Montreal-based producer, KAYTRANADA’s goal had always been to produce for rappers. But after finding success with his remix of Janet Jackson’s If, the SoundCloud sensation found himself touring extensively as a DJ. But Kay (real name Louis Kevin Celestin) yearned to make an album. And two years after signing with XL Recordings in 2014, ‘99.9%’ arrives. With the rhythmic sensibilities of hip-hop and Kaytra’s Haitian heritage, his first full-length output is a labyrinthine synthesis of jazz, funk and soul weaved together by distinctive synth work from his customised FM8.
In a recent interview with The Fader Celestin revealed that “There are sounds that we recognize, ‘Oh this is Pharrell, this is Timbaland, this is Trackmasters.’” But whatever about his influences, ‘99.9%’ is unequivocally unique. Kay has attempted to get Drake and Kanye to rap over his work, to no avail. But it’s probably for the best. As he alludes, “They want that 808”. This album is far too ebullient.
KAYTRANADA is at his best when he combines with equally as leftfield acts such as up and coming rapper, Anderson .Paak on GLOWED UP where the Californian’s irregular drawl of singing/rapping blends perfectly with his own fidgety layers. Or with Syd Bennett from fellow Jazz/Funk outfit, The Internet on YOU’RE THE ONE which, with its handclaps and hook is a bona fide disco banger.
Clocking in at just under an hour and with no less than thirteen known collaborators to boot, what is impressive about ‘99.9%’ is just how expertly curated the album is. The listener won’t lag once. This can be attributed to Kay’s experience as a DJ, as can his exquisite chopping of samples to his experience as a remixer. With the amount of collaborations, it is important to note as well that this album is NOT reliant on them. These vocals are merely other elements to great whole pieces of work.
Moreover, instrumental tracks such as BREAKDANCE LESSON N.1 and LITE SPOTS more than stand alongside them. The Fader interview tells us that Kay was torn between crafting radio hits and experimentation. While ‘99.9%’ isn’t too obscure, it’s definitely expansive and idiosyncratic enough to veer towards the latter. But that isn’t to say there aren’t potential hits on here. GOT IT GOOD and LEAVE ME ALONE are certainly radio-friendly. They’ll be stuck in your head for weeks.
At its best, ’99.9%’ is shimmering and flamboyant. Centrepiece, DRIVE ME CRAZY and in particular its coda showcases KAYTRANADA’s music as wonderfully grandiose. Consequence of Sound made the point that perhaps if he focused everything he could do into one direction rather than show off everything he could do with everybody he knew, he might be more successful. That being said, this is a magnificent debut album. Long may he continue giving it 99.9%.