Ahki Young Guru In the Wall Street Journal
ON A COOL, RAINY afternoon in Austin, Texas, Young Guru—Jay-Z’s personal sound engineer for the past 16 years—was giving a master class on recording and mixing techniques at Dub Academy, a music school and studio east of downtown. Lanky and lithe, the former high school basketball star radiated a quiet authority at the front of the room, befitting his nickname. While his disquisition ranged from best practices for setting sound levels to navigating life on the road, the audience—which included everyone from gee-whiz interns to producer Mannie Fresh, who mentored Lil Wayne—hung on his every word.
That’s because Young Guru, 41, is the most famous and successful engineer in the history of hip-hop, the man in charge of soundboard operations for many of his generation’s legendary recordings. He was on the ground floor of both Sean Combs’s Bad Boy Records and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records. He recorded Eminem and 50 Cent early in their careers. You name them, he’s been in the studio with them: Beyoncé, Drake, Rick Ross, Rihanna, Snoop Dogg. “He asks producer questions, which lead us to talking about engineering,” says Ernest Dion Wilson, aka No I.D., who produces for Kanye West and Jay-Z and is known as the godfather of Chicago hip-hop. “I ask him engineering questions, and we end up talking about production. There are not too many people with whom I trust that conversation.” It’s a sentiment echoed by the dozens of artists he’s worked with. “He invigorates me,” says the rapper Common, who was nominated for a Grammy this year for his album Nobody’s Smiling, which Young Guru mixed. “When I get around him, I feel like we can accomplish things, because he has that type of energy.”