There’s something about a Kaytranada instrumental that is instantly recognisable. Like The Neptunes and Timbaland in their mid-Noughties prime, they don’t require a signature sound effect or drop to flag up their maker. From his warm custom synths, to unquantised polyrhythmic drum patterns and a lo-fi mixing style that amps up the kick drums, Kaytranada has crafted a very unique sound. Whether he’s contributing house vibes to Chance The Rapper’s latest mixtape ‘Coloring Book’, remixing Disclosure and AlunaGeorge or making gritty rap beats for Mobb Deep’s ‘The Infamous Mobb Deep’, the Montreal producer always makes his mark.
When we arrive at XL Recordings’ office in West London, Kay, born Louis Kevin Celestin, finally has his hands on a physical copy of his debut album ‘99.9%’ for the first time. Right now only CDs have arrived, but he is given a house-bagged vinyl copy of the double A-side, ‘Glowed Up/Lite Spots’, which he places onto a turntable in the corner of the room. As the high-pitched vocal samples crackle to life on the latter cut, followed by the dusty soul sample that progresses to a thumping bassline, there’s a visible joy that the Soundcloud star has in the physical product, which has been absent from the million times he’s listened back to the digital file already.
This particular record has already been over two years in the making - a former album was shelved due to issues with his previous label. In total Kay has been waiting over six years to drop a debut LP, so it’s not surprising that he feels like some weight has been taken from his shoulders. The past couple of years in particular have been pretty turbulent for the 23-year-old; he’d been touring heavily and gaining recognition as a DJ, but without an album to back it up he felt like he was headed in the wrong direction. He yearned to be considered an artist, and while his incredibly eclectic DJ sets were building him a positive rep, he worried that it could be detrimental to his goal. “Everybody else was going on tour for purpose - they had albums coming out,” he remembers. “And I was seeing people's success and their releases. It was just an artistic expression that needed to happen sooner for me. I was pretty frustrated that I hadn’t put out an album yet.”
To add to that frustration, he was undergoing what he refers to as an “identity crisis”. He eventually came out as gay in an interview with The FADER earlier this year, but had been internally struggling with how this might affect his relationships and career. Now, with a few days to go until the album hits shelves, a new chapter begins and he is no longer nervous about its imminent release - however, he does admit that at one point he worried about releasing a bunch of music that he’s had in the stash for so long. “I used to play all of the songs when I was on tour in 2014,” he says. “So in my head those songs are very old. That was giving me the illusion that those songs are not hot anymore and I was tripping out.”