Kaytranda is coolin up north.
Words by Brian Padilla
The number-one challenge for any musician, especially a DJ, is creating a distinct sound. How do you separate yourself from every other artist trying to pop on SoundCloud? How the fuck do you capture cool? And most importantly, how do you get people to dance instead of staring mindlessly at their phones?
Canadian DJ Kaytranada has cracked that code, and he’s only 20 years old. By mixing neo-soul with hip hop and a little bit of disco, Kaytranada has created his own signature sound. His music makes you move, whether you want to or not, and he’s gained a following large enough to tour the world as a DJ and street enough to produce for Mobb Deep. Kay is out here winning, and trust, he’s cool as fuck while doing it.
Now, Kaytranada has inked a deal with XL Recordings and is preparing to drop his official EP, So Bad, in the fall. Although he’s been getting some major looks, Kaytranada’s not cocky. He still lives in his childhood home in Montreal, and he’s in a rap group with his little brother Pipo called The Celestics. The kid from Canada may be keeping it global, but he never forgets the place he calls home.
Mass Appeal: When did you first start making beats, and what was the original inspiration?
Kaytranada: Basically, I started listening to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest songs and that showed me who J Dilla was. I was just listening to them—I think it was the Beats Rhymes and Life album and then The Low End Theory— and that kind of made me want to DJ at first. From there, I just learned about drum breaks and loops and stuff, just discovering DJing and making my own mixes. That pushed me to become a producer. My little brother Pipo showed me the basics, and I just couldn’t stop making beats from that day.
When you started your SoundCloud page, did you expect things to blow up like this?
I kind of did expect this to happen. I wanted to become as big as 9th Wonder at the time. You know, J Dilla and Madlib inspired me to make beats, and I just wanted to be like them. My goal was to be one of the biggest. I just kept on making beats and dropping albums for free from my Bandcamp or whatever, but I just like to make the most random type of music. I don’t just stick to hip hop, I like to mix with other genres. That keeps me versatile. That’s what makes me unique.
You’ve described your sound as “uptempo neo-soul,” which is completely flipping this already unique style on its head.
That “uptempo neo-soul” thing is just something you could say. In a lot of R&B albums there are already uptempo songs. It’s not even that it was a rare thing to hear at the time. I just wanted to hear more of that, so I made more of that on my own. I just want to be an individual artist that starts something. I don’t know if Flying Lotus is in the hip hop world or in the electronic world. He’s dope, so it doesn’t even matter. I’m trying to be like that, and I think it’s working right now.
It’s definitely working, because you’re able to transition from electronic joints to producing Mobb Deep’s “My Block.”
Yeah. I think it’s crazy they allowed that to happen. Red Bull hooked that up. They curated this event where young artists work with legends. I thought I was only going to work with Prodigy, but both of the guys were there. It was a pleasure just showing them some instrumentals, never mind being on their album. Prodigy wants to work with me again. At least that’s what I heard.
What made you sign with XL Recordings?
Just being on that roster is something cool. I’m there making history with artists like Tyler, The Creator, M.I.A., Radiohead, and Jack White. I think it’s crazy just being in the same company as those artists.
What features do you have lined up for your EP?
One feature is with Vic Mensa. Then I have two singers who are not on the scene yet. One of my friends Shay Lia, she’s in the Montreal Boiler Room video—the light-skin girl dancing. The other feature is from Reva DeVito. I did a song called “Friday Night” with her. They’re both amazing artists to watch out for.
Did you say Shay Lia is that girl in the Montreal Boiler Room video on YouTube?
Not the tall girl. I don’t know her bro, but her ass was turnt in that boiler room. That’s what people don’t understand—Montreal was such a real party compared to the other boiler rooms we did. In New York City people just kind of stand around. They’re almost too cool to dance. Montreal isn’t like that.
What do you want most for your career?
I think I just wish to stay relevant. Even if shit starts to be more low-key, I just hope to have longevity in this. I don’t want to disappear.