It’s hard to pinpoint just what makes Kaytranada’s sound so appealing. I play him for people all the time, and for the most part, his music immediately captivates them. Most reviews and interviews I’ve read credit his eclectic sound, all-star collaborators, or the Montreal music scene. I, for one, think it’s as simple as the grooves. His drum patterns are so unique, his bass lines so infectiously familiar, that even when I don’t like a melody or feature, my head is bobbing anyways. That’s what makes 99.9% such an incredible debut: the sheer musicality.
“BUS RIDE,” the single which accompanied the record’s art and release date, is a perfect example of this. At first, I didn’t really get it. Karriem Riggins lays down a drum groove as River Tiber and Kaytra add additional instrumentation. But then, I really listened to it. The playing wobbles in and out of time noticeably, so much so that you’ve got to grab onto it and hold on for dear life. The production adds atmospheric, complementary layers that only make that ride go faster and smoother; after 2 minutes, this reaches a dynamic peak, with Riggins throwing in some incredible fills.
These instrumental cuts are sparse on 99.9%, though. They make up about 1/3 of the track list, and only 3 are without guests, which is odd for an album credited to a producer. This is probably due in part to the simple facts of the record: major label debut, an artist with a lot of hype, etc. The less cynical side of me would also like to add that Kaytranada is a guy with a lot of respect for a lot of people. He has remixed everyone from Robert Glasper to Flume. I’d expect him to seek out artists he may not have had the clout to worth with in the past, and because of that, most of the tracks on the album feature other voices.
The vast majority of these features work wonderfully, and are incredibly diverse. On one track, you’ve got renowned electro-pop songstress Aluna George; on the next, you’ve got old school North Carolina rapper Phonte. Sure, the latter track (titled “ONE TOO MANY”) may not be one of the best on the record, but it’s interesting to hear an unexpected contribution. The function of these features also varies. On “GOT IT GOOD” English RnB singer Craig David is the sole focus of the song; it’s a catchy track about a guy who treats his girlfriend a little too well. The beat grooves easily, but the focus is on the melodies. Kaytra is aware of this, and doesn’t overwhelm the vocals. Compare this with the BADBADNOTGOOD collab “WEIGHT OFF,” on which the jazz trio becomes another weapon in Kaytranada’s massive arsenal of melodies and soulful sounds.
For me, some of the highest points of this record come with the more hip-hop oriented guests. Anderson .Paak spits with his trademark swagger on “GLOWED UP,” over a drum beat that swings so much you might fall out of your seat. Sub bass booms in the background, but rescinds for the second verse, leaving the drums and eerie X-Files melody line to fill the space underneath .Paak (listen to the line, and you’ll see what I mean.) Much of the same can be said of “DRIVE ME CRAZY,” the Vic Mensa single which came nearly a year and a half before the release of 99.9%. Again, Kaytra’s wonky production is met by an equally off-kilter verse from one of Chicago’s finest.
Let’s be very clear, though: the production makes this album. Each track showcases a different one of Kaytranada’s skills. He lovingly flows from house, to funk, to hip-hop, to (UK Funky mixed with samba? Check the outro of “TRACK UNO.”) The solo cuts deal in samples and rhythms, keeping the listener attached for the duration, even though some can go up to 5 minutes. Kaytra seems to have intimate knowledge of every single element he utilizes for his compositions. The atmospheres are detailed and lush; the Aluna George track I referred to sounds like it’s being played on an old 45 directly into your headphones. 99.9% is warm and smooth, even as the grooves try to throw you off more and more.
As I’ve hinted at, what allows Kaytranada to make these rich atmospheres is his incredibly specific sounds. Rubbery bass lines and hi hats lifted from old Sly & the Family Stone tracks are among his go-to’s. Sometimes, though, they can wear on you. Before this album, I’m not sure I’d ever sat down and listened to an hour straight of Kaytranada (probably not.) This repetition becomes noticeable during the second half; “VIVID SPOTS” is the point at which the novelty of the sonic familiarities wore off for me. It also doesn’t help that River Tiber’s vocals contribute very little, as his tone is pretty bland. Other than a few unremarkable moments, though, I’ve got almost no complaints.
My expectations for 99.9% were high, and Kaytranada delivered. I’ve been singing his praises for a while now (you may remember my list of his tracks from back in January.) It’s incredibly satisfying to see him link up with some of the most creative forces in the musical world right now, and to watch more and more people become acquainted with his music. 99.9% is a stepping stone to bigger and better things, and hopefully, Kaytranada will continue to innovate and entertain.
Written by Preston Fulks