As stated by the Wall Street Journal in April of 2015, "Gimel Androus Keaton" who is better known as, "Young Guru" has been dubbed the title, "Most Influential Man in Hip-Hop You've Never Heard Of". He is best known for being Jay-Z's personal engineer and basically being the person who makes sure all the records he's working on for Jay-Z are finished promptly and sound the best they can sonically. This sometimes includes, recording, mixing, producing and even sometimes being his A&R by delegating certain tracks to the right people he feels can deliver what he wants to be done on a record sonically.
Contrary to common belief, Guru grew up in Delaware but bounced from the cities New Jersey and Washington D.C. because thats where his Mother and Father are both from respectively. Due to his parents being from these cities, they both brought different types of music into the household that would eventually be Guru's introduction and education to different musical landscapes. His father was deeply into funk music and slow jams which consisted of the artists, "Parliament Funkadelic" and other artists that were birthed from their music as well. His mother was heavily into gospel music and popular artists such as, "Earth Wind & Fire", "Stevie Wonder" & "Marvin Gaye". These acquired musical tastes along with his love for finding new music would spark his passion for wanting to make Hip-Hop his full time job before it was even an,"official" genre. By the age of 12, Guru was DJ'ing for small parties in his neighborhood and school events. In this interview done by the Red Bull Music Academy, Guru details how attending Howard University was the best decision he ever made in his life as it would mold him for his professional career in the music industry. Early on while attending Howard University, he would DJ parties and would have to learn on the fly how to service a crowd that had people from all walks of life on the dance floor. He would have to learn to incorporate West Coast sounds, Down South music & Reggae vibes while at the same time staying current with all these musical landscapes. This would teach him a lesson that would carry on with him for the rest of his career: to be successful at selling music commercially, he would have to recognize that there's a time for playing underground music like, "J.Dilla" all day, and then sometimes you have to focus on what your audience wants to hear. On the eve of graduating from Howard University in 1996, Guru would have to make a big decision in his life as he was preparing to have a kid and would have to consciously move away from DJing gigs for no substantial monetary benefits.
Guru would begin networking and accordingly would hook up with this MC known as, "Nonchalant" who had a big single, "5 O'Clock" at the time. She would end up taking him and his crew around the world with herself and her crew on a tour. On the last leg of tour they ended up in Miami where they opened up for the New Jersey based Hip-Hop group, "The Fugees" which included people his crew all knew from back home such as the legendary artist, "Lauryn Hill". After this show, Guru and his crew would be invited to open up for The Fugees on the European leg of their tour for the next three months. From here he would meet one of his mentors, "Chucky Thompson" who was a Bad Boy Records producer and part of the producer crew called, "The Hitmen". He would also make another life changing decision to attend a recording school in Maryland known as Omega Recording Studios. His class was a small class that consisted of professional engineers teaching him how to use certain equipment in a recording studio. At Omega is where he got the proper education that would help him develop the foundation of his recording and mixing skills. Fortunately enough for Guru, his first time recording after finishing his schooling was with his own group while working with Chucky and he would naturally develop a great relationship with him. From here he would continue to work Chucky which bridged him to meet another one of his great mentors and amazing engineers, Tony Maserati. Guru details again in this Red Bull Music Academy interview that he wanted to watch every masterful move Tony made when he worked on his music and so he diligently worked to develop a relationship with Tony. Guru would start doing so by purchasing these specific cigars he recognized Tony liked smoking during studio sessions. His actions would not go unrecognized as from there Tony would become closer with Guru and Tony would teach Guru things that were invaluable nuggets of information about working in a recording studio. This would ultimately encourage Guru to move to New York and begin his career as an independent engineer.
His connections from Howard University would prove to be invaluable once again because Guru then linked up with one of his older friends, Derek Angelettie, who is better known as the, "Madd Rapper", critically acclaimed for having produced Notorious B.I.G.'s hit song, "Hypnotize". He would use his connections to network and eventually meet the right manager, (the same one that was representing "DMX") and ultimately his engineering career would take off. Fittingly so, he would end up in studio session with, "Memphis Bleek" and once again Guru's innate ability to develop good working relationships with the artists he collaborated with would prove most valuable with Bleek, as this would be when he would finally meet his future boss, Jay-Z. Jay walked in on a recording session as Bleek was finishing up early and then spontaneously asked Guru to record him next. From there Guru would develop an amazing connection with Jay-Z that would enable him to be Jay-Z's personal engineer. He would become responsible for Jay-Z's career sonically from that point on. Not only has Guru had his hands on almost of Jay-Z's work since the first "Blueprint" album, but he has also worked with every major selling Hip-Hop artist since then which has allowed him to develop unparalleled skills as an engineer, producer and A&R respectively. Ultimately, this relationship would push him to become a grammy nominated artist for one of Jay-Z's biggest commercial songs, "Empire State Of Mind".
Guru stands firm in his belief in this interview and directly gives advice to all those listening that, "The key to life is, if you were rich, what would you do every day?” I’d wake up and search for records. That’s me, that’s what I enjoy, that’s what I love. Don’t let anybody take away at any point your love of what you do. It’s always vibe over money, vibe over money, vibe over money. It has to feel right first, no amount of money should take away what feels right. And if it don’t feel right, no amount of money should make you do it."
We encourage you to check out this video where Guru details his love for digging through the crates for records and some backstory on how he acquired all the records in his collection! Also check out the songs below that Guru has engineered.