Montreal's Kaytranada plays some cuts from his debut album 99.9% at his May 27th tour stop at MEZZANINE in SF. Toronto artist River Tiber was Kaytranada's opener.
Tyler Blint-Welsh | @tbdubez
The transition from Soundcloud DJ into burgeoning mainstream artist isn’t an easy one. But don’t tell that to Kaytranada. Three-and-a-half years after his remix to Janet Jackson’s early 90’s hit “If” turned Kay into an underground darling his debut project, 99.9%, is his declaration that he’s way more than a serial remixer. The fifteen track album features notably versatile and experimental artists like Syd, GoldLink, AlunaGeorge and Anderson.Paak and puts on display Kaytranada’s mastery behind the boards. With its synth heavy production, 99.9% is an upbeat, genre-defying journey that skillfully blends elements from his Afro-Caribbean upbringing and electronic music background while also showcasing the hip-hop production chops that have landed him tracks with artists like Mobb Deep, Mick Jenkins and Talib Kweli.
Though the album isn’t necessarily “about” anything other than sonic experimentation, Kaytranada's use of texture and tempos influence your mood on a track by track basis in a way that most LPs fail to. The unpredictable progressions on each of his cuts hold your attention and drag you along with it, whether the mood is somber, dreamy or has you wanting to hit the club and dance your heart out.
99.9% has an electronic undertone, but that doesn’t stop Kaytranada from utilizing instrumentation. With multiple standout drummers on the album, including fellow Canadians Karriem Riggins and Alexander Sowinski of Toronto jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD, Kay mostly uses percussion instruments to help add energy and life to what would otherwise be dreamy tracks that border along psychedelic.
The project begins with “Track Uno,” a pulsating intro that serves as your welcome into the sonic world of Kaytranada. Beginning with a simple synth loop, the track subtly weaves in other sounds like bass, snares and maracas to create a groovy rhythm reminiscent of a mid 2000’s Pharrell beat. Though “Track Uno” is one of the more simple beats on the album, it helps set the tone for the rest of the listening experience as one full of unpredictability.
In interviews, Kaytranada has expressed his preference for intimate, house party scenes as opposed to sold out stadium rocking sets and much of 99.9% reflects that preference. None of the tracks overpower you with their sonic elements and instead allow you to get taken over by the music as if Kaytranada is voodoo master and his beatpad are his pins.
On “Together”, a track featuring AlunaGeorge and DMV wordsmith GoldLink, Kaytranada shows his penchant for getting the most out of his vocal features. Over his synth heavy production, GoldLink expertly spits an anchor verse between hooks from AlunaGeorge. What becomes apparent in listening to 99.9% is how little Kaytranada cares about lyricism on his tracks. To him, words are nothing more than a musical element that can be blended amongst the dozens of other sounds he wants to put in his tracks.
“Drive Me Crazy”, a single featuring Vic Mensa released well over a year ago, is the track that comes as close to mainstream hip-hop as Kaytranada is willing to fly. Over a reverberating bass that helps the track sound like a cross between “Down On My Luck” and his other Kaytranada assisted track “Wimme Nah”, Vic Mensa raps about his frustrations with fame in the rap game and the struggles he’s had with finding meaningful relationships in a world full of superficialities.
Though most of Kaytranada’s tracks are assisted (he has just four solo cuts), the standout track by far is “Glowed Up”, a braggadocious ballad from Oxnard, CA artist Anderson. Paak about his ascent through the music game. Starting off with a ominous theremin sound that feels like it’s transporting you into a UFO, Kaytranada quickly introduces glistening synths and a bass that perfectly supplement Paak’s gruff yet melodious voice. It’s the second half of the track though that reminds you how versatile Kay is as a producer and how adaptable Anderson.Paak is as a vocalist. Over a lively set of snare drums and chimes, Paak croons over the near two minute outro in a soft, reassuring voice that make you forget the boasting he was doing just prior. “Glowed Up” is the peak of 99.9%; combining two artists who perfectly complement each other and who you can tell would rather do nothing more than give us a glimpse of the world they live in.
Overall, 99.9% is one of the more complete debut albums from a producer in recent memory. Each track has a distinct feel, and it’s apparent that nothing about Kay’s work is generic. From his unpredictable beat switches, to the way he creates complex yet cohesive rhythms using seemingly contrasting sonic elements, Kaytranada explores aspects of music most artists are either unwilling or unable to. Though his sound is nowhere near complete, if the title of the album is any indicator, it’s pretty damn close.