The Science of Music: Interview with a Hip-Hop Legend

Grammy winning, hip-hop engineer Young Guru, who engineered ten of Jay-Z’s eleven albums, returned to Georgia Tech on March 5, 2013, to discuss the history of hip-hop, the art of audio engineering, and its cultural implications. Nettrice Gaskins, a Digital Media doctoral candidate in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, led an interview with Young Guru and moderated questions before his campus lecture.

“I wanted to learn more about how Young Guru sees the future as a vehicle for creating new and innovative engineering techniques,” Gaskins said. “Music, art, and literature are expressions of agency that empower people who are often missing in mainstream science fiction to envision a different future for themselves.”

In response to Gaskins’s questions, Young Guru explained how technical skills are gained through casual use of technologies and through networks of informal apprenticeships, where peers demonstrate to each other their techniques. In this intimate setting, Young Guru described the types of social interactions that take place based on sound energy and vibration.

During the interview, Gaskins played "Run This Town" by Jay-Z featuring Kanye West and Rihanna and "Renegade" by Jay-Z featuring Eminem. Young Guru deconstructed the first verse of each song line-by-line to demonstrate the importance of understanding the language when listening to hip-hop music.

“Hip-hop production is at the intersection of creativity, innovation, and culture,” Gaskins explained. “I think that if we study the aspects of hip-hop production we will find keys to engage groups that have low participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.”

The interview aired on radio station WREK 91.1 in March.

In addition to giving a lecture on hip-hop history and culture, Young Guru has been involved in Georgia Tech’s program EarSketch, a project co-run by Jason Freeman, associate professor in the School of Music, and Brian Magerko, assistant professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication. This project engages students in computing principles through collaborative computational music composition and remixing. Young Guru has contributed thousands of loops and beats for the project.

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  • Young Guru is interviewed by Nettrice Gaskins

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Rebecca Keane