Footnotes: Young Guru

Legendary engineer Young Guru reflects on his work behind the boards for pretty much every New York hip-hop hero imaginable—and explains where Ratking fit in.

April 25, 2014

From the magazine: ISSUE 91, April/May 2014

Every great artist needs a great team, whether in the form of producers and session musicians or simply friends offering support. In Footnotes, we ask an invaluable assister about their experiences with one of the issue’s featured artists. Here, legendary engineer Young Guru reflects on his work behind the boards for Ratking’s debut album as well pretty much every New York hip-hop hero imaginable, from Biggie to De La Soul—and explains where Ratking fit in.

Feature: Ratking's ecstatic noise-rap feels just like home.

The Notorious BIG, Born Again (Bad Boy 1999)

We all worshipped Big. Big was fun. Big was that guy. We were all in a state of missing him when we made Born Again. My favorite thing was to watch [producers] Coptic and Charlemagne make “If I Should Die Before I Wake.” To see them find the sample and really collaborate on it together was a great experience. That missing Big thing has never really gone away.

Jay Z, The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella 2001)

Making The Blueprint was a great time to return to samples. Myself, I’m concerned with the beat-digging world and I’m trying to carry on that tradition. It was great for me, and Kanye and Just Blaze put the whole album in that vein. Bink did a great job producing his three songs, too. The majority of that album was done in a very short time—just one weekend. I think that’s why it was so cohesive. It was a great experience making music that had a flow to it.

Cam’ron, Come Home with Me  (Roc-A-Fella 2002)

I felt like this was some of Cam’s best work. You have “Oh Boy” on there, which is definitely a hit, and there was the obvious fun of doing “Welcome to New York City” with him and Jay. But he still had a lot of other hits on there—"Hey Ma” was great. It was just a great thing to make a platinum album with Cam on his entry into Roc-A-Fella. I think it inspired the rest of the Dipset guys so they could go out and make great albums, too. Those guys are the hardest-working crew I’ve ever seen in hip-hop. They were always very cool with me, and Cam is probably the most fun you will ever have in a session.

De La Soul, The Grind Date (BMG 2004)

Of course I love Tribe, of course I love Public Enemy and of course I love NWA, but if I was an MC, I’d want to be in De La Soul—De La Soul speaks directly to me. This was something where I said to myself, “I have to do the best job I’ve ever done on an album.” It was fun to make an album with someone you totally respect. Also, at the time in their career that Grind Date was released, people were looking at De La Soul as a legacy group, and I was like, “No, they’re still putting out incredible music.” It shows you they’ll keep going till it’s over.

Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (Def Jam 2006)

My whole involvement with Fishscale came from Just Blaze. I think sometimes Just chooses me to make some of the harder records, and whenever he feels as though my certain flavor would help out. It came out really, really dope. I love it. What’s great for me is to see Ghost extend the legacy of Wu-Tang to a younger generation. I feel like Ghost made young people understand why Wu-Tang was what it was.

Ratking, So It Goes (Hot Charity 2014)

I love that Ratking can mix so many styles of music: there’s hip-hop in there, there’s glitch in there, there’s little bits and pieces of whatever form of EDM you want to talk about. It’s so on-time for right now. It’s a real good representation of 2014. As music rotates around the country and times change, people always develop new sounds. The south is dominating right now, and I feel like albums like Ratking’s will help New York develop its own sound. You can’t just be nostalgic; it has to be something fresh and new for an 18-year-old in New York, not just what somebody who’s my age—who’s 40—wants to hear. It has to be a mix of those things together, all of your influences at the same time. I think Ratking sounds like New York now.

Footnotes: Young Guru