Cohen is one of two sons of Israeli immigrants and the grandson of an Israeli Army general. Although born in New York City, he spent little time there until later in life when he returned to Manhattan for good in his mid-20s to work with Def Jam Recordings' Russell Simmons. Cohen was raised in the affluent Los Angeles community of Los Feliz after divorce led his mother to relocate there. He graduated from John Marshall High School in Los Angeles and then the University of Miami's respected School of Business, in Coral Gables, Florida, where he majored in business.
Cohen has two half-brothers on his mother's side who have worked for Lyor at some point; both are also record label executives.
Hip hop music career
Cohen entered the hip hop music business in the mid-1980s after booking a performance by seminal rappers Run-D.M.C. at a club Cohen was running in Los Angeles. He soon became the group's road manager, sharing a room with MC Darryl McDaniels (aka DMC) on the road. He began working in New York City for Def Jam's co-founder, Russell Simmons, in the early part of 1985, spearheading Rush Artist Management, the management division of Simmons' Def Jam/Rush operations and bringing a semblance of order to the often chaotic office shared by both the label and management.
Meanwhile, Cohen continued to act as Run-D.M.C.'s day-to-day and road and tour manager. He managed such tours as the 1986 Raising Hell Tour, (featuring Run-D.M.C., Whodini, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys and various guests such as Doug E. Fresh) and the 1988 Together Forever Tour (featuring Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys and occasional guests such as Public Enemy).
Def Jam Records
Cohen's first real public impact came with his creation of Rush Associated Labels (or 'RAL') in 1990. The label mostly served as an outlet for side-projects of Rush-managed acts like Jason Mizell's Afros, but it also served a label for 'baby bands' - acts that needed more time to develop than Def Jam would be able to afford them - to organically grow at their own pace.
Over the years Cohen's influence grew, to the point where he personally earned $100 million from the sale of Def Jam Records to the Universal Music Group (UMG) in 1999. He was then made head of a key part of UMG subsidiary, Island Def Jam, where he led the growth of its roster of artists and record labels, including Def Jam, Island Records, Roc-A-Fella, Lost Highway, The Inc, American, and Def Soul (including Def Soul Classics and Roadrunner records) whose releases earned almost $700 million a year.
Warner Music Group
Cohen left IDJ/UMG in January 2004 for a position with the Edgar Bronfman, Jr. investor group-financed Warner Music Group, which was subsequently spun off from Time Warner. Joining Cohen at Warner are his former co-workers at Island Def Jam, Kevin Liles and Julie Greenwald, as well as a trio of older industry figures including Elektra founder Jac Holzman, Sire Records' Seymour Stein, and Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin.
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