Published May 10, 2016"You gotta be versatile man," Montreal-based producer Kaytranada tells Exclaim! It could be his mantra, given the roll the 23-year-old has been on for the last couple of years — from working with rap stalwarts like Mobb Deep and Freddie Gibbs to opening for Madonna on her 2015 Rebel Heart tour. His seamless blend of groove-centric hip-hop, retro-tinged club music and buttery neo-soul is in the sights of almost every vocalist and rapper looking to make a name for themselves, and it's all led him to his newly released debut album 99.9%.
Out now on XL, the album features homegrown talents like River Tiber and Shay Lia, as well as a plethora of international gems like Vic Mensa, Anderson .Paak and AlunaGeorge.
But wait, there's more — according to Kaytranada, there is an entire series of unreleased recordings, including another three tracks with Little Dragon (separate from the album closer "Bullets") and, perhaps most excitingly, upwards of 20 tracks with jazz darlings BADBADNOTGOOD that are apparently not for general consumption.
"I really don't think people would be ready for those tracks. They'll definitely be either confused or surprised," Kaytranada explains.
That said, BBNG will likely be involved in a joint album in the near future — seeing the three-piece work together was actually a huge inspiration for 99.9%, according to Kaytranada, matched only by a strong influence from artists like Madlib, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye — specifically, What's Going On.
However, the road to 99.9% was hardly a short and easy one. Kaytranada started off DJing at around 14 years old, before he was introduced to Fruity Loops Studio and got locked into his own world of beat-making.
"I'm from the suburbs really, so I actually didn't go to Montréal until I was like 19," Kaytranada explains. "I wasn't allowed to go to the city at night or really able to be in the scene with other producers. It was hard for my parents to understand at the time, what I was trying to do as an artist, but it didn't stop me. I had to keep up with the music. So, around 19, I had to convince them that this is really what I want to do and they eventually saw that it wasn't a joke."
At the time, what Kaytranada stepped into was a movement known as Piu Piu, a phrase that was coined by Vlooper of the Alaclair Ensemble after he started a show by saying "Bonjour, mon nom est Vlooper and I'll play some piu piu music." The scene evolved far beyond mere laser sounds, to incorporate a host of forward-thinking, experimental, and soulful beats that were uniquely cultivated in Montreal, including Kaytranada, performing as Kaytradamus at the time. Piu Piu was the city's answer to the L.A. beat scene before it, where artists like Flying Lotus and Samiyam came up with the Low End Theory club nights.
"The support within the group was a huge help to me," he says. "We would always be giving each other pep talks and even just showing love to each other's beats, which gave everyone a lot of confidence, cos we didn't have many people around telling us that our shit was dope. To have this whole community giving us a lot of push made us better at what we were doing."
Though it's now been relegated to just whispers in the smallest of circles, Piu Piu gave Kaytranada enough momentum to slingshot on to bigger and bigger projects, laying the foundation for what would eventually become 99.9%.
"Every experience I've been through is sort of coming together as my current sound," says Kaytranada. "99.9% is the end product of years and years of me going through multiple styles and interests. People say I'm doing electronic music, but I don't see myself as doing electronic music really. For me, it's weird to hear that. Some people say I make hip-hop, others see me as doing EDM, some people might look at me as a trap artist, but I'm not really stuck to any of those styles. Really, what I'm trying to do is make soul music, but I don't even think of it as a genre. It's more of a feeling."
You can check out Kaytranada's upcoming tour dates here, and check out the lively video for "Lite Spots" below.