ENGINE EARS
GQ India|April 2021
Hip-hop is the soundtrack of the 21st century, and rap artists are modern-day moguls who court global audiences on the back of their specific truths. But behind them stands a league of creative artists and engineers that are crucial to building their legacy. This is the story of one such man – Bainz, chief engineer to Young Thug and Young Stoner Life Records – and how he’s made it to the top of the global hip-hop game
NIDHI GUPTA

How does a boy from Delhi end up being chief engineer for the biggest hip-hop stars on the planet? It’s a question Angad Bains aka Bainz gets often. “This one time, we were at Gunna’s birthday party,” says Bainz over a Zoom call from LA, “and NAV asked me to tell him my story, from start to finish. And we had this long discussion about our journeys, how they’re so similar.”

As creatives of South Asian-origin in LA’s burgeoning hip-hop scene – NAV is the Indian-Canadian rapper part of The Weeknd’s crew at XO Records, while Bainz is chief engineer for Atlanta rapper Young Thug and his label Young Stoner Life Records, and has worked with everyone from Future to Travis Scott – they’ve both had a uniquely upward trajectory in their careers. More importantly, they’re part of the culture, something Bainz is at pains to state has been a key factor in his success.

Bainz’s answer to how he got here is brief. “I was born in Delhi, I went to school in Sanawar, and I was never good at anything,” he says, somewhat sleepily. “Then I went to Australia for university, started DJing at some small house parties, and realised I had a knack for audio. I wanted to get into it deeper, so I went to Full Sail University, where I graduated valedictorian. That’s not normal for people like me,” he smiles, “and I realised that the Indian education system is just not built for someone like me.”

In 2008, he landed in New York, “worked at a bunch of studios, then set up our own studio”, Crosby Studios, with Michael Brian in 2010. “We started working with different tiers of artists. We were a small one-room outfit, but we did well and stayed relevant because we kept upgrading, trying to be bigger and better, ramping up our knowledge on engineering and new technology, not being satisfied with where we were at, constantly staying up with the times, to adapt and progress.”

Soon, they realised that their artists were moving to LA once they had a hit song, so naturally Bainz and Brian followed suit. By 2015, Crosby Studios had arrived in LA, and is today a multi-room, multi-million dollar, hi-tech compound servicing the needs of the hottest artists in LA and Atlanta. “It stays booked throughout the year, 24x7,” says Bainz.

The same could be true for him. “When I was leaving New York, someone told me that the worst case scenario in LA is that you’ll have the same amount of work,” he laughs. Gaining notoriety as one of the fastest engineers in the game, Bainz won accolades for multi-platinum tracks like “Hot” by Young Thug, Gunna and Travis Scott and “Go Crazy” by Chris Brown and Young Thug; Billboard Hot 100’s #1 “Franchise” by Travis Scott featuring Young Thug and M.I.A., “Goodbyes” by Post Malone featuring Young Thug. In 2020, Bainz was at the helm of a mammoth 154 tracks, born of 33 collaborations, 18 of which were with Young Thug. “Ever since I moved here, it’s been so busy. But the good thing is that it pays really well too. You just have to be on call all the time.”

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