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99 Problems But A Glitch Ain't One
As Jay-Z’s long-term engineer, Young Guru is responsible for precisely how the hip hop superstar sounds. Fresh from lending a hand to the next wave of talent at the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid, he spoke to Dave Hanratty about the responsibilities of his job, the importance of education and why Public Enemy’s Chuck D was wrong to single his boss out for criticism.
Dave Hanratty, 11 Nov 2011
"I don’t look at it as pressure. I just look at it as my job and something that I have to do.”
12 years into his role as Jay-Z’s right-hand man, and Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton has this superstar sound engineering lark down to a science. As he takes time out of his busy schedule at the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid to talk to Hot Press, the man who counts his work on Jay-Z’s seminal 2001 album The Blueprint as the proudest moment of his career to date is enjoying his current surroundings.
“It’s such a great environment that I really don’t wanna leave so I’m sticking around for a little bit,” he gushes. “This is some of the best talent that I’ve ever seen and it’s absolutely the best environment that I’ve ever seen for those talents to develop and for those people to interact with each other. I just think it’s a great idea. It should be hailed as one of the greatest musical mash-ups of different ideas. I walked in and I was like ‘I can’t believe how great this is’.”
Given that Keaton is always working in some form or another, it seems fitting to catch up with him just seconds after the red light is switched off in the recording studio. You get the sense that it’s his dedication to his craft that gives him his relaxed focus. Still, acting as the right-hand man to one of the world’s biggest acts must keep you on your toes?
“Of course,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I understand how big Jay is and it’s my job to help try and facilitate making him even bigger or to continue the legacy of what he’s done so I can’t stop and look at it as, ‘Oh this is Jay-Z, this super-huge artist’ – I do, but only from the standpoint of trying to make him better or trying to continue that legacy of what we’ve done so far in music. He was the specific person who changed my life. It’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ to him, by always making sure everything is ok.”
When it comes to a star as stratospheric as Jay-Z, it’s fair to assume he has an entourage of sycophants to tell him how great he is and never question his decisions. Does Keaton challenge his friend?