Adrian Younge is a man amongst men. Excelling as a renowned producer, musician, tastemaker, and businessman, he’s one of the few folks you’re likely to meet who has almost literally done it all when it comes to music. He’s produced for Kendrick Lamar, Ghostface Killah, Jay Z, Schoolboy Q, Souls of Mischief, and many, many more and counts all of them as friends. He’s put out a number of his own incredible albums. He’s opened his own record store. He throws parties that Rose McGowan shows up to. He’s possibly the best dressed person on planet earth.
You get my point.
I showed up to The Artform Studio, his weekly place of business in L.A.’s Highland Park, an hour or so ahead of time to check the place out and get everything set up. I have never been to a store that is a combination record store, salon, and full analog studio and after being there, I can see why. It’s a hard combo to pull off well and he and his team have killed it. There isn’t one screen of any kind in the entire studio and most of the equipment looks older than my dad. There’s a goosebump-inducing shift that happened as soon as I stepped into the space and I had a hard time leaving. There’s something vaguely holy about seeing how it all used to work before computers booted up the present age of production, and it’s a place that will make you ashamed of your Twitter addiction.
For Adrian, vinyl occupies a particularly deep place in the catacombs of his identity. It’s a format that represents not only his favorite years in music (roughly ‘68 to ‘73) but also his cultural heritage and musical ambition. If his frenetic web of accomplishments are the electrons, then vinyl carries the majority bulk of his artistic nucleus. “My affinity with vinyl goes back to the subculture I was raised in which is hip-hop. You know, hip-hop is based on the break, it’s based on vinyl culture. So finding these rare gems on these rare records is something that sparked the producer and DJ element within me. I use these influences, these records, to push my music and push how I disseminate music.”
Pseudo-scion of the digital age that I am, I wanted to hear how he managed to build his collection pre-Google. It’s one thing to build a record collection that slaps in 2017, and it’s another thing entirely to build one when the entire pre-burn Library of Alexandria is at your fingertips, musically speaking. “The hip-hop culture has served as a conduit to the past for people such as myself. And I didn’t even really know that I liked jazz until I heard what A Tribe Called Quest was doing with jazz. So, the way that hip-hop sampled music introduced me to so much classic music redefined what I actually wanted to do and listen to in music. Through hip-hop, I discovered that my golden era of vinyl and music in general is from ‘68 to ‘73. I could go on and on about why, but it’s essentially that’s the golden era sonically and compositionally for the type of music I like the most. Within that timeframe, you find a lot of the best hip-hop samples so I just got really captivated by the vinyl created during that time I just went full blown.”
Adrian went on to explain how sampling played a role in all of this. “Now hip-hop used these breaks, sampling these ten second portions, five second portions, of these classic records and putting a drum machine on top of it, and creating a new genre. Creating a new culture. And that kept old records alive. See what I’m saying? So a record could have come out in 1968 and someone could have sampled that 20 or 30 years later. When someone sampled that and creates a new, derivative song, it gives the original a new life. It’s kind of a holy grail element. When you hear the original, and then you hear the original being used in a new way, it gives you a whole new perspective.”
I think most of us who love records have at least a loose awareness that vinyl carries with it a particularly essential legacy in the history of music. It’s one of the inevitable revelations of the format. But to listen to Adrian trace its impact from the late ‘60s all the way up to the present day was affecting. That his work in sampling ultimately drove him into becoming a prolific multi-instrumentalist and building his entire production environment stem to stern with the same equipment and machines that were being used to make the music he loves is a level of inspiring that I find difficult to describe. His mastery of his crafts is driven by this fire to build on and continue the legacy of the artists who inspired, and continue to inspire, him on a daily basis and his dedication has paid off in so many different and important ways. He comes off in conversation and his recordings as something of a genius and he’s easily one of the most admirable creative minds I’ve ever spent time with.
We wrap up the interview a few blocks down at his home where he shows me his listening setup and we talk ideas on how we can work together. His vintage Marantz receiver and Sansui amp come across as two pieces of equipment you would give up your teeth for, and the sound his setup puts out would make even the dingiest gearhead goons jealous. The whole room is authentic Mid-Century Modern, he even has a real TWA blanket, and the vibe comes off as thorough, thoughtfully-adult cool. And the “modern” in Mid-Century Modern isn’t lost on me. He’s also able to bring that level unadulteratedly crisp realism, sonically speaking, into a variety of other rooms ias he goes about his day thanks to Sonos. I get it, I get it, it’s tongue in cheek. But it’s true. The stuff really does work that well.
Once we’d said our goodbyes and loaded up our equipment, I stood in front of his house in the thick after-heat of L.A. and was struck that on a day just like this, 30 or 40 years ago, someone could have stood on some similar curb after an afternoon in the studio with one of Adrian’s favorite artists and felt no more, and no less, inspired than I did then.