Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton doesn’t need Shirley Bassey, Kanye West or Jay-Z to tell him diamonds are forever–as his connection to the glory days of Roc-a-Fella Records is proving to be equally timeless.
The esteemed engineer/DJ/producer is perhaps the most renowned mixer in hip-hop, thanks to numerous on-wax shout-outs from Jay-Z, the rap equivalent of a Times Square billboard. Young Guru, who also serves as Jay-Z’s tour DJ, mixed the rapper’s last 10 albums–mostly at New York’s now-defunct Baseline Studios, which served as home base for Roc-a-Fella artists including West and producer Just Blaze, who co-owned the space. “We used to work nonstop,” says Guru, who has also mixed for BeyoncÃ© and Drake, of his days at Baseline. “I basically considered it my New York apartment because we were there all the time.”
So, in 2010, when Just Blaze shuttered Baseline and set up shop at Stadiumred on a bustling corner of Harlem’s 125th Street–taking Baseline’s beloved SSL G+ Console with him–Guru knew he had a new crash pad. “I followed Just,” says Guru, who also often works out of Jay-Z’s Roc the Mic Studios. “It’s an extension of what we’ve been doing for years.”
Guru is currently ensconced in the studio C4, where he’s recording and mixing for Ratking, a young crew of ’90s rap revivalists signed to XL Records, as well as for Joey Bada$$. The space is tiny, but a huge, high-definition photo of New York’s skyline that fills the wall behind the console helps Guru keep perspective–and a tight schedule. “If you sit in a room with no window, time sort of goes away,” he says. “I look at this and it’s like I’m standing outside on a rooftop. It gives me the feeling that I’m taking over the city–it’s motivation.”
Guru’s sky-high ambitions include a headphone line with AIAIAI and the 13-city Era of the Engineer tour, a lecture series presented by the Recording Academy’s Grammy U educational initiative that will find him talking to college kids about the history–and continued relevance–of audio engineers. “It’s especially important today, when people are recording themselves and studios are falling apart,” Guru says of the series, which launched April 8 at Philadelphia’s Drexel University. “In order for the lessons to be passed down, in order for people to get the information that’s not in books, you need things like this.”