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Beyond 99.9%: Kaytranada essentials

Del Cowie

Not content with winning the Polaris Music Prize on Monday with his album 99.9% (full disclosure: I was on the Polaris Music Prize grand jury this year), Kaytranada released a new mixtape entitled 0.001% ??? last night. It's a release he had already mentioned was in the works, but by dropping it the week he claimed a major music prize, it now serves as a victory lap of sorts.

0.001% ??? gives us a further look into the mind of Kaytranada as he continues to release music via remixes and production work for other artists (remixes are what first brought attention to him as an artist). On the near 90-minute mixtape, Kaytranada's vocal interjections recall the approach of the late and influential Detroit producer J. Dilla on his Ruff Draft project. Kaytranada has pinpointed J. Dilla as a critical influence on his work and on 99.9%, he explicitly pays tribute to him on "Bus Ride," featuring drummer Karriem Riggins. Riggins is known these days in jazz and pop circles for his work with Diana Krall and Paul McCartney, but he was a close friend and collaborator of Dilla's who served as the executive producer on Dilla's posthumous project The Shining. Consequently, the deliberately offbeat drumming on the track are a direct tribute to the consciously sloppy drums featured on Dilla's production.

While the refined, cohesive 99.9% album can be seen as more hip-hop in its aesthetic approach rather than its content, 0.001% ??? is a raw, consciously hip-hop infused project, featuring Kaytranada emptying out his beat folders in a dizzying, rapid-fire succession, reminiscent of the style of influential California hip-hop producer Madlib, another of his critical sonic inspirations.  Yet Kaytranada's patented multi-faceted musical approach also surfaces, as the project features material like a brand new reworking of Usher's R&B staple "U Don't Have to Call."


Kaytranada bills 0.001% ??? as 'Strictly for Kaytranada fans,' keenly aware that his audience and fanbase are now far beyond the dedicated loyalists who anxiously awaited notifications from his Soundcloud page about his latest '90s R&B remix. His Soundcloud page was the initial starting point where listeners first encountered the Montreal producer's seamless synthesis of electronic, hip-hop, R&B, disco, house and whatever other sonic genre he could incorporate into his music.

On 99.9%, he took his already heady synthesis of musical styles and developed a cohesive framework in which to insert tightly curated collaborations from a wide swath of musical envelope pushers who, like Kaytranada, often blur genres in their work. 

It's a good time then, to look back at some of his most essential recordings. As typified by 0.001% ???, Kaytranada has been releasing music at a prolific rate over the past few years, but here are a few Kaytranada touchstones to reassess, revisit or acquaint yourself with.

Janet Jackson, 'If' (Kaytranada Remix) (2012)

While he had been posting music to his Soundcloud page before this under the name Kaytradamus, for all intents and purposes, this is when the whole world began paying attention to Kaytranada. And with good reason. Kaytranada's imaginative, unauthorized deconstruction and reconstruction of Jackson's 1993 hit "If" was posted in 2012 — almost 20 years after the original — and has garnered over six-million plays on his page. It helped to form the template of other acclaimed remixes (notably Teedra Moses' "Be Your Girl"), revived "If" in clubs around the globe, garnered the adoration of Jackson herself and is arguably better than the original song.


Kaytranada, 'Lite Spots' (2016)

99.9% is such a strong album that your favourite track can differ depending on what day it is, but this track's video might be one of the best ways to define the album in a nutshell. Musically, the song, featuring a prominent sample from Brazilian musician Gal Costa's "Pontos De Luz," is another brilliant reconstruction of an existing song, elevating Costa's Portugese refrain into a joyous dancefloor-filling mantra.(The English translation of the vocal hook is "I’m feeling glad/ I’m feeling very glad.") The video, inventively directed by Martin C. Pariseau, features Kaytranada creating a robot who rapidly learns new dances from all the humans he meets until he encounters moves he cannot emulate. It's a reminder of the fact that despite the efficiency of machines, they cannot do everything a human can do. Despite the electronic foundation 99.9% is built on, there is a tangible, organic and human element throughout, whether conveyed by handclaps, offbeat drumming or vinyl pops, conveying a sonic warmth that is applicable to all Kaytranada's work despite its eclectic nature.

The Internet, 'Girl' (prod. by Kaytranada) (2015)

In the lead up to the release of 99.9% this past spring, Kaytranada's name was featured on an array of productions for artists as varied as Mobb Deep, Katy B and Mick Jenkins. These collaborations also featured work with Canadians River Tiber and BadBadNotGood, who are featured on 99.9%. Another key collaborator was Syd tha Kid, leader of progressive R&B group The Internet, who appears on the album's track "You're the One." Syd tha Kid was returning the favour for Kaytranada producing "Girl" from the group's Grammy-nominated Ego Death. Given Kaytranada's bond with Syd tha Kid on these tracks, this is a creative connection to look for more from in the future.

Anderson .Paak, 'Lite Weight' (prod. by Kaytranada) (2016)

Another key Kaytranada collaborator is Anderson .Paak. The Oxnard, Calif. native appears on one of 99.9%'s key tracks, "Glowed Up," and is destined to set year-end music lists ablaze courtesy of his own soulful tour de force album Malibu. Invariably, Kaytranada produces one of the album's most dreamy concoctions and standout tracks with "Lite Weight," providing pillowy sonics for .Paak's seasoned raspy voice. Apparently, the duo have more songs together and a taste of some unreleased material between the two is featured on 0.001% ???.

Kaytranada Boiler Room Montreal DJ set (2013)

Being a DJ and producer is at the root of what Kaytranada does. This relatively intimate hometown set, showing him deliver a stellar DJ set of his own favourite songs, plus a healthy bunch of his own music, gives a snapshot of his inspirations, creations and innate ability to read a crowd, which was an obvious key ingredient in making 99.9% such a success. The video is also notable for the humorous and sometimes chaotic scene around Kaytranada as he DJs, as a never dull set of characters mingle around him as he attempts to focus on playing music. Having been viewed over three-million times on YouTube, the video has taken on a life of its own, yielding a set of amusing gifs and a curious analysis as a 'divine comedy.'

More to explore:

Kaytranada is the winner of the 2016 Polaris Music Prize

Montreal hip-hop community proud to see Kaytranada take home Polaris Prize

Kaytranada makes Polaris history with first win for hip hop