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Former Def Jam President Lyor Cohen Resigns From Warner Music

Lyor Cohen has been the CEO of Warner Music's Recorded Music division since 2004

Lyor Cohen has resigned as Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group’s recorded music division, the company announced on Monday.

Cohen has been with the company since 2004, when he left Universal Music’s Island Def Jam to help restructure recorded music at Warner. Recorded music is the division for active artists — album sales, marketing, and so forth — while publishing relates more to royalties and licensing.

Cohen has climbed the ladder of the recorded music division, from Chairman and CEO of U.S. recorded music to the same position for the Americas and, later, the same position for the whole division.

During Cohen’s tenure, Warner moved up from fourth to third in overall market share and pushed aggressively into the digital space. It was the first label to sign a deal with iTunes and also operates a proprietary YouTube channel.

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"Lyor Cohen has built something very special here. While we understand his desire to move on to his next challenge, the enduring success of our recorded music division will serve as a great testament to the progress we've made during Lyor's time at WMG,” Stephen Cooper, CEO of WMG, said in a statement. “We are grateful for Lyor's contributions, and we wish him the best. I'm confident that given the strength of our talented management team in Recorded Music, we'll be able to drive further success."

Warner is home to famous labels such as Atlantic, Elektra and Nonesuch, and artists like the Black Keys, T.I. and Bruno Mars.

Cohen, a WMG board member, took over just after Time Warner sold the company to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. Bronfman served as Chairman and CEO before selling Warner to Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries in May 2011.

Cohen helped WMG achieve its highest album share in more than a decade in 2007 and 2008, but the announcement came just after regulators approved rival Universal Music Group's acquisition of EMI. The deal cements Universal's status as the biggest of the major labels.

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“To all the artists and employees who live and die for the music every day, and who personally sacrifice for the good of the creative process: ‘keep on keepin’ on’ in the tradition of a company that respects and honors the artistic community,” Cohen said while making the announcement.

It remains unclear what Cohen will do next, but his background is in hip-hop.

He started his career at Russell Simmons’ Rush Management and then moved on to Def Jam (later Island Def Jam), which Simmons founded with Rick Rubin. 

Already stocked with the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Run DMC, Cohen brought artists such as Eric B and Rakim, Slick Rick and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince to Def Jam. He then expanded beyond hip-hop, bringing aboard Bon Jovi and Shania Twain, among others.

He rose to the position of Chairman and CEO of Island Def Jam in 2002 before jumping to WMG in 2004.