“I’ve been going to SXSW since back when Interactive wasn’t even a thing. You just walked down the street and saw new bands,” says Gimel Androus Keaton, aka Young Guru. Best known as Jay Z’s go-to recording engineer, he will speak this year at SXSW about the intersection of technology, music and education.
At 44 years old, he has grown out of the first half of his stage name and stepped into the second. He received the nickname “Young Guru” during high school when teaching an African history course to other students. By that point he had already been DJing for several years but hadn’t settled on a moniker — Young Guru stuck. He continued DJing while studying engineering at Howard University, then had his first big break in 1992 while DJing for female rapper Nonchalant as the opening act for the Fugees “Ready or Not” Tour. From there, he started to spend more time in studios but felt there was a void to be filled. “At that time as I was going into studios, the engineers didn’t really respect hip hop. It wasn’t even a genre at that point,” he says.
His journey into hip hop production began with two weapons of choice: the classic Em-U SP1200 drum machine and the Akai 950 sampler, which allowed him to edit and truncate funk drum breaks. It helped that he already had musical training, which he credits to his mother for always keeping an instrument in his hands (trumpet, piano, and drums). Enrolling in an audio engineering school completed his skill set, and Young Guru began working professionally: “The biggest piece of advice I ever got was ‘vibe over money’. If the vibe isn’t right, there’s no amount of money that should make you do it, because you’re hurting your brand. The money will come.”