Young Guru Ushers in the Era of the Engineer, Prefers De La to Tribe


You know Young Guru as the super-engineer knob-twiddler behind hits from Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Drake, but last week he steeped out from behind the boards to deliver a lecture at N.Y.U.’s Clive Davis School of Recorded Music as part of his Era of the Engineer tour. In tandem with Grammy U, the session aimed to help hip the next generation of studio kids to the nuances of making their music sound as professional as possible. With Young Guru’s appearance in mind, we dipped into his Twitter timeline to tease out anecdotes about the influence of Teddy Riley, DJ Premier rocking a suit in the club, and why he’ll always plump for De La Soul over A Tribe Called Quest.

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What can you tell us about the Era of the Engineer lecture?

The whole purpose is to shed light on what an engineer actually does. I feel like that hasn’t been highlighted enough. I also talked about how that job has changed over the years especially with the advent of digital media — so going from a completely tape-based studio to working out of a computer and how the job has changed. I’ll also gave tips on techniques.

Do you think a lot of kids making music these days assume they don’t need an engineer and that they can record everything at home on a laptop?
Yeah, a lot of kids do think like that and that’s one of the reasons why I point this out inside the lecture as to why you still need to engineer. The points at which you need to use an engineer have changed — you can record at home but for a professional project you still need someone to mix it or to even show you how to properly record. There’s a difference between making a bunch of music on a laptop and recording the vocals and then taking it to an engineer who can turn it into a proper recording. So I’m talking about what things they can do themselves and what they should hire a professional for.

Which engineers did you look up to as a kid?
Well up until high school I didn’t even check who the names of engineers were. But when I started I think Bob Clearmountain had a huge influence on my life just ’cause I saw his name on so many records that I loved. I would say the one person that influenced me the most though was Tony Maserati ’cause he worked with songs that are like my style. Learning under his tutelage really led to a lot of things that became my style. But over the years I also had an appreciation for people like Tom Dowd who did most of the Atlantic stuff and people like Joe Tarsia who did most of the Philadelphia International stuff. You go back over the years and work out who did what and you gain an appreciation of it.

You tweeted about having an epic talk with Teddy Riley.

Yes, we were both in Dubai at a music conference. I’m still a fan so sitting down and just having a quick conversation with him about different records and things that I didn’t necessarily know he did was cool. Getting the info from him was amazing.

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Which specific songs did you ask him about?
[Kool Moe Dee’s] “Go See The Doctor” was one, ’cause a lot of people don’t know he did that, and a lot of people don’t know that he did [Doug E Fresh & Slick Rick’s] “The Show” and a lot of people don’t know he did a lot of drum programming on Rob Base’s records. And him just being a teenager at the Rooftop — his uncle owned the Rooftop — so his uncle built a studio for him in the Rooftop and the Rooftop being one of those classic venues where hip-hop first started to emerge in New York. So for Teddy Riley to be 14-years-old and be on top of one of the most popular clubs in New York City, that was one of the things I was asking him about, like what was going through his mind at the time. It was just a great conversation — we were talking gear, we were talking records, and just a lot of great advice from him.

You were involved in a debate about De La Soul versus A Tribe Called Quest.
Yeah, and all the people in the debate were my old college friends.

You sided with De La, right?
Yeah. I don’t want to sound like I’m dissing Tribe but we’re arguing the best of the best. It’s two groups that were from the same crew but in my opinion De La’s consistency wins out ’cause I give Tribe two classic albums and I give De La three classic albums. People would argue whether or not those albums are classic but I consider Grind Date a classic. So when I say De La I’m talking about 3 Feet High And Rising, De La Soul Is Dead and Grind Date but I only give Tribe The Low End Theory and then Midnight Marauders. People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm is like an A grade but it’s not a classic. Then if you go MC for MC, Q-Tip can match up against Pos but I don’t think Phife can match up with Dave. That’s not a dis, it’s just who I prefer. Of course Tribe is in the ethos of who I am but De La appeals to me a little bit more.

You also referenced Tribe’s mystical fourth member, Jarobi, during that conversion. Do you know him?

Yeah, Jarobi is a good personal friend. He’s one of those pure spirited people, one of those people that’s always there for someone else. He’s one of those people I’d go to the ends of the Earth for and he’s an incredible cook too. There was a party a long time ago in the Ritz at D.C. and it was one of those nights where I was having a great night DJing and he ran up into the booth and was like, “Yo, you’re killing this shit!” And from that point on we became friends.

Did he open a restaurant at one point?
I think he did. I know he was doing a lot of work in the D.C. area in a bunch of different places. He’s a hell of a cook, man, a hell of a cook. I remember there was a comedy club hosted by the guy that used to do Rap City, Joe Clair, and Jarobi was the cook at that place and I would go in there and he would make me loads of special stuff. The guy can cook, man!

Finally, what’s the story behind the photo of you in shorts and DJ Premier in a suit?
Ha ha, what happened was I’d been on the road for about two weeks and the guys that were throwing the event did it as a suit-and-tie event so I wasn’t gonna go. DJ Premier hit me though like, “Yo, come to the club, I’m in Dubai too!” I didn’t have a suit, but it was classic Premier when he was like, “Don’t worry, just come to the club, this is hip-hop.” So I go there with shorts on and I’m ready for them to turn me away — they’re big on that out there and I’ve never seen anyone in Dubai in a club with shorts on. But they were so warm and welcoming and told me Premier already told them I was coming through. People were coming up to me in the club and asking me how I got in there with shorts on!

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