An acclaimed Spotify curator whose musical endorsements have turned small acts into giants is returning to his Iowa City roots this week to speak at several events during the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business’ annual Black in Business series.

Tuma Basa, who graduated from UI in 1998 and now creates hip-hop playlists for the music-streaming enterprise Spotify, is scheduled to participate in a panel discussion about the intersection of music and style on Friday, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication. Basa also plans to give closing remarks at an invite-only Black in Business Dinner on Saturday and chat with business students.

His history in the Iowa City area predates his time as a UI student in the 1990s. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Basa moved here in 1980 at age 5, according UI News. He lived in Coralville with his father, a UI doctoral student in English, before returning to Africa when he was 13.

Basa came back to the United States in 1995, first to attend Brigham Young University before switching to UI. He majored in economics, with a minor in business administration, but held on to his passion for music and entertainment, according to the university.

Internships took him through EMI Records and Black Entertainment Television, along with several law firms, including one representing LL Cool J. Full-blown jobs emerged from those internships, landing him as director of music programming initiatives at MTV, according to UI News.

Basa arrived at Spotify in 2015 as global curator of hip-hop, and he now curates — among other playlists — the service’s largest hip-hop playlist, RapCavier, which reports more than 8.8 million listeners.

In an interview with Billboard last year, Basa hashed out the challenges and perks of the power he now wields, with artists pitching songs and albums in hopes of getting a play on one of his lists.

When asked how many emails he gets a day, Basa reported, “I get thousands.”


“I get a lot,” he told Billboard, offering this trick. “I’m not going to listen to the whole song. In my world, it’s like having a soup: I can taste a teaspoon of the soup, I can tell if the soup is hot, if it needs more salt, if it’s oily. I won’t listen to a whole song. That’s a waste of time, at least until the beat drops and then you can tell.”

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