Review: 99.9% – Kaytranada

Music and Art

Louis Kevin Celestin, known better as Kaytranada, is one of those rare artists that transcends time, genre and place. His music is a colourful, sonically rich mixture of hip-hop, house and r’n’b, that pays tribute to the musical heroes of his past but fuses their elements into a totally original whole. It is a musical avenue being explored in Britain by underground producers like Cuthead or Henry Wu, but Kaytranada’s sound is utterly unique. Watching him live at the Troxy on Friday, I noticed Kaytranada himself exudes a similar charm and charisma to his music; and , perhaps, this is the great unifying element on this record: its undying sense of euphoria.

‘Track Uno’ kicks off the album with a sonic journey, as Kaytranada’s signature wobbly bass sound meanders around stabbing synths, until the track – towards the end- morphs into a fascinating snippet of electro-house. ‘Bus Ride’, the subsequent track, is a downbeat and beautiful hip hop instrumental, and it’s gentle piano arpeggios recall the late J Dilla, and seem to evoke the mellow coolness of a summer evening in the city. ‘Got It Good’, a straight r’n’b collaboration with Craig David, is not quite as convincing as the other collaborations on the album: the styles of both artists not meshing quite as well as one would hope.

‘Drive Me Crazy’, with Vic Mensa, is maybe the best hip-hop instrumental of the year. The awkward synth line is a consistently disconcerting presence, and Mensa’s flow brings an added edge: rendering the track simultaneously soulful and aggressive. ‘Weight Off’, meanwhile, effortlessly combines Kaytranada’s retro-synth with the more classic neo-soul aesthetic BadBadNotGood have cultivated in the last few years. The diversity and range of feature artists on this album is stunning; yet it is Kaytranada himself who functions as its creative nucleus, capable of bringing the best out of his collaborators.

The record’s larger hits are offset by songs like ‘Despite The Weather’, a warm slice of jazz so good that, at only 2 minutes long, the listener feels almost cheated. ‘Glowed Up’ is an astonishing single, and falls perfectly in the middle of the album as its standout track. Anderson PAAK’s confident delivery works perfectly around the song’s minimal beat, and leads to a chorus that feels both intelligent and chart-ready. Glowed Up is the sound of hip hop’s two biggest rising stars fusing their original talents to create something truly mind-blowing, and we can only hope that they will continue to make music together in future.  

‘You’re The One’, meanwhile, is the faster, more dynamic house sound traditionally associated with Kaytranada’s earlier Soundcloud output, though Syd Tha Kid’s voice floats delightfully in the mix. Just as the album begins to drag slightly, ‘Lite Spots’ brings it back to life. It is one of the most ingenious uses of sampling in recent years, taking Gal Costa’s Brazilian disco classic ‘Pontos De Luz’ and turning into a frantic, energetic house single. ‘Leave Me Alone’ appears oddly influenced by dubstep, and its drop is one of the most surprising moments on the record.

99.9% ends with the gorgeous ‘Bullets’, a collaboration with Little Dragon that feels like a discarded SBTRKT gem. The percussion is a consistently outstanding feature of the record. Unlike much contemporary house production, it feels totally organic: managing to tread the very fine line between authentic lo-fi crunch and the demands of modern hi-fi sound.

Ultimately, 99.9% is an incredibly rich musical journey: a thrilling assimilation of disco, r’n’b, house and hip hop that combines to form a sound that can only be Kaytranada’s. His music retains the essential joy, the giddy thrill, of the artists who’ve inspired him, and this record is no doubt the ideal soundtrack to those sun-drenched June afternoons.