Picture Source – ITME
I remember the first time I listened to a Kaytranada production almost 2 years ago in August of 2014. I was a fresh college graduate (I am so damn old) sifting through the abundance of audio recordings throughout the immensely populated habitat of SoundCloud. The goal here was to compile as many bangers with 808 drums for mix CDs that’ll make one’s car heard several miles before it was seen. Again, I still had the mentality of a debaucherous college student at the time. But then again, I still let the bass knock in the whip from time to time. Will I ever grow up? Probably not. Moving on.
The beat absolutely slaps with the ferocity of Hot 97’s Smackfest ’05 winner Destiny from Harlem (Jaclen did not put on for Jersey in the slightest, we don’t know you). When the thudding power of the instrumental invaded my car speakers for the first time, I completely lost my mind and was knocked down like the loser of this open-handed duel. Being infatuated upon the initial encounter of this, at the time, 21-year-old beat conductor, I began searching for any and all affiliations to the Kaytranada brand. Infatuation turned into fandom. Fandom turned into anticipation. During my time period of excavation in 2014, I learned that Louis Kevin Celestin, now 23, did not, to my surprise, have a major project release out there in the world. The reason why I was stunned by this fact is because the maturity in his overall aura and sound was that of a well established instrumentalist.
Apparently, I only grazed the surface while I was digging a couple years ago. Kay had, and still has, quite an extensive catalog on SoundCloud, but it pales in comparison to the amount of work that lives in the realm of BandCamp under the previous pseudonym Kaytradamus. Under this moniker, one could tell that Celestin drew heavy influences from legendary producers such as Flying Lotus, Madlib and J Dilla (RIP). The incorporation and layering of a plethora of interesting elements (sample heavy), thus creating abstract, unconventional, groovy, jazzy tracks at such a young age (the Kaytradamus era was from 2010, possibly earlier, to 2012) would make the aforementioned producers respect the sound.
It would be wrong to simply say that he got better; the chrysalis transition from Kaytradamus to Kaytranada spawned tremendous growth in his sonic approach. The remnants from when he first started are still there and can be heard in his tracks from 2013 to present day, but with each official project, each original track or with each beat flip on a remix, his sounds much more matured and polished. Each release acts as a building block to reaching 100% of his full potential.
In my previous feature piece for EVRYDY, I wrote about Always Strive And Prosper, A$AP Ferg’s great follow up album to his 2013 debut Trap Lord. One of the major talking points I establish in the article has to deal with the delay or drought in major album releases from particular musicians. There are a myriad of different factors that can come into play here, with motivation and inspiration being the most important. If you force something without letting it come to fruition organically, the quality of the harvest will undeniable diminish. As fans, one of our only jobs, besides supporting our favorite artists financially (buying the album, purchasing concert tickets, copping the latest merchandise) is supporting the artist emotionally. This may just mean we should let them breathe instead of pressuring them for the next release; we never know these individuals are going through.
Signing a major record deal with XL Recordings, the home for world-renowned acts such as Adele, Tyler the Creator (he fixed Freestyle 4, thank him Yeezy), Radiohead, Jamie xx and M.I.A, for most, would be a jubilant time marking the culmination of years of hard work. For Louis Celestin, according to this excellent cover story by The FADER’s Andy Frank, the complete opposite was true. “In early 2015, he finally told his agents to stop booking shows. “One day I woke up like, ‘I can’t do this,’” Kay says. “I was like, I’m not that dude.” He went back to Montreal to focus on recording, but even then he wasn’t free: should his goal be experimentation, or, as others were pressuring him, to craft radio hits?”
In addition to his creative process being disrupted by extensive touring and outside pressure to create a particular sound for his first major release, Kaytranada also had another demon that he had to face: coming out of the closet to the world, and most importantly, to his siblings and parents. This type of mental block must be excruciatingly difficult to deal with on a daily basis. The emotional and psychological energy exerted living a double life, in addition to the constant stress from touring and “meeting demands” from overzealous fans has to take a crippling toll on the structure of anyone’s creativity.
The 2014 version of me selfishly wanted hits in the form of a studio album; the 2014 version of Kaytranada just wanted peace of mind and space to f****** create.
After an epiphanic and eye-opening siesta from touring in 2015, along with the help and understanding from fully supportive family members, the artist formally known as Kaytradamus dropped a tremendous album that truly is ahead of its time, titled 99.9%. This is one of the best complete projects that I’ve heard in quite some time, regardless of genre. It would be grossly unfair to typecast this CD under one specific genre; the seamless co-mingling and the transitional fluidity between Dance, Hip-Hop, RnB, Jazz, House, and Soul blends together to create one cohesive project. It’s just music. Great music at that. No definitive labels attached.
This album, produced executively by Kay, of course, features a wide range of guest features that travel across the spectrum of music. Lots of experimental sounds are incorporated effortlessly that will keep the audience engaged from beginning to end. The thudding 808 drums from “Wimmie Nah” (see above) layered in conjunction with the abstract noises inspired by James Yancy from his Kaytradamus days are littered throughout this CD.
