How the Howard alum and GRAMMY-winning mixer became one of hip-hop’s most trusted sound engineers – The Hilltop

Photo courtesy of Cherris May: Young Guru djing a night at Howard Homecoming 2022.

With classics like Jay-Z’s ‘The Blueprint’, Kanye West’s ‘The College Dropout’ and Eminem’s ‘8 Mile’ being some of the few notable tracks the DJ has hit, there is no doubt that there is one. one of the most respected engineers in recent hip-hop history, but how did Young Guru go from being a walker to being one of hip-hop’s most trusted engineers? Hard work, sure, but a vision at a young age and a passion for music is what took him to the top of the industry.

Born as Gimel Keaton in Wilmington, Delaware, Young Guru grew up amid two different but respected musical cultures. With his mother’s side of the family from Newark, New Jersey and his father’s from Southeast, Washington DC, Guru was able to garner influence from both unique sounds. Listening to Funkadelic and jazz records played by his parents at a young age, Young Guru found a love for hip-hop and beat digging.

With an older cousin coming to Howard, Young Guru visited Howard’s comeback in 1991. Upon arriving and seeing the scene DC had to offer, he knew this was where he wanted to be. The following year, he entered his first year with a clear vision in mind: to hone his DJ skills, gain exposure and earn money doing it.

“On the first day, my uncle and my mother helped set up the room. I literally walked over to the radio station and told them I needed a show. I came here for this, to be a DJ,” Guru said. “I won a DJ contest that year and that’s how I was introduced to my music team.”

As a freshman, Guru resided at Charles Drew Hall, one of Howard University’s freshman male dorms. With his gear in his bedroom, Guru moved the two desks closer together to make enough room for his turntables to hone his craft. He and a graphic design friend of his, Cephus, were throwing parties in Drew’s basement with a brilliant idea in mind.

“My guy, Cephus, drew a flyer by hand and literally walked up to the entrance to the Quad and put that flyer on the door. Then at night all the girls from the Quad would come to see Drew and we would have parties in the basement,” he explained. “It was sick because basically one person could sign three people. So we would go all over the dorm, whether you know the girls or not, and tell them to sign some of their friends.

While making a name for himself as a solid DJ in the DC area, Guru also had something else going for him. Howard’s musical culture at the time was booming. With prominent figures strolling around campus, the up-and-coming DJ was able to meet some of the most influential talent in the industry. It was the perfect time for Guru to learn from some of the best in the business.

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“All the hip-hop luminaries were walking around. Imagine Tupac being on campus. There was just a lot going on,” he said. “The R&B group Shai is walking around. Eric Roberson is there. My man Big Ben, who later became the fashion man of MF DOOM, was around. The scene was amazing.

By the time he was a senior, Guru established himself as a top DJ and mixer in the hip-hop scene. In 1996, Guru toured with rapper DC Nonchalant as their tour DJ. He then went on the “Ready or Not” tour with the Fugees the same year. In 1999, he went freelance as a sound engineer and came into contact with hip-hop legend Memphis Bleek. Through Bleek, he met New York’s hottest rapper at the time, Jay-Z.

In 2001, Jay-Z released “The Blueprint” which would become one of the most respected projects of all time, and Guru was the engineer.

“I didn’t know it was going to be one of the best because it happened so fast. The majority happened in one weekend,” Guru said. exists. That following Monday morning, at least seven of those songs are completely done. It happened so fast. Once it came out, it felt like it was one of the best.

Fast forward 20 years and Guru has done it all. For multiple GRAMMY nominations, working on Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” and Kanye West’s “DONDA,” Guru is a hip-hop legend. Yet Guru has never been one to relent, but rather to inspire. He is currently Director of the Music Technology, Entrepreneurship and Production Program at Long Island University’s ROC Nation School and advises emerging artists on the importance of consistency and creation.

“Do it now. To get where you want to go, you have to build that fan base,” he said. “Consistency is key because someone who is less talented than you can outdo you. Put the work in. Work has a lot to do with your consistency.

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Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee

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