“They were calling me a house producer, but that’s not me. I make all kinds of beats”. That’s what Kaytranada said in a recent interview for music magazine The Fader. It’s a statement you might hear often from people in the music industry, and perhaps it’s a lazy and easy way to avoid having to truly define yourself, but in this case, this couldn’t be any more fitting.
The Haitian-born producer’s debut album 99.9% is an exciting blend of house, disco, funk, hip-hop, dance and R&B and lays Kaytranada’s insides out on a table – his heart, his soul – there to be read like an open book, and you can’t help but want to keep flipping from page to page to see what rhythm and what texture pops up next.
Kaytranada first came to the public’s attention in the early days of SoundCloud, onto which he’d upload his musical sketches, still rough thoughts at the time, but already showing much promise and an abundance of freshness. As a young kid in school in his adopted home of Montreal, Kaytranada immersed himself in hip hop, the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and all-time great producer J Dilla, and that focus on a strong beat that’s so prevalent in hip hop is just as much present in his own production. Add to this that he’s got Haitian blood running through his veins, and that focus on a beat, on a rhythm, becomes even more magnified.
It’s his native musical heritage that Kay seems to be fully embracing on 99.9%, and it’s the root of where his multi-faceted and dynamic approach stems from. Haitian music is a combination of many elements borrowed from the people that have passed through the island throughout its history, reflecting French and African rhythms, with Spanish elements thrown in, alongside musical derivations of Vodou ceremonial traditions, and it all makes for a lively, vibrant, and engaging package.
The package can’t exist unless you have the skill and ability to rope all the individual elements together though, and this is where a lesser producer would create something jagged, and something serrated, something that sounded more like a loose effort than a masterful accomplishment. It’s Kay’s ability to reach inside and translate his musical heritage – and all that it consists of – into something that he understands, and that he can make sense of, and that he can mould into something smooth and comprehensive.
The pieces all fit together seamlessly, when in some cases it seems like they shouldn’t. Throughout 99.9%, there are tracks that sit side-by-side, that in any other world wouldn’t be in harmony with each other, but Kay’s world is different, something that’s immediately recognizable at the top-end of the album.
In his world, an airy, string-laden recliner like “Bus Ride“, driven by its progressively intricate drum rhythm, can be followed by “Got It Good“, a twinkling and suave R&B jam featuring British ‘90s garage king Craig David. That’s then followed by handclaps, a deep bouncing bassline, and buttery keys chords in the disco-like “Together“, with AlunaGeorge on hook duties and GoldLink firing off bars amongst it all.
Kay switches it up all over again with the next track, the Vic Mensa-featuring “Drive Me Crazy“, hip hop with skittery hat-work, flittering synths and keys that melt into each other in the chorus. The hip hop, the funk, the dance, the R&B, the disco, the whole thing, it’s all just a little different. It’s what music sounds like in Kay’s world.
As someone who’s recently come to acknowledge being bisexual, and comfortable with letting the world know that now, Kaytranada has found his true self, and with that discovery comes a freedom to explore, and that’s reflected in a vivid, bright way in 99.9%. There are no confines here, there are no restrictions, there’s no borders or boundaries. Just freedom of expression.
And as for the title of the album: What still hides in that last 10th of a percent? Let’s hope we see it materialize soon. Kaytranada’s 99.9% album is out now via XL Recordings, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Oli Kuscher