Kaytranada has been letting the beat build. The Haitian-born, Montreal-based producer first blipped into the national music consciousness in 2012 with an uncanny remix of Janet Jackson’s “If” that racked up millions of plays on Soundcloud, and the producer—born Kevin Celestin—has been steadily stacking up dancefloor hits and lowkey rap and pop collaborations ever since. There were no gimmicks, no superstar label cosigns (though several admitted being fans), none of the typical industry bullshit—just this 23-year-old beatmaker steadily hitting three-point swish productions like the Steph Curry of the electronic scene. “Warrior” seems like an apt word for how prolific and consistent Celestin has been on his rise to the top—but remixes, features, and DJ sets are only half the battle. Every producer eventually needs to establish their own foundation, ink a sonic thumbprint on the current era: 99.9% is that thumbprint.
As has become the custom for emerging Soundcloud producers, Kaytranada has released several compilations, EPs, and singles before this album, a majority of them under his previous moniker Kaytradamus. 99.9% is his first full-length for the boutique indie label XL known for stringency and devotion to preserving artistic intent when it comes to selecting artists. If that early Janet Jackson remix typifies Celestin’s knack for imbuing itchy, unstoppable rhythm into soulful, more traditional melodies, then 99.9% cements that form—which he’s occasionally referred to as “uptempo new soul”—into a golden template. Kaytranada has publicly grimaced a bit at the current state of EDM and trap; after listening to 99.9% his disdain seems warranted. Those genres sound tired and worn next to this record’s gleaming, soulful self-assurance.
The album is packed with surprising and even unsettling collaborations; Syd Tha Kid (of The Internet) vamps on “You’re The One,” Vic Mensa shows up with a jackhammer flow on woozy early single “Drive Me Crazy” (which isn’t quite as good as 2014’s “Wimme Nah,” but not everything can be perfect) and Celestin weaves AlunaGeorge and Goldlink into a cohesive unit on the strobing “Together.” The album’s standout track “Glowed Up” features Anderson .Paak (who recently did just that) showcasing the new era of hybrid superstars who pluck influences from every decade, every style, without ever feeling piecemeal. Celestin does this too, and sounds best when creating his own lush and clattering soundscapes where guests appear like museum patrons, essential for the songs to make sense but always visitors in Kaytranada’s world.
When he’s all alone on album opener “Track Uno,” “Despite The Weather,” or “Lite Spots,” it becomes apparent that the vocalists who show up are accessories, not necessities. This is also where the urge to invoke Dilla hits hardest, an allusion that most decent beatmakers who also dabble in soul, jazz, and other grooves probably won’t be able to escape for decades. It’s always bestowed as an honor, but perhaps the greatest honor Kaytranada will earn in my book is that he doesn’t sound like Dilla; he sounds like Kaytranada. “Weight Off” featuring jazz-and-rap instrumentalists BadBadNotGood and another early promotional track “Bus Ride” are both examples of Celestin’s signature sound. Even buttressed by other producers his touch is nearly self-evident in the cricket-like snippets in the middle section of the former track and the sloe-eyed jazz fantasies married to hi-hat clattering on the latter. After years of simmering, Kaytranada has brought his sound to a boil. The beat has been built, odds are we’ll hear his fingerprints on most of the great music that comes out next year too. Or, at least, 99 percent of it.