KAYTRANADA: Electrifying Hip-Hop
A few years ago I found myself on a rooftop in Manhattan catching religion while dancing to a remix of Janet Jackson’s “If.” Naturally, I couldn’t leave the party without knowing who remixed it—especially since I’d already decided that it was going to be the song I listened to on repeat during my tipsy train ride home. On a damp cocktail napkin the DJ scribbled KAY-TRA-NADA. My Google search lead me to the-man-behind-the-beat’s Soundcloud and two more deconstructed, must-have remixes he produced (Missy Elliott’s “Sock It 2 Me” and Amerie’s “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?”). While I’ve enjoyed those remixes whenever they’ve popped up in rotation, I hadn’t seriously been following his career. Cut to just a few weeks ago me holding yet another cocktail napkin with another DJ’s scribbling that read KAY-TRA-NADA. This time the napkin had something extra on it—99.9%. As “Lite Spots” continued to elevate the crowd and I resisted the impulse to fully re-enact a Vogue-off (Paris Is Burning style), I downloaded the whole album on iTunes. It’s proven to be a spectacular purchase and I just had to share it!
Released by XL Recordings in May 2016, 99.9% is as dense and delicious as the best piece of 5-layered red velvet cake I’ve ever had. I relish the way it figuratively sticks to the roof of my mouth—the flavor of sugary beats lingering in my mind throughout the day. The album is not strictly hip-hop nor is it strictly electronic; it’s a fusion that I believe represents the future of urban contemporary music. Now that so many mainstream artists are using electronic embellishments to “enhance” their music, the market has become saturated with auto-tune and mediocre House beats designed to appeal to the masses. Kaytranada’s music puts the “intelligent” in IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) reformulating the way traditional electronic and hip-hop music is perceived and experienced. I’ve been hard pressed to recognize any sample beats. As a novice, my ear could be ignorant, however, that being said, I’m impressed with the level of craftsmanship and refreshing originality.
Louis Kevin Celestin aka Kaytranada—aka Kaytra— formally known as Kaytradamus, grew up in Montreal, Canada, where his Haitian family immigrated when he was a child (The Fader). Coming off the success of his remixes and producing, Kaytranada embarked on a grueling tour while simultaneously developing 99.9%. “It’s what I felt around the time I was finalizing the album,” Kaytranada told Ogden Payne of Forbes Magazine when asked about the title. “There was so much stuff going on that I was feeling like I was only 99.9% myself, and that .1% is somewhere.” In another interview he gave Alex Frank of The Fader in Dec 2016, Kaytranada spoke openly about his struggles coming to terms with being a gay man. Now 25-years-old with the support of his family he is enjoying the success of his debut album that won the 2016 Polaris Music Prize. “I feel better than I ever have, you know? I’ve been sad my whole life, but fuck that. I know I have good things ahead. I don’t know honestly if I’m fully, 100 percent happy, but I’m starting to get there.”
99.9% isn’t cheesy or predictable. Listening to the album is like trying to keep up with a symphonic acrobat twisting and tumbling over and under baselines and treble clefs. You think the music is progressing in one direction and all of a sudden it changes and in that moment you’re gladly transported somewhere else—somewhere better than you imagined. Overall the album is very uplifting. “Got It Good” (featuring Craig David), “One Too Many” (featuring Phonte) and “Together” (featuring my favorite rapper Goldlink and AlunaGeorge) all reminds me of having a “Sunday fun day” with friends at a longue where one great song builds off of the last and the next thing you know, everyone’s up dancing and having a good time.
Elongated, serene interludes like “Weight Off” and “Bus Ride” are balanced by erratic high-energy tracks like “Breakdance Lesson N.1” and “Lite Spots” which showcase the depth of Kaytranada’s musical aptitude. "Drive Me Crazy" featuring Vic Mensa is the closest thing to a conventional hip-hop song. At first “Glowed Up” featuring Anderson.Paak feels like it might be the second most conventional hip-hop song until it shifts to a jazzy, R&B tag—much like a second movement of a musical composition. When I hear Syd Tha Kyd’s (lead singer of The Internet) sultry voice on my favorite track, “You’re The One,” I can’t help but sing along to the catchy lyrics being propped-up by Kaytranada’s syncopated beats.
You’re The One
I want you to want me
But you just gonna love me for the day
And I can't just walk away
Even though I know you're trouble babe
So I'mma take my time
Go with the flow, can't get too involved
You got a face that I
Just can't say no to
Just can't say no to you
You know I want you baby
You know I do
I'll give you my heart and the rest is up to you
You ain't no good for me, I know it's true
But you don't have to be
Cause I do it for the thrill, for the rush
I do it for the pain, for your touch
When I OD, when it's too much
If I survive, baby you're the one
You're the one
In general if you’re the kind of person that hears the words “synthesizer” or “sequencer” and tend to run in the opposite direction, this album is not for you. That also applies to those who don’t care for hip-hop or think jazz is just a bunch of noise. The album is a blend of all those genres and much more. Whether 99.9% is playing softly in the background or fully cranked shaking the pictures on the walls, you’ll want to lean forward and wrap your head around the multifaceted sounds you’re hearing. So, in the words of my all time favorite artist Erykah Badu, I encourage Kaytranada to continue to “Push up the fader, bust the meter, shake the tweeter and bump it - Well Well Well,” (Worldwide Underground- “Bump It”).
How stupid did I feel when I realized that one of my favorite songs on The Internet's album Ego Death ("Girl") was produced by Kaytranada! Duh!! Just goes to show you, Kaytra is everywhere producing everything!
Favorite Tracks: *You're The One, *Lite Spots, Together, *Vivid Dreams, Glowed Up, Breakdance Lesson N. 1