Listening to this album without a proper audio source such as a pair of quality headphones or a sound system with at least decent subwoofers will not completely ruin the experience of 99.9%, but it’s equivalent to the following example: Try listening to songs recorded in a monaurl or mono format with just one headphone. Bands such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Jimi Hendrix Experience exclusively recorded in this style of recording for their earlier and more recognizable hits. This is due to the fact that the technology for stereophonic or stereo recordings had not yet been available. Because of this lack technology (and I’m clearly not an expert on this but), a handful of instruments such as the guitar and drums were recorded on one channel, which would ultimately be heard on the left channel, or left headphone, and the remaining instruments, such as the bass and lead vocals, will get recorded on the right channel, which would ultimately be heard on the right headphone. You will get the gist of the song and will feel the overall semblance of the idea of the producer’s vision of the record with just 1 headphone, but you’ll literally miss half of the song. To fully submerse yourself in the complete project is to listen with both headphones and treat it as an important experience.
Same rings true with all of Kaytranada’s music: if a quality audio source isn’t readily available to you at the time of digesting this album, it wouldn’t hinder the grooves and feels you will obtain while listening to the rhythms. But if your system knocks, boy, you will drown in the flooding reverberations of your speakers and at the same time, will be revived by the vibrant synthesizers during the beat break. Another thing I really enjoyed about the album was the fact that Kay and his collaborators did not step on each other’s feet while they were waltzing in harmony on each instrumental. Kaytranada, however, cultivates his own space to let his production breathe free with the brevity, yet magnanimous statement that emulates “This is My Part, Nobody Else Speak.” Chance the Rapper boldly proclaims this line amongst some true heavy hitters (see below) on “Ultralight Beam,” the standout opening track off of The Life of Pablo by Kanye West. For such a young artist to make such a statement, it requires the stones forever cemented at Easter Island.
Celestin makes his bold proclamations known without ever speaking a word on a track; he elects to give the artist on certain tracks enough time to make their appearance before stepping in to show that he is, indeed, the master curator of this project. The prime example can be linked to the track “Drive Me Crazy” featuring Vic Mensa (who actually didn’t like Kay during their initial meeting, but since have become boys and quite the tandem in the studio).
The first 3 minutes and 32 seconds of this track are solely devoted to Vic and as that segment of the song comes to a close, it’s like the instrumental is slowly nudging him out the door by saying “thanks for stopping by, thanks for the good bars and harmonies but it’s time for you to GTFO.” There is a certain twang that signifies the change of the beat into something much more sinister. Kaytranada snaps with reckless, yet controlled abandon for the last minute and change of the song. If Vic drove to the destination of Crazy, Kay most definitely executed the mission statement of the title.
With strong guest features with the likes of the hyperactive lyricist GoldLink, the versatile legendary crooner/rapper Phonte from Little Brother, the EVRYDY favorite, multi-faceted musician Anderson .Paak, the groovy electro-pop Korean/Swedish duo of Little Dragon and the talented songstress Syd from the Internet of Odd Future fame, 99.9% has something for everyone to enjoy. If you are a nerdy, technical music nerd such as myself, then you will thoroughly enjoy the drum work and new aged jazz stylings between Kay and the vastly underrated music quartet BADBADNOTGOOD. My only gripe with “Weight Off” is the length of the track, but sometimes, less is more.
My favorite track off the entire album, which was very difficult to determine because of the individual strength of each song, would have to be “Got It Good” featuring the seasoned RnB singer/songwriter Craig David (remember him)? Does the beat accentuate the vocals or do the vocals enhance the quality of the production? Stop trying to figure this out, press play on the track and simply enjoy the flawless union between these two artists. I’m declaring this as a slow jam classic that will be poppin’ in any era. Check back here in 30 years and say I’m wrong. I DARE YOU.
All and all, in my opinion, this album does not have any significant blemishes that render extreme criticism. My rating for it is not indicative of whether or not the album is considered a classic. It may very well be, but it’s way too early to make that determination. People throw around the word classic so often that the word depreciates with every album review. For something to be considered a classic, it must have held significant relevance in the mainstream or underground for a plethora of years. Like a decade. Section 80 will most likely become a classic project once it’s time has reached. The Carter III is right on the precipice. Albums such as Illmatic, Doggystyle, Enter the 36 Chambers, The Score, Madvilliany, Donuts, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Reasonable Doubt, Midnight Marauders, and Things Fall Apart are all recognizable albums that stood the test of time. We are too quick to throw labels on things and move on to the next without fully appreciating the heart, soul and effort placed into each project we consume at an accelerated rate.
For Kaytranada, the journey towards this album was especially tumultuous and difficult.
It is often the quiet ones that have the most to say.
Without singing or rapping on a single track off of 99.9%, Louis Kevin Celestin most definitely made his voice heard to the masses. This album is an excellent and futuristic ode to dance records of years past. Well done Kay, looking forward to the next project. Free of restraints in both in personal and professional life, this cat is destined to soar.
TL;DR – Take a chance, press play and be amazed. Great album.
Kaytranada – 99.9% – 5/5
Bonus nugget: if you don’t enjoy this song produced by Kaytranada off Chano’s Coloring Book, I’m sorry for whoever hurt you in the past but let it go and move on.