For the SoundCloud generation of producers, it’s a game of survival of the fittest. To gain hype and acclaim you’ll need to feverishly collect likes, stars and hearts from the clicks of rapid scrollers – all at the risk of being buried beneath a mound of new uploads. Kaytranada, as a result, is a lucky one, having escaped the bedroom in a phenomenally short space of time.
On meeting Kay – Kevin Celestin to his mum – he’s a humble presence in spite of having blown up so wildly. Far from demanding that Costa in Soho hurry up with his damn croissant, he emits a quiet confidence – worlds away from the megalomania often associated with hip-hop.
“I’m still the normal Kevin who lives in the suburbs of Montreal,” the soft-spoken 21-year-old begins. “But when I check my Facebook page and see 75,000 followers, sometimes I can’t believe it.”
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Kaytranada, ‘At All’
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Having jumped the Atlantic to appear at XOYO on the day of our meeting, alongside Benji B and Oneman, the producer is keen to sing our continent’s praises.
“There’s something about Europe,” Kay says, grinning. “It always impresses me how the crowd responds, compared to the States and Canada. They’re not trying to be cool or pretend to like stuff. Everything is real in Europe.”
This is, after all, the guy who caused a stir in the NYC Boiler Room when he confronted the too-cool-to-move crowd, saying, “Y’all mother*ckers better dance and shit, instead of staying on your goddamn phones.”
Born to Haitian parents and raised in Montreal after leaving Port-au-Prince, Kevin – armed with a copy of FruityLoops and a brain full of hip-hop, R&B, Italo disco and soul – began remoulding the likes of Janet Jackson’s ’93 classic ‘If’ and Teedra Moses.
“Some people didn’t believe in me,” he remembers, “but the realest people – my brother and my best friends – knew that I was gonna be the shit.” The ‘net collectively decided that he was the shit, too – Kay went to bed and woke up to 50,000 plays on his Janet track.
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Janet Jackson, ‘If’ (Kaytranada Remix)
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“My mother can learn how to make beats,” emphasises Kay, when asked what it takes to stand out in this industry. “You have to bring your own funk, your own originality.”
His funk? “People love the basslines I do,” he replies, then going on to pinpoint a more specific formula: “Up-tempo neo-soul – nobody thought about doing that. And that’s what I’m focusing on right now.”
Off-kilter, lurching hip-hop wonk underscores a portion of his style which EP ‘Kaytra Todo’ explores, while his rework of Modjo’s ‘Lady’ and recent single ‘At All’ boast a deeply grooving disco funk that comes coated in a glossy exterior.
The Booty Bakery associate has turned his remix attention to a large array of artists such as Jill Scott, Banks and the other Banks, Azealia. In any case, it’s clear that Kay has a penchant for the female vocal. When asked who’s on his bucket list to work with, he replies: “I can only think about working with Erykah Badu or Lauryn Hill.”
As we come round to the topic of influences, Clash notes that today’s date marks J Dilla’s birthday. Kaytranada bows his head.
“I’m gonna do a little tribute to him tonight,” he nods. In addition to artists such as The Roots, Ras G and A Tribe Called Quest, the late Detroit legend has served as a huge inspiration – not only production-wise but as a rapper, too.
“I listen to a lot of Jaylib – Dilla and Madlib – and just the way they rap, they don’t give a damn. From the Slum Village days. It’s all about wordplay and how funky the flow is.”
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Kaytranada, ‘Holy Hole Inna Donut’
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Kay’s talents extend – like Jay Dee – to an ability to rap as well as produce, but when asked he dismisses the idea of him spitting over his own tracks.
“I don’t think people are ready for my skills. I’ll let my little brother do the rapping for now.” Brothers Louis-Philippe and Kevin have released hip-hop tracks as DIY duo The Celestics, with Louie rapping over Kay’s beats. “We’re gonna drop something in April for sure,” the elder sibling clarifies.
Now snapped up by LA imprint Huh What & Where Recordings – home to Sweater Beats and Ta-ku – Kay is the hottest collaboration ticket for everyone right about now. So much so that he recently entered into the studio with Mobb Deep to produce a track on their forthcoming album.
“It’s childhood music to me – it’s so crazy that they f*ck with my music,” he glows. Kay also chats excitedly about an upcoming EP with Vic Mensa: “We just clicked, he was the first rapper to understand my vibe.”
Kaytranada is a physical manifestation of the notion that you no longer need synthesisers the size of a room in your house or a studio packed full of equipment so expensive you shouldn’t really touch it for widespread acclaim. Nowadays you can download a cracked copy of Ableton and, voilà: the playing field has been levelled.
But Kevin is realistic in regards to the temporality of hype. “It happened so quickly,” he remarks, pulling his beanie down over his eyes. “I’m afraid that it will go away just as quickly. It’s a good feeling but, woah, I think there’s too much love sometimes…”
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AlunaGeorge, ‘Kaleidoscope Love’ (Kaytranada Edition)
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photos: Alexandra Leese
Fashion: Charlotte Roberts
Find Kaytranada online here.
Coming soon on HW&W is Kaytranada’s ‘At All’ / ‘Hilarity Duff’ EP – click here to order.