Hip-hop and house music have had a turbulent relationship since their beginnings, though the genres aren’t really so different. In fact, their similarities have coaxed many artists to produce compounds of the two. It’s been commonplace to find hip-hop cuts on dance producers’ albums in recent times. Equally, the grainy funk loops, vinyl crackles and EQing of hip-hop now regularly feature on the 4/4 dancefloor beats craving its organic matter and grit.
What has not yet really happened in any meaningful way though, is for a hip-hop producer to have tapped into house, blending the two worlds in a credible, original way. Montreal, Canada’s Kaytranada seems to be that artist, and accordingly the hype around him has been huge.
What if J Dilla had made house too? That’s Kaytranada’s shtick and he wears it well. His debut album 99.9% lands on UK label XL Recordings—canny talent spotters who’ve recently returned to the dance beats with which they first earned their reputation. Loaded with the kind of guest rap slots you’d expect from the hippest 2016 Stateside hip-hop record, it features names like Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, Odd Future/The Internet’s Syd and erm, Craig David. 99% may have its share of rap tempo beats and concessions to trap, but what’s exciting here is how Kaytranada switches up the pace from track to track.
“Track Uno” is a wicked 4/4 piece made up of glinting twilight boogie loops and electroid bass, which resembles something you’d expect from Leon Vynehall or Theo Parrish more than a guy associated with rap. “Bus Ride,” featuring drummer Karriem Riggins, is a contemplative, string-laden trip-hop piece, loaded with beats which suddenly catapult into double time drum & bass flourishes. “One Too Many,” with Little Brother’s Phonte, is a loose, synthy disco cut, with vocals that flit between silky R&B and raw rap flows, while “Breakdance Lesson No.1” is all ’80s funk guitar licks and arpeggiated synth details (almost a broken beat/disco fusion). “You’re the One,” though, is the perfect mix of funked-up house and modern R&B vibes—its played-in, unquantised synth bass and loose swing makes perfect sense with Syd’s honeyed vocals.
Even Kaytranada’s straight up rap tracks are unconventional, such as the loping trap beat of “Drive Me Crazy.” Its cascading, ethereal synth loop in the backdrop sounds suspiciously like Origin Unknown’s hardcore/jungle classic “Valley of the Shadows”—something that smacks of deliberate intertextual reference, demonstrative of the producer’s dance culture knowledge and attachment. Even if it’s not, it bangs like a barn door.
99.9% is a brilliant, well-realized combination of styles, with more than its fair share of memorable and addictive songs. It’s also a genre-trouncing exercise that you feel, and hope, will have an influence upon other producers Stateside. Kaytranada is certainly a talent to watch.
99% is due to hit stores May 6. Pre-order it at the XL Recordings store.