At first glance, Shy Guy's family history wouldn't seem to have set him up for a life in music. A career as a snack food executive, perhaps, but not one as a hip-hop producer or a vintage fashion trendsetter. See, Shy Guy's grandfather invented Fritos. But that just wasn't the life for him.
Shy Guy, born Alex Govenar, is proud of his family background. Back in the 1930s, his grandfather, Charles Elmer Doolin, set up the Frito Co. headquarters in Dallas, where he later invented Cheetos as well. He never met his grandfather, though, who passed away in the 1950s. Instead, Shy Guy chose to follow the example of his parents and went into the creative world, a decision that's led him to New York and given him the opportunity to work with such up-and-coming artists as Joey Bada$$ and Junglepussy.
His mother is Kaleta Doolin, an artist, writer and founder of nonprofit organizations dedicated to the advancement of arts. His father is Alan Govenar, the accomplished author, filmmaker, photographer and curator of the upcoming Museum of Street Culture. In fact, Shy Guy had initially planned to follow in his father's footsteps with a career in photography, which is why he left Dallas to attend New York University.
While he was there, Shy Guy took a class outside his focus taught by Bob Power, the Grammy-winning, multi-platinum producer who has worked with Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest and many others. This helped reignite his passion for making music. As a teen, he spent a great deal of time flipping out samples of soul music, inspired by producers like Pete Rock and DJ Premier. “I can’t read expressions when people are looking at my pictures,” Shy Guy says. “But I can see a beat make someone move.”
His background had already been pointing him in this direction. He was exposed to all sorts of different music and culture going back as far as he can remember. He made many pilgrimages with his father, who writes about blues. “He did all these field recordings,” Shy Guy recalls. “We would go to black churches when I was little. I’ve been exposed to blues and jazz music since I was a baby.” He was also around when his father made movies about a wide variety of musical genres.
He chose the name Shy Guy for his production work as an homage to the masked villains in Super Mario Bros., a nod to the fact that he does his work behind the scenes. "I want my music to speak for itself," he says. He also wants it to speak up. "I like my music to be very loud, like a wall of sound."
The same could be said for Shy Guy's sense of fashion. He's well known for his vintage clothes, particularly his obsession with searching thrift stores for vintage rap and movie promo shirts, like the Twin Peaks shirt he wears for this interview. Many follow his Instagram account specifically to keep up with what he adds to his collection, including some vintage clothing dealers. Pictures of him sometimes appear in fashion blogs. Shy Guy’s style has become one of his trademarks, representing artists and soundtracks that influence his music.
Shy Guy has a sound that is accessible, but difficult to categorize. There are elements of neo-soul, Southern hip-hop and party trap beats. “It’s really fun to create these hybrids,” he says. “You can reference so many things in one song. I try to use as many random things as possible.” He's been known to toss Cuban music, Bollywood soundtracks or Japanese music into the mix. His sound reflects New York City: With so many different movements, no one particular sound represents the region. People may not understand exactly what they are hearing in his production, but they certainly seem to respond to the amount of energy and thought that goes into it.
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With a focus on collaborating with promising artists from different genres, Shy Guy has a foot in several scenes. He typically plays a large role in developing a sound, but enjoys letting someone else be the face of the music. Joey Bada$$ recorded his first mixtape with Shy Guy, using a closet as a microphone booth. Shy Guy also worked with Le1f, an openly gay rapper, which other producers were reluctant to do. “Not many mainstream hip-hop producers are working with artists like Le1f,” he says. “But I really want to change that. I want to make him sound equal to the other rap music that’s out, without being pigeonholed as gay rap or being this weird electronic thing.” His choice paid off when the collaboration made him a producer to watch last year in the U.K.'s FACT magazine.
Shy Guy is currently working with Barbadian rapper Haleek Maul. After collaborating with Black Dave, a rapper obsessed with skateboarding, Shy Guy performed with him at SXSW, opening up for Tyler, the Creator. For the last two years he has been collaborating with Junglepussy, a rising hip-hop star with an infectious personality that is perfectly captured with music. Even Erykah Badu took notice, giving her enthusiastic recognition in social media posts.
“It’s awesome bringing it back to Dallas,” Shy Guy says of the Badu nod. “It’s crazy. Randomly, this project I’m working on finds its way back.”