Glowed Up: Kaytranada's "99.9%" And The Power Of Black Fun
Kaytranada spins Roots Picnic 2016, Photo by Averie Cole for Okayplayer.
Underneath a starry, summer sky at Philadelphia's Festival Pier, Kaytranada enters the last remaining minutes of his Roots Picnic 2016 performance.
"Me sinto completamente contente / Ouso dizer / Completamente contente."
The vocal flip from Gal Costa's "Pontos De Luz" incites cheers and screams from the crowd. This is it — "Lite Spots." The bass drops and everyone clicks into a collective groove. One girl is dutty wining. One guy is voguing. Not one person is motionless, everybody is cutting a step as Kaytradamus bobs his head in satisfaction.
Then, as the song nears its end, fans from the audience hop over the fence that separates them from a small space reserved for the "workers" of the festival. The guard in charge tries to stop the next group of fence hoppers from getting over, but ultimately shrugs his shoulders and disappears behind one of the stage speakers. Now there's one last thing to do: dance. "Go! Go! Go! Go!" yells someone from within a dance circle, while someone else offers an elongated "Eyyyyyy!" as a dancer dips to the ground.
Unfortunately, Kaytranada's set is cut short by few minutes. But we're still dancing. "Kaytra! Kaytra!" someone begins to chant. There we all are, a group of black people basking in each other's sweaty bliss, dapping and hugging one another. "It was a pleasure dancing with you" I said to one guy. "Same to you, brother. Enjoy the rest of the night," he responded. We went our separate ways, hoping to catch the remainder of The Roots and Usher's collaborative concert from a good spot. But we had a moment we would share forever — going fucking 100% to Kaytranada's 99.9%.
Kaytranada's music is simultaneously a celebration of and to blackness. From the tracks he flips (Janet Jackson - "Alright"; TLC - "Creep"; Missy Elliott - "Sock It 2 Me"; Teedra Moses - "Be Your Girl" and Rihanna - "Kiss It Better") to the visuals for singles "Glowed Up" and "Lite Spots," the artist explicitly creates a space that's intended for black people.
But 99.9% transcends a generational pinpoint: although the 15-track album debut pulses with a futuristic funk house sound, there's elements of breakbeat, disco, hip-hop, r&b and soul that provides a familiar and nostalgic feel. Which is to say it's for all black people — young, old; millennials, baby boomers. If you were to put on this album at a family cookout, every one of your relatives could find a song they relate to. That one uncle of yours might reminisce of his younger days as an aspiring b-boy as soon as "Breakdance Lesson N.1" begins; that one aunt of yours that never seems to age and can somehow still outdrink you, will likely start an impromptu "Electric Slide" on "One Too Many"...after having one too many. Hell, your younger cousins will probably Snapchat each other dabbing to "Glowed Up."
Black joy envelopes Festival Pier's Oasis Stage at Roots Picnic 2016. Photo by Mel D. Cole for Okayplayer & Village Slum
"Sometimes I'll listen to [Kaytranada's] music and I'll think I'm back in the mid '90s at Club Townsend in The Bay, where DJs Clivilles and Cole and Louie Vega used to come DJ," Swaysaid during a recent interview with Kaytranada. "Your music is refreshing — I dare say fun to listen to."
Kaytranada treats 99.9% like he does his DJ sets: the momentum builds as soon as he presses play and he maintains that intensity throughout. The tempo may change slightly; songs may or may not get extended. But it all serves a purpose — to keep everyone moving until the very last second.
That's why his album is so much fun — it embodies the energy of a good party. Everybody has a drink; somebody brought snacks; no one is causing a scene; no one is getting hurt. Everybody is enjoying each other's presence as they turn their friend of a friend of a friend's apartment living room into a dance floor.
The scenario described above is essentially the premise for "Glowed Up," as Kaytranada envisions the house party of all house parties. Guests enter through a freezer, the literally coolest of the coolest congregating in the center of the room. One by one the scenes transition to young black faces, before returning to a smitten Kaytranada.
As much as 99.9% nestles in nostalgia and influences of the past, it also looks towards the future — a black future. "Glowed Up" feels almost utopian: different shades of millennials dancing alongside each other, but black people are the stars of the show. One of the best scenes from the video is at the one minute mark, when the camera happens to focus on a certain young black man. His eyes are closed, his hands forming peace signs that sway back and forth in front of the camera. He's the embodiment of #carefreeblackboy, unconcerned with what's going on around him, shades of blue and purple disguising a slight smile on his face.
It's a beautiful moment. Brief. But long enough that it stays with you well after the party is over.
Then there's "Lite Spots," a video where Kaytranada ventures through beautiful and sunny Los Angeles, accompanied by a robot he built. Kaytra turns his bionic pal into a b-boy badass, the robot picking up people's dance moves by simply scanning them. Each dance is different; each person is different. The two end their day at a diner, inevitably causing a commotion — but not enough that the guy behind them complains. A good day in LA.
You could look at "Lite Spots" as a commentary on cultural exchange: the way in which black dances are quickly consumed and shared through social media — here one day; gone the next.
Or you could look at it as a testament to what black people have and continue to do in this country and throughout the world: create and further pop culture. What would 2016 be without The Dab? The Running Man? What would 2015 have been without Hit The Quan? The Whip and The Nae Nae? The Milly Rock? What would 2014 have been without the fucking Shmoney Dance?
Not as fun.
The most sensible take away of "Lite Spots" might be this: black people share their culture not because we're expected to, but because we want to. There's empowerment and freedom in that. And those that wish to participate with us should respect that.
Black is beautiful, free and progressive in Kaytranada's world. But, most importantly, it's fun — and that's something you can never get enough of.