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Kaytranada, a Grammy Nominee for Best New Artist, Reflects on ‘Bubba’ and Working the Dance/Hip-Hop Divide

Kaytranada (Louis Kevin Celestin) during Something
Sipa USA via AP

Nearly ten years after his remix of Janet Jackson’s “If” went viral on SoundCloud, Kaytranada is up for a best new artist Grammy this weekend. The Haitian-Canadian DJ, born Louis Kevin Celestin, is also nominated for best dance/electronic album for 2019’s “Bubba” and best dance recording for the Kali Uchis-featuring “10%.”

“It’s kind of funny because I’ve been making music for a while,” Celestin said of the best new artist nomination. “But it’s still great to have this recognition.”

Had it not been for the pandemic, “Bubba” is among the music that would have almost certainly soundtracked late summer nights out in 2020. Celestin would also have brought the album to life last spring on a tour across the United States, but ended up having to lock down in Montreal. Still, over the last year, he’s stayed busy and most recently put out the funk-house single “Caution” and a remix of Busta Rhymes’ “The Don and the Boss.”

Ahead of Grammy weekend, Celestin sat down with Variety to reflect on “Bubba” and what he’s working on next.

How has Los Angeles influenced your work?

Being in L.A. and being in the studio in real time and just collaborating with the artist, whoever I’m collaborating with, it gave a whole vibe to the new album. So that’s why “Bubba” and “99” were really different. It was just this presence of being in the now more and trying things and really focusing on the dance/electronic because [that’s] what I was going for with this album.

[L.A.] inspires me constantly, and a lot of things happen that make me feel more important than in Montreal. Here is L.A., they really respect me as Kaytranada. People are stoked to work with you, people are more into what you’re trying to do. For me, being at home by myself and making beats — I don’t really get feedback constantly. When I’m in L.A., in the studio… it’s an easier thing for me, because I don’t have to overthink. I just have to see what the artist thinks. I love to listen and to just know what the artists want in their project or in their song, whatever they’re trying to do. The difference between being at home and being here is this drive that you got. And it’s more present here.

The cohesiveness of “Bubba” rested on your focus to specifically make an electronic/dance album. Do you want to pivot back to hip-hop for your next project?

I definitely did the dance/electronic influence, but from the ground up, the genre is really hip-hop. In every genre that I’m trying to do, I’m definitely going to add my influence from hip-hop and making beats to it, to every creation I’m making. So maybe the next project, I might just go back to it and just make it more hip-hop, but we’ll just see how it goes. At this point I don’t think about genres like that. Especially with the next record, I’m not going to even think about genres.

We’ve hit the one-year pandemic mark. What have you been working on in that time?

I’m trying to be [as] creative as possible. Even if my stuff comes out trash, I’m just gonna try to make stuff every day to have enough material on the staff and just practice my approach when I’m here collaborating with people. I’m definitely trying to work more on myself and with being less in my head.

I have a lot of projects that I don’t know if they’re gonna come out. I definitely started working on a new project, but that’s a very recent thinking that I was like, “you know what, I’m just gonna start a new album.” I think I’m gonna put out the “Bubba” remixes, after all. I really thought [that] this album is kind of outdated in my head, but people wanted it. I just asked the fans if they wanted it and they said yes, so I think I’m gonna put that out. Like remixes with my producer friends and stuff like that. It’s gonna sound nice.

A lot of rappers just gave me the idea of just doing collaborative projects with me producing their whole EP or album. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, so this is what I’m looking forward to most.

What are you looking forward to most in a COVID-safe world?

This little tour I did in Australia [in January 2020] — it was eye opening. It made me look forward to going on tour definitely in the U.S., but it didn’t happen. That’s what I’m looking forward to: to go on tour, just party again; after partying, just DJing across the world. That’s what I’m really looking forward to: meeting people dancing on the dance floor, stuff like that.

You’ve often been described as shy. Does that make it difficult to perform?

I am kind of shy, but I kind of got off the level of just being too shy. I’m really trying to be more out there and more talkative and more present. I don’t think I’m shy. I just don’t have much to say. I’m more of an observer and just a listener.

I love performing. It’s kind of spiritual to me. I don’t feel like I’m present sometimes on stage. You know when you zone out at times and you’re just not mentally there? Your mind is elsewhere, but you still manage to do your thing. It’s sort of like a meditation. It’s kind of like this release, and then when you end up performing and you just finished your show and then you feel relaxed. There’s this mental stillness of free[dom] and peace that I feel every time I perform. It’s soothing.

You’ve already worked with Anderson .Paak, Alicia Keys and Chance the Rapper, to name a few. Are there any other artists you hope to work with?

There [are] maybe three people I want to work with, but I’m sure I have more on my bucket list. Off the top of my head, who I can name now is Tyler the Creator. He told me he was mad that he was not on the “Bubba” album. Now I have to collab with him because he said that to me… Erykah Badu, of course. We are friends, but I don’t think she ever wants to work, you know? And, of course, Jay-Z. I think I would have a good beat selection for him, but those are dreams.