Late last month, Jay-Z’s longtime engineer and producer Young Guru stood before an audience of mainly college students at Atlanta’s prestigious Emory University as part of his ‘Era of the Engineer’ tour. Guru peppered the Recording Academy’s Grammy U. sponsored seminar with engineering tips, contract advice and the occasional anecdote set in the glory days of Roc-A-Fella Records.
Later that evening (April 26). when asked whether or not he’d heard a recent episode of the popular internet radio series, The Combat Jack Show that featured Roc-A-Fella founder Dame Dash, he admitted to only hearing “bits and pieces.”
Before this writer could fully form the next question regarding the now-infamous accessory that got producer Just Blaze roasted — even 10-plus years later — Guru cracks a smile then breaks into a full-on guffaw. “Nah man… He didn’t wear a rhinestone buckle,” he tells Hip-Hop Wired, still chuckling. “He had it in his hand… He didn’t wear it. I remember.” Despite the eventual death of the dynasty, good times were had in those days of the Roc and integral lessons learned.
Money management was a key topic on the minds of many in attendance on the evening of the lecture and Guru offered a tale from the days of Hardwood Classic popularity. “It was hard,” he said, “Me and Just are in the studio with Dame and Jay and they’re getting all these jerseys. I’m tall so mine cost. Then one day, Jay comes in and says, ‘Jerseys are done. We’re wearing button ups now.’” The story is reflective of the hip-hop industry as a whole — forever changing, Guru says that was when he learned the value of making your own way in this fickle business.
What does one do when a culture is ever-evolving? Stay ahead of the curve. So when Guru isn’t in a studio, he’s standing over a set of turntables, and when he isn’t spinning, he’s adding on to his as-yet-untitled reference book for aspiring engineers. “It’s very much a textbook,” he explains, “Like, when I had my textbook, it explained certain basic concepts and stuff in the beginning.”
“Of course,” he adds, “I’ma start off with: ‘What is sound?’ ‘How does sound properly get through the air?’ Basic science stuff that you have to know when dealing with sound but it’ll be tailored to specifics more toward the end of the book. It’ll very much be a reference book, that way you can work then refer back to it.”
Guru aims to release the book by the end of 2013, complete with an interactive DVD. Although, the Delaware native excludes an air of perpetual cool, he’s notably excited when speaking on this next venture. It’s clearly a major stepping stone — especially for someone who remembers when the technical side of crafting music didn’t have much color to it. Things are different now.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s a lack of black engineers,” he says thoughtfully. “The playing field has been sort of leveled out. There are a lot of good ones out there as well and a lot of guys that are working on major, major projects so I think that we’ve kinda caught up in that aspect.”