KAYTRANADA on shaping his sound and the future of funk

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In the 1960s, James Brown was developing the tight grooves, syncopated basslines, and guitar ostinatos in New Orleans that became funk music as we know it today.

Decades later and many miles apart, a young producer in Montreal with roots in Haiti would one day carry the sound of funk into the future. That producer was KAYTRANADA, whose distinctive blend of genres — ranging from the boom bap influences of Jay Dee (aka J Dilla) to the dancefloor eclecticism of Letherette — redefined the genre on his terms.

“I didn’t grow up listening to funk,” KAYTRANADA tells us, however. “Maybe it was in me since I was born – everything I listened to was probably influenced by it in some ways.”

Listening to KAYTRANADA’s earliest work (which he created under the alias Kaytradamus as a teenager), one can hear the nascence of a burgeoning funk project that took cues from the break-chopping stylings of Madlib and the synthetic basslines of Flying Lotus. However, he insists it wasn’t until later on that funk music began to directly inspire his work. “I didn’t pay attention to the genre of funk until my early twenties,” he reflects.

Funk music has always been an integral element in hip hop production, with the earliest sampled breaks and one-shots pulling from decades of funk records. KAYTRANADA cites Madlib and Jay Dee (aka J Dilla) as his gateways into the genre. “I’ve seen a lot of my favorite producers like them sampling James Brown,” he tells us. “Funky Drummer,” James Brown’s 1970 single, included Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break and became one of the most sampled records of all time. Jay Dee sampled “Funky Drummer” on numerous occasions, while both Dilla and Madlib sampled Brown’s 1973 single “The Payback.” A listen through both tracks reveals their influence on KAYTRANADA’s earliest work. He adds that The Neptunes “imitating” this sampling style inspired him as well.

In particular, 2015 proved a crucial year in KAYTRANADA’s musical journey. That year, A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip began hosting Abstract Radio on Beats1. In September, he invited Pete Rock onto the show. “That’s when I found out all about the J.B.’s joints,” KAYTRANADA tells us. Pete Rock’s mix explored decades of James Brown’s discography. “It was that, and of course the p-funk that Dr. Dre sampled, that definitely put me on to funk music.”

Now releasing music as KAYTRANADA, his work embraces the funk sound, mixing syncopated basslines with hard-hitting dance grooves while also incorporating house, R&B, and experimental electronica influences. He has worked alongside collaborators like GoldLink, AlunaGeorge, Anderson .Paak, Pharrell Williams and Kali Uchis across 2016’s 99.9% and 2019’s BUBBA, his two full-lengths with XL Recordings. What’s more, he’s nominated for Best New Artist, Best Dance Recording, and Best Dance/Electronic album for BUBBA at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards.

He continues to look towards his contemporaries and collaborators for inspiration. “I see cats like Anderson .Paak, Bruno Mars, and Khruangbin taking funk to the next level,” he tells us. While the sound of KAYTRANADA charges full-speed ahead towards the future, he’s fully steeped in the funk tradition.

February 10, 2021