This being the final year of the decade, it seems fitting we’ve seen albums released from some of the defining acts of last ten years. Kanye West, whose Yeezus (2013) and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) are both shoo-ins for many top ten lists, dropped Jesus is King, the gospel-infused statement-album that will either set the pace for what we’re going to expect from him in the 2020s or prove just one more example of the year’s countless contradictions. Tyler, the Creator and Angel Olsen both delivered their best albums to date in discographies entirely defined by the 10s, and Kaytranada waited until the final moments of the decade to reaffirm his role as a definitively consistent producer.
Kaytranada is the project of Haitian-born, Canadian-raised DJ, Louis Celestin. A prolific worker, Celestin began producing music at 15. He started steadily releasing mixtapes in 2010 and built enough word of mouth through his various remixes that he would eventually get signed to XL Recordings. He released his first proper full length, the powerhouse 99.9% via the label in 2016. That album, like his newest, featured a very similar cast of backing musicians and contributors. But it was more indebted to the Kaytranada moniker, and specifically his unique blend of production quirks.
On 99.9%, Celestin was willing to incorporate the seemingly disparate trap beats and hip-house-style R&B that had influenced him, and was self-assured enough to place artists like Vic Mensa and BadBadNotGood next to each other without raising an eye. That same kaleidoscopic nature for sound design and the freewheeling confidence luckily has stayed with Celestin over the last few years. On this year’s Bubba, he makes the case that backing up those features is really where he finds his best footing.
99.9% proved a critical success and helped lead to collaborations with Chance the Rapper, Kelela and Mick Jenkins in the years that followed. When it came time to head back into the studio to record its follow-up Bubba, Celestin decided he wanted to acknowledge the strengths of what made his debut work while attempting to make something different. The result is another feature-based outing but with a different cast of musicians. Although we do hear from the familiar face of new RCA label mate GoldLink, the strongest tracks here offer some of the more surprising features.
Kali Uchis steals the show with lead single “10%”, an effortless showcase of the way she can command a song, and the strength of the producer’s more dance-centric beats. Similarly, Mick Jenkins delivers a typically strong verse on his contribution “Gray Area” and Tinashe provides sultry vocals that carry all over “The Worst In Me”. The biggest name here by far is Pharrell Williams, who delivers a bubbly and incessantly fun take on the final cut here “Midsection”. A shimmering would-be song of the summer that leaves the listener on a high note, it’s captivating and buoyant, and in stark contrast to the tracks that come before it.
Even on Bubba’s weakest tracks, Celestin finds something to keep the listener interested; Estelle’s sweet and catchy vocals on “Oh No” help to elevate a synthy instrumental and a chorus that otherwise wouldn’t go very far. “Need It” has a pretty ineffective contribution from Masego, but Celestin stubbornly gives him one of his stronger instrumentals. And even “Go DJ”, despite being a bit repetitive, has an ear worm that’s hard to ignore and a great feature from SiR. Although not insignificant, these faults add up less to a failure than to the nature of an album with as many creatives working at the same time. Without the risk, the best moments here would be out of reach.
Throughout Bubba, Celestin manages to carry a lofty run time – just over 50 minutes over the course of 17 songs – without letting the mood come down. He succeeds and effectively cements himself among the leading producers of his generation, someone who seems at the precipice of a Top 40 collaboration or generational zeitgeist. The album itself plays as a follow-up and a self-referential nod to 99.9%. In the best way possible, Celestin links his past to the present and avoids the conventional reinvention. Instead, after a long gestation period and dealing with the ramifications of coming out of the closet, Celestin opted to give his fans exactly what they expected whilst acknowledging the world he lives in now and the inherent differences therein.