Young Guru on Sound Engineering, Industry Beginnings, and Who He Still Wants to Collaborate With

Young Guru has built a name as one of hip-hop’s most well known sound engineers, working with everyone from Jay-Z and Kanye West to the Diplomats and DMX. He’s spent the last several years also DJing for Jay-Z on tour and will be behind the boards on the upcoming ‘Legends Of The Summer’ tour with Hov and Justin Timberlake. Before that, Guru is speaking to the kids, advising them on how they can make their mark in the music industry with his ‘Grammy U: Era of The Engineer’ speaking tour. Guru chatted with Vibe before his NYU stop.

For those who don’t know, what exactly does a sound engineer do?
He’s responsible for delivering a record, so that means knowing what all the equipment is, knowing how to work it, like the microphones and the pre-amps, knowing how to work a board or a program that you’re going to record into and recording the record properly. If you’re a mix engineer, you’re going to take all the individual sounds and put them together as well as delivering the record in different formats. It’s knowing how to do everything in the studio as well as knowing how to facilitate what the artist does while they’re in the studio.

With technology, such as iPhones and MP3s, the quality of music has degraded. As a sound engineer, does that bother you?
Nah. It’s the time we live in. I’m an audiophile. If I wanted the actual WAV file off the CD, I buy the CD and I get it, or I download the mastered version and not just the MP3. But you can’t fight the world that we live in. You can’t fight the fact that [MP3s] are how the majority of your audience is going to listen.

How did you get into the industry?
Through DJing. I DJed since I was like 12 years old. I went to Howard; that was a big step. DJed a lot at Howard, made a name there. [Rapper] Nonchalant was the very first person that ever gave me an industry check. That was 1996.

Were you at Howard University when Puffy was there?
Yeah absolutely.

Did you every DJ any of his famous parties back then?
Nah. Nah. Never did Puff Parties. Back then we were outside with our hands raised, like everybody else, like “Derrick [D-Dot Angeletti], get us into the party.” Puff was killing it back then.

You’ve worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Kanye West. Is there anyone you still want to collaborate with?
That’s a good question. I like new guys now. The kid Voli, from Jersey, I think he’s incredible. I don’t have no connection to him, other than “Yo I like your music” and he hits me back, like “Yo. Appreciate it.” I really want to work with him. I have the pleasure of picking who I want to work with. Like Rat Kings, I just found them super interesting. Who else? Rich Kidd, out of Canada, I’m going to mix his album on the 1st. Michael Kiwanuka, I want to work with him. He’s super dope. He’s from London, 24 and he sounds like he’s from the 60s or the 70s. He’s a guitarist, but it’s like the most soulful music you’ve ever heard.