Young Guru talks new headphone line and Jay-Z

theGRIO Q&A - If there’s anything that Gimel 'Young Guru' Keaton knows the most about, it’s good music...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

If there’s anything that Gimel “Young Guru” Keaton knows the most about, it’s good music.

A sound engineer, DJ, producer and A&R rep, he’s responsible for the sound quality of some of the biggest artists in the hip hop industry. Guru mixed 10 of Jay-Z’s albums and worked with artists like Drake, Beyoncé and T.I.

Now he’s taking his twelve years of experience to release a pair of headphones that any sound engineer would approve. He partnered with audio pioneers, AIAIAI, to create a pair of headphones that brings studio quality raw sound to those who are mixing songs in their bedrooms.

The Wilmington, Delaware native says he’s getting out of the studio and choosing to work on projects he’s always wanted to do including teaching and launching multiple business ventures.

But of course, he still has music from the past that hasn’t seen the light of day. He says there are hundreds of records in ‘the vault’ that he’s worked on with Jay that haven’t been released. One of those gems, “Dead Presidents III”, surfaced recently. Guru shared with theGrio the reason behind why he and Jay decided to release that record and his thoughts after the George Zimmerman verdict was announced.

TheGrio: You’re a sound engineer. What motivated you to want to jump into the headphone business?

Young Guru: I saw a void in actual headphones that were designed for you to mix and record records. Most of the headphones that are out are there to enhance music which makes sense. A lot of people saw MP3’s and saw the imperfection in MP3’s and wanted to enhance the music so people could hear it how we hear it in the studio. That’s great but there’s a whole generation of people that are making music now in their bedrooms, on computers, on laptops and they are doing this in a box, in a square room or a rectangle room which is the worse place to record and to listen and judge what the sound of the music is going to be.

What’s the biggest difference between your brand and its competitors?

Another set of headphones would have an EQ curve on it that’ll say “okay we’re going to make the music sound like this.” Mine are so you can actually hear what the music sounds like purely. When you’re doing a mix, a mix shouldn’t be enhanced in any way from any other source. If you’re doing a mix in the studio and sometimes the music is enhanced by the room, when you play in the club there might not be enough bass, or there might be too much bass. Frequencies operate in the space of “standing waves” where they cancel each other out. That happens when you’re in parallel walls or parallel rooms…not to get too scientific on you. But my headphones are designed to eliminate that so you can have just the headphones on your ears, eliminate the room and do a great mix.

What made you decide to release Dead Presidents 3?

[Jay-Z]… on Twitter… answering people. I was on a plane and I landed and my twitter was going crazy and I didn’t know why, and then when I saw he was actually answering people on twitter and someone had requested the song and he said put it out so I put it out.

Were you taken back the fans reactions?

People loved it. It’s weird for me because I did the record so long ago. We have so many records like that, where we do a record and it just sits in the vault. I didn’t expect that. The reaction has been incredible, people love it.  A lot of people don’t know that I produce, I’m mainly known for engineering.

How did it feel to finally put it out?

I was proud. People get to hear something that I’ve done with Jay. It was great. It was giving people what they [want]. When they ask me ‘oh I want the old Jay, I want the Reasonable Doubt Jay’ so it’s a great thing.

Can we look for anymore surprise gems to drop?

I can’t release nothing until that man says release it. Any artist that records a lot of music, they got songs that people never heard but that’s his decision on when he wants to put it out. The only reason I put that record out is because Jay said.

What was your reaction to the Zimmerman verdict?

My reaction is that organizations need to be in place ahead of time. When we look at the ‘60s, black people as a whole moved. Whether it was behind one specific leader or not, we moved as a whole.  My problem is that there’s no reaction other than people commenting on Twitter. Twitter is not a revolution. Your comments don’t mean anything if you’re not in the streets moving. That’s the problem with this generation, there’s no action.

So in your opinion what can be done?

We need to organize before there’s another tragic event.  It needs to be a regular Tuesday when you organize. It doesn’t need to be right after Trayvon Martin happened. It needs to be a regular occurrence. Otherwise, we become ambulance chasers.