Kaytranada (née Louis Kevin Celestin) would make a fascinating case study for a music business course. A Montreal-raised bedroom producer’s remix of ‘If’ by Janet Jackson becomes a SoundCloud sensation. What follows are a Saturday night DJ residency at BBC 1, bookings to headline sold-out shows across North America and Europe, and a call from Madonna asking to open her 2015 Rebel Heart Tour. All that before the age of 23.
Fast forward four years and Kaytranada is in a very different place. ‘BUBBA’, his highly anticipated follow up to the critically acclaimed ‘99.9%’, is out on Sony subsidiary RCA. It is a mixed bag in every sense – starting from Kaytranada’s very own USP, a genre-defying lo-fi neo soul generated by a sophisticated sound palate, that made him famous.
An extensive collaboration with other artists, the winning formula that yielded brilliant results in the past, is still relied on although what they bring into the mix is not always as convincing as on ‘Nothing Like U / Chances EP’ and ‘99.9%’. ‘Vex Oh’ veers into misogyny, whereas the reedy vocals of ‘Gray Area’ are a far cry from the gruff appeal on the rapper’s previous four albums. And at times the production is marred by brevity and unevenness, which can make ‘BUBBA’ sound more like a mixtape in places.
Thankfully, these moments are outnumbered by others where Kaytranada is well and truly back on form. As heard on his underrated 2013 EP ‘Kaytra Todo’, instrumentals are where he really shines – even when they are truncated into interludes like ‘DO IT’, ‘Scared to Death’, ‘Puff Lah’ and ‘September 21’. And when he really hits it off with another artist, there is no limit to what can be achieved.
‘Taste’ by R&B duo VanJess is a pure pop bliss, ‘Go DJ’ with Inglewood’s SiR is the West-Coast groove personified and the soul goddess Kali Uchis’s lyrics in ‘10%’ ring true on so many levels: “You keep on taking from me but where’s my ten percent?”
For Kaytranada, 2015 was a steep learning curve. He kept building hype through relentless touring until it made him mentally unwell. Against the management company’s advice, he chose his health and a lifelong dream to become a fully-fledged artist, which – without a shadow of a doubt – was the right choice. “I’m a background person, even in my personal life,” he said in 2016.
“I want to be a producer. Kaytranada as the stage artist was complicated but it’s something I had to do.” Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do.
Words: Eero Holi
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