Montreal’s prince of beats and pioneer of “black tropical house” has been making music since the age of fourteen – now he’s all glowed up. Anyone familiar with music blogs such as Majestic Casual back in 2012 will remember the flip that changed Kevin Celestin’s life forever: Janet Jackson’s “If”. Before Janet’s seductive vocals even begin, we can instantly recognize what has become Kaytranada’s distinctive percussive sound – swinging drums with intoxicatingly dance-worthy bass. After years of experimentation using FruityLoops, from rap covers of 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” to heavy trap tunes, Kaytra happened upon the vibe that struck a chord in the hearts of SoundCloud users worldwide – happy.
Not long after, endowed with a new sense of direction and millions of listeners, he began dropping a slew of monumental remixes of old classics, most notably TLC’s “Creep”, Missy Elliott’s “Sock It 2 Me”, and Teedra Moses’ “Be Your Girl”. None of Kaytranada’s live sets can go down without at least one of these crowd-pleasing flips being played. Never at rest, he has continued to develop his personal style over the years; sprouting from being heavily influenced by legendary hip-hop producers J Dilla and Madlib – the latter being the inspiration for his sampling of vintage Brazilian vinyls later on. In his Red Bull Music Academy Lecture this year in Montreal, Kaytranada listed early pop-EDM jams such as David Guetta’s “Memories” featuring Kid Cudi, the Black Eyed Peas, and the gritty sound of Justice as his earliest inspirations.
Yet there is more to his sound that makes it so irresistibly danceable – his roots. Growing up in a family of Haitian immigrants, family reunions were characterized by dancing to traditional Caribbean rhythms like kompa and zouk. This quintessential Haitian music has African origins whose drum lines left a tremendous imprint on Kaytra’s work – as well as that of several other Montreal producers such as High Classified and Lunice – and granted him a distinctive intuition for impeccable beat placement.
This year’s release of his debut album, 99.9%, was proof that Kaytranada has long since moved beyond DJing. Releases such as “Wimme Nah”, “Hilarity Duff”, and his longstanding collaboration with Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins have not only exemplified his ability to produce original beats, but also his development as an artist. 99.9% is an album that defies the boundaries of dance music. Breaking free from the conventions of electronic beatmaking, Kaytranada is producing sonically rich music with diverse and scrupulously chosen instrumentation that is unfailingly alluring.
Earlier this month, he came back to Montreal’s L’Olympia for round two of this year’s 99.9% tour. Donning blue overalls and a red beanie, he bore a strong resemblance to a character from Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and had a beaming, cheerful smile to match. His set appropriately began with “Track Uno” and continued on to some unreleased material as well as his latest bumpin’ remixes of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” and Chance the Rapper’s “All Night” – I’m pretty sure I heard “My Kind of Town” mixed somewhere in there, so in addition to his collaboration with Vic Mensa, it’s safe to say that Chicago was well represented.
The crowd was young, much younger than expected, and seemed predominantly more interested in Snapchatting videos they might later regret than dancing and enjoying the show. The music never lost momentum, but the crowd definitely did. Energy seemed to flow in a sinusoidal fashion, peaking at the biggest hits from the album and then dying out as people switched their interest to selfie-mode. At one point someone got down on his knees and proposed to his girlfriend. To those who went for the music, the set was flawless. Perhaps a more intimate setting would have allowed for a deeper appreciation of the intricacies of his production, but there is no doubt that Kaytranada will be here for a long time, because an artist who evolves over time is timeless.