Recently I’ve picked up the habit of recommending Kaytranada to every person I speak to. Part of it is because whenever I’m consistently listening to a lot of the same artist, I talk them up to people, but part of it is because Kaytranada is just so good. The moniker refers to Louis Celestin, a Haitian beatmaker/producer/DJ currently based out of Montreal, who caught my attention after I watched a fantastic Boiler Room set of his. His particular blend of 90s hip hop grooves and contemporary beat-centric electronic music was really appealing to me, but what really drew me to Celestin was his knack for crafting drum tracks and eccentric time feel. After really delving into his catalogue, I’ve discovered even more amazing aspects of his music; the only problem is, accessing a lot of his discography can require a bit more effort than the average person is used to exerting in this area. Save for a few of his biggest tracks, many of Celestin’s remixes and older mixtapes (which includes some of his best work) are scattered between Youtube, Soundcloud, and random file sharing sites. So to make it easier to actually listen to some of his work, and to encourage people to listen to him at all, I’ve compiled five Kaytranada-involved tracks that I believe flaunt his best attributes.
“Happy (Kaytranada Edition)” – Pharrell Williams
People seem to either hate this song or love it; either way, I don’t really care, because this version is better than the original. The track is considerably slowed down, and the slow funk of the beat carries it from front to back. The drums are huge in the mix, especially in tandem with the bass line, and they rival the vocals in terms of prominence; this shows you where Celestin’s priorities lay. The harmonies wash over the chorus as the dynamics raise, and the tempo gives every instrument more space to spread out. When you hear Pharrell’s, you smile. When you hear Kaytranada’s, you smirk.
“Wimme Nah” – Vic Mensa
Over the past few years, Kaytranada has had a lot of success producing for rappers. In 2015 alone, he was able to bring out the best of the Internet on “Girl,” and of Mick Jenkins on “Your Love,” among others. In my opinion, though, this collaboration with Chicago’s own Vic Mensa is one of his finest moments as a beatmaker. The synths are eerie and melodic, but again, what makes this track is the groove. The bass drum and snare have a very subtly synthetic tone, and they hit at a place in the bar that throws off Vic’s flow just enough to make you think about it. But, more importantly, the production doesn’t dominate the track. It owns what it does but leaves more than enough room for Vic to spit.
“Free Things in Life” – Kaytranada
One of Celestin’s best original compositions is this explosive collage of trap, future bass, and boom bap. The sweet keyboard riffs at the beginning quickly give way to a sort of sub bass-y, rap flavored drop. It’s so in your face and off-kilter that it immediately grabs your attention, and instead of leaving the dynamic change to speak for itself and stagnate (as many producers do,) Kaytranada layers more elements on every few measures. First tambourine, then vocal sampling, until the mix is so full of organized rhythmic chaos that it has to dissolve back into brooding, low-end synth chords. These very modern sounds and influences are less J Dilla and more Flume; it’s rare for a producer to have the sensibilities of both.
“Rush” – Kali Uchis
Though the track is under Kali’s name (and she certainly contributes a lot here,) the real stars of “Rush” are Kaytranada and Badbadnotgood, who co-produce it. Given that these are two of my favorite artists currently, it’s unsurprising that I would love this song, but I think it’s especially important for this list because it showcases Celestin’s ability to mix and produce a live band, as opposed to his working with his own sounds and material. The playing is bright but also dense, and the producers’ individual sounds match each other naturally. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the song’s catchy as hell, too.
“At All” – Kaytranada
God damn, I love this song. Out of the tracks I’ve listed here, this is not only my favorite, but I think it’s the perfect introduction to Kaytranada. It definitely draws generously from beat music, but you can also hear EDM, plunderphonics, and straight up jazz in the song. The chopped vocal samples in the main section of the song are definitely strange, but in a really infectious way, and they stick with me. The drum grooves that work under the whole thing are really out of the ordinary. Instead of being consistent, the hi-hat pattern is glitchy and complex, while the bass and snare remain very intuitive. Like “Wimme Nah,” not everything is exactly where you want it to be, which makes the song stand out. And yet, the flaws and inconsistencies in the timing and texture elevate this track so far above the compulsive perfection often found in modern electronic music. Watch this dude.
Written by Preston Fulks