Scaling Music Genres

Music is defined by genres. From hip-hop artists and bubble gum pop music to orchestral composers, a fine line appears to be drawn between each field. Kerwin Young, a graduate of the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, has spent his life involved in all aspects of music, fluidly transitioning between genres and building a career around what he loves most.

Prior to studying orchestration at UMKC, Young was a professional nightclub disc-jockey in East Meadow, Long Island. In 1989, he joined the ranks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hip-hop group Public Enemy as a member of the production team called the Bomb Squad.

Initially, Young ran errands for the members of Public Enemy. But over time, he began to learn how to use production equipment, how to arrange songs and more. Eventually, Young became responsible for mastering albums and solo projects for Public Enemy group members and more. One of his first projects was Ice Cube’s debut solo album. Ice Cube was not a member of Public Enemy, but the Bomb Squad assisted him with the project.

Young grew up in a musical household. His father was a trombonist and worked hard to instill an appreciation of music in his children. Young says his father would often bring home toy instruments for him to play with and that he learned to play many instruments as he was growing up.

While Young was doing production work for Public Enemy, he also invested in his own musical aspirations.

“I was writing for instruments and playing some of the instruments I had grown up with the ability to play. I started recording myself playing. For a bunch of my music, I played saxophone, keyboard, guitar and electric base. I naturally gravitated towards live instrumentation and alternative music,” he says.

Desiring to break into the orchestral music field, Young came to UMKC to study at the Conservatory. He originally had aspired to be a visiting scholar, but ultimately decided to complete his bachelor’s degree and then his master’s.

“My education at UMKC gave me a greater foundation in music theory whereby I can begin a piece and have a better structure for long-form works and have more variety in some of the works I do for pop artists,” he says.

Young’s current project, Reclamation, is an orchestral suite written for a full orchestra, eight horns and a mixed choir. It is inspired by a photograph Young found taken by photographer Jimmy Nelson.

He also has music featured in the recent film Bad Grandpa starring Robert DeNiro and Zac Efron and in the made-for-television FX drama, “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and John Travolta.

In addition to his compositional work, Young is a music composition teacher at Tamu Sana Kanyama Preparatory Academy in Atlanta. With numerous works appearing in movies, television, video games and compositional concert works for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, opera, ballet and more, Young’s varied experience provides a wide foundation from which his students can learn.

“To me, music has always been a tool whereby people who may not normally come together to work can do so. It has always been like that for me. Music can bridge cultural gaps and it can take you places that you would never imagine,” Young says.