Louis Kevin Celestin, better known by his stage name, Kaytranada, is poised for a much-deserved moment in the spotlight. Montreal-based and Haitian-born, the producer has been dishing out beats to rappers and hip-hoppers for years, and has gradually focused more on his own work. He’s lent his keen beat-molding sensibilities to artists like Katy B, Kali Uchis, and Azealia Banks. And finally, he’ll release his proper debut album 99.9% on May 6 via XL Recordings, a 15-track album that Kaytranada can call his own.
Kaytranada’s career hasn’t followed an ordinary trajectory; not since the deep-cut remixes on his Soundcloud page started to garner attention. Rather than establishing himself first, and then adding flourishes to his style through collaborations and team-ups, he’s been strategically lurking in the background of dance-ish hip-hop music — proving his chops before planning his own debut. Since 2012, slow burning hip-hop jams, driven by a warm fusion of synths and soul, have consistently hit our groove spots, and quite often, it’s been the case that Kaytranada was the mastermind behind the irresistible flows. Gradually, but expertly, he has revealed his production genius.
Kaytranada’s talents began to perk ears in 2012, when he remixed Janet Jackson’s “If,” and the following year, a percussive remix of Disclosure’s “January” showcased his considerate restraint when handling other artists’ music. The following year he collaborated with Mick Jenkins on “Rain,” injecting hazy serenity into the slow-burning dance track. Successive collaborations with Vic Mensa, Freddie Gibbs, Towkio, and many others offer tidbits about the producer behind these slick, sultry beats, most of which professed a similar tranquility. These gradual unveilings have been a steadying force in Kaytranada’s career, until now, as we all wait for his proper debut, 99.9%. Kaytranada’s model for success — starting behind the scenes and gingerly inching his way into the foreground — has worked like a charm.
Equally paramount in Kaytranada’s career is an openness about his sexuality. Earlier this month, the producer came out as gay in a candid and heartwarming Fader profile. Doing so was for his own good, a healthy purging of sorts; not to appease a probing fan base or attract attention: “I just wanna come clean and shit. Just to be less awkward with people. Its so wack [to lie]. This is another step in my life. I haven’t changed since high school. I’m ready to move on.”
His upcoming album is a formative coming clean moment for the producer, who has struggled with his sexuality for a long time. When an artist decides to be bold for his own sake, it adds an attractive confidence to his body of work. Kaytranada is only 23, and his audacity about his sexuality makes him a trailblazer in the hip-hop community.
While claiming that rap and hip-hop are more homophobic than other genres may be an unfounded generalization, it is true that queer representation in these communities is lacking. Kaytranada’s coming out, then, is a pioneering move toward a safer hip-hop space for queerness. Sure, Macklemore penned a song about gay marriage, but his whiteness has proven problematic. More specifically, gay marriage is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to queer politics, and Macklemore isn’t even gay — although he thought he might have been for, like, two minutes, in the third grade, an experience he relays in “Same Love.” Macklemore’s intentions are usually good, but he often undermines himself with flimsy concern. Kaytranada doesn’t make music about being gay, but rather demonstrates — through candidness — that gay people can exist just as easily as anyone else in his community.
So far, Kaytranada has released the singles “Glowed Up” featuring Anderson Paak and “Bus Ride” featuring Karriem Riggins and River Tiber, who both appear in 99.9%. The debut album will include features from The internet’s Syd tha Kyd, Aluna George, Little Dragon, and BADBADNOTGOOD. Most recently, Kaytranada has hyped up his album by releasing a mobile game called 99.9%: The Game, which is, apparently, pretty addicting. If you get a high enough score, you are rewarded with a free download of “Nobody Beats the Kay,” a bonus track from the upcoming album.
Kaytranada’s decision to add an interactive mobile app to his album rollout may not be the most original decision — Rihanna and Animal Collective, for example, did the same thing — but the quiet boldness behind his gradual come-up and fearless attitude about his sexuality sets him apart in a musical genre that sees countless releases weekly.