Meet Kaytranada, the dance music producer taking over hip-hop and R&B
Welcome to Meet the Producers, a CBC Music series that highlights Canadian producers making waves in their respective genres. Producers are integral to building the backbone of the songs we love: they turn ideas into fully fleshed creations, and because so much of what they do happens behind the scenes, we wanted to shed a light on them.
Kaytranada, née Louis Kevin Celestin, has come a long way since his iconic 2013 Boiler Room set in a tiny, packed venue in Montreal: last summer he played the second-largest stage at Coachella, he’s been the Weeknd’s opening act since 2022 and he just nabbed his 10th Juno nomination for his 2023 collaborative album, Kaytraminé.
The Montreal-born and raised producer has developed a sound all his own in the dance music world, one that has attracted collaborators from outside of it including Pharrell Williams, Aminé, Tinashe, Anderson .Paak, Kali Uchis, H.E.R., Charlotte Day Wilson and Badbadnotgood. He’s in high demand, and was even asked to produce for Janet Jackson before the pandemic. In an interview, Kaytranada told Billboard that he’s at a point where 60 per cent of his collaborations are with artists who have approached him, and 40 per cent are from him reaching out to artists.
WATCH | The music video for ‘Twin Flame’ by Kaytranada featuring Anderson .Paak: [embedded content]
In his early days, Kaytranada was making beats as a teen in his bedroom, sampling old vinyls and dropping remixes online. A 2013 rework of Janet Jackson’s “If” is what put the producer on the map, after it went viral on SoundCloud overnight. His 2016 debut album, 99.9%, won the Polaris Music Prize and cemented his status as a leader in dance music. His sophomore album, 2019’s Bubba, won Kaytranada his first two Grammys: for best dance recording and best dance/electronic album, making him the first Black producer and the first openly gay artist to win the award since its inception in 2004.
The Kaytranada sound, dissected
There is something so distinct about a Kaytranada beat that even when he’s making music for other people, his handiwork is immediately identifiable. He has an omnivorous set of influences, from J Dilla to Justice, and you can hear a mix of hip-hop, house, funk and other Black music genres in each track. The quintessential Kaytranada production element is his kick wave: the tug of war of the drums is the telltale sign his hands have touched a track. Some examples include: “You’re the One” featuring Syd, at 0:32; “10%” featuring Kali Uchis, at 0:26; and “Alright” by Victoria Monét, at 0:17.
WATCH | The video for Kaytranada’s ‘You’re the One’:[embedded content]
Kaytranada prefers to do his crate digging online. In a Reddit AMA thread, he shared that he finds samples by combing through eclectic YouTube channels he’s been following for years.
In the same Reddit thread, he mentions “108 is the magic number,” when referring to his preferred BPM to work with. Classic hip-hop usually sits between 85 and 95 beats per minute, while house and techno range between 115 and 130. His music is a happy medium that has the energetic tempo of electronic genres, with the inherent groove and grit of hip-hop.
WATCH | The video for Kaytranada and Aminé’s track with Pharrell Williams, ‘4eva’:
In the same interview with Billboard, rapper Aminé, Kaytranada’s frequent collaborator, spoke about the producer being easy to work with and not overbearing. “I feel like a lot of artists go into sessions with producers who have big names or whatever, and the producers are really f–king intimidating sometimes. They’re like, ‘This is going to be a hit record, man!'” he said. “I think Kay is really good at giving artists room and just letting them flourish.”
Kaytranada told the magazine that “I just want to be remembered as one of the greats in terms of producing, not only dance and electronic but also just production in general.”
If he stays on his current trajectory, that’s inevitable.