Album Review: Kaytranada – 99.9%

Joy, that slither of space where the body, mind, and emotion sync beyond the pieces of happiness we are afforded in this life. It’s hard to articulate and difficult to define, but we know joy when we are inside of it; life makes sense.

In my opinion, the “atomic” make-up of Kaytranada’s music, is constructed to open more doors towards joy. The very DNA of Kay’s music, house and hip hop, were founded in the creative resistances to systems that tried (and try) to suck Black, Latin, gay, and urban poor bodies of their life force(s), but the club and weekend park jam was stronger. That floating signifier of contemporary Black electronic music’s origin fuels Kaytranada’s sound. Whether it was his nostalgia calibrated remixes of Mary J and Janet, or the swirling pop of Alunageorge’s  “Kaleidoscope Love”, Kaytranada’s sonics feel like sunrays triggering the dance freak in all of us. He simply makes fun, high quality music.

This kinetic quality is apparent and actual in his full length debut for XL records 99.9%. Over 15 tracks, Kay displays his love of house, rap, and R&B in ways that don’t come across generic or looking to please all types of audiences. His singular voice just happens to color for many.

The opening song “Track Uno” is five-plus minutes of Kay working a wide rubbery bass line like a magician. As the song’s sound comes together, it feels like watching light move over a planet from a spaceship with a drunkenly ecstatic captain, only to shift into two darker movements that are still funky as fuck.

But then things quickly turn cerebral on “Bus Ride,” where Karriem Riggins’ skittering jazz drumming calmly sit center stage. Kay’s loops and noise sketches swirls around the drums and congeal a melody that comes across painterly and serene. By the time we get to the third song “Got It Good,” and hear the first voice, Craig David’s smooth lover’s croon, the mood and feel of the album are set: romantic and lush.

These dynamic elements coalesce fantastically on the lead single “Glowed Up,” featuring break out star Anderson .Paak. The song’s vibe is new money cool on one-thousand. Over bright synths, punchy drum kicks, and a bass line as strong as Hercules, Paak sings “walkin’ in the form of my elders, I’m glowed up, glowed up / bitch, don’t I look like a pharaoh,” and you just want to reply, hell yeah. Then the last minute of the song turns into a calm and reflective number where .Paak just wants to have time to chill and be love(d).

While “Glowed Up” is one of the calmer moments of 99.9%, “One Too Many” featuring Phonte, and “You’re the One” featuring Syd of The Internet, get the BPMs back to hip swinging, finger snappin’ levels. On the latter, the mix of Syd’s vocals are incredible, she’s never sounded better. “Vivid Dreams” is also a highlight on the album. The song has River Tiber providing some vocals to a noir-esque late night pulse of maracas and clicking drums that will get the head nod factor high as well.

Yet, the apex moment of 99.9% has to be the “Pontos De Luz” sampling “Lite Spots”. The original is already crate digger gold, but Kaytranada transforms it into some mystic testament to the afrofuture: speeding up the sample, then cutting and “erasing” it under his signature bass slaps, bleeps, and beat pauses. It’s a sample source and reimaging that points to Kaytranada’s beat-head sensibility, and lines him up with the post-rap-house fusion exploits of King Britt, DJ Spinna, and 4Hero.

The video only underscores Kay’s sonic wheel of humor, romanticism, tech, and elucidations towards joy. “Lite Spots” along with most of the songs on the album are hard to deny. But these 600 words can’t be the only thing to convince you to get on the wave. Throw these songs on a long summer road trip, or cruise down your city or town’s main strip, roll the windows down, turn the volume way up, and let, this, shit, SLAP. 99.9% is an album made to be played loud, during the summer, and produce joy.

Francisco McCurry

Francisco McCurry is a decolonizing native traveling the space ways of planet air bold and broke. He is working on a novel called Lucha Libre in America and holds an MFA from Antioch University. He pays bills working in education and knows Wu Tang is Forever.

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