At the ripe old age of 22, Kaytranada, a producer from Saint-Hubert, a suburb on the South shore of Montréal, can boast having played in more than 50 different countries, and has collaborated with the likes of Mobb Deep, Mick Jenkins and Vic Mensa, as well as Yasmin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, very recently, for the artist’s debut as a stand-up comedian (in Montréal). He’s scored a major hit with his unofficial re-mix of Janet Jackson’s If, and has been signed to famed London-based imprint XL Recording, who’ll release his forthcoming debut album, 99.9%.
Born Louis Kevin Célestin, Kaytranada arrived in Montréal from Haiti when he was only three months old. Virtually everyone in his family is an amateur musician, and the home’s stereo played Haitian kompa music pretty much non-stop.
“That’s what played all the time at home, but my brother and I just wanted to listen to hip-hop and R&B,” says the young man, who now admits that the rhythms and energy of that music have undoubtedly left their mark on his subconscious.
That’s obvious to anyone who listens; from his early hip-hop tracks to his more recent trap (an EDM take on American aggro hip-hop from the South) ones, it’s hard to find anything with a negative vibe to it. Coming from a strict family, his nights were spent combing the internet for obscure samples rather than going out and hanging out with people his age.
With eclectic musical tastes that range from prog-rock to new wave, he says he’s particularly fond of Brazilian music. “I don’t know how to express how Brazilian music makes me feel,” says Kaytranada. “They mix everything up: soul, samba, bossa nova… Their music truly is feel-good music and their sound is raw; they clearly understand! Plus, Brazilian really is a beautiful language!”
“I was aware people listened to my stuff, but I had no idea it was that much!”
Kaytranada’s first encounter with Québec’s music scene happened through social media networks, where he released beat tapes from 2010 on. He’d already forged ties with the Alaiz collective, a group of up-and-coming figures of the local hip-hop scene, and heard extremely positive echoes about the Artbeat Montreal event that was incredibly popular from 2011 to 2013. Revelers who partook in these regular gatherings of producers even found a name for themselves: the “piu piu,” a term that refers both to the community itself and to the often instrumental hip-hop productions they were so into. Célestin defied the parental curfew and attended the third iteration of the event.
“I knew that all I needed to launch my career was one show,” he says.
It’s also at those Artbeat Montréal nights that he met the rappers from Alaclair Ensemble, who were a major source of inspiration for the young beat-maker, who ended up collaborating with the Ensemble’s Robert Nelson, resulting in 2012’s Les filles du roé EP, still using the moniker Kaytradamus.
Even though he admires the freedom and stage presence of Alaclair Ensemble, Kaytranada hopes to become the Arcade Fire of hip-hop, the artist who’ll shatter the opaque glass wall separating Québec’s hip-hop scene from international fame, while remaining true to his roots. He has no trouble admitting that if he could produce beats for Ariane Moffatt or Céline Dion, he’d be ecstatic.
Since his first appearances on the scene, Kaytranada has become a bona fide local — and international — star. His debut album on London’s XL label (M.I.A., Adele, The XX, Tyler The Creator) is hotly anticipated, to say the least. Célestin titled it 99.9%, “to express the fact that one can never be 100% satisfied with an album.”
There’s also a previous album — Kaytra Thomas — that has yet to be released by the Huh What & Where label, after being slated for 2012.
“When I was still going under the nickname Kaytradamus, I was constantly releasing beat tapes and made a little money from it,” he says. “But at some point, it became an issue between my manager and me because he wanted me to wait for the press releases and all that, but all I wanted was to give the fans what they want!” Kaytranada is a pure product of his era, and between his official and unofficial collaborations, EPs, mixtapes and singles released all over the map, keeping tabs on his discography is no easy task.
Célestin’s ideal goal is to produce other artists; DJ-ing tours are more of an afterthought. Yet he realizes that those tours allowed him to witness what can’t be witnessed through social media. “I was aware people listened to my stuff, but I had no idea it was that much!” he says. “Especially in London [Kaytranada was recently invited to be one of the very few resident DJs on BBC Radio 1], people are real fanatics there. It’s really strange how I simply play a DJ set and people go crazy. Their love for you is much more concrete than what you can perceive on social media. What you witness with your own eyes, that’s what’s real. It gave my self-confidence a tremendous boost,” he confesses.
His upcoming album – slated for a fall release, and to which he’s currently applying the finishing touches – will contain, among others, a collaboration with The Internet, a band closely related to Tyler the Creator’s ODD Future collective. The Internet just released their third album, with one of the songs produced by Kaytranada.
“I’ve never been as proud of a song as this one,” he says. “When they sent back what they’d done with my beat, I told them that it was perfection, exactly what they were supposed to do with it,” he says, before quickly adding, “all I can say now is ‘Watch out! The real Kaytranada is about to pop out!’” And then he laughs…