Kaytranada and Jaboukie Check in on Each Other

Kaytranada and Jaboukie Check in on Each Other

Story by Rob Dozier / Photography by Bryan Huynh

When you trace the careers of Jaboukie Young-White, comedian, writer (and Twitter freedom fighter), and Kaytranada, prolific DJ and producer — two Black, queer men in fields that haven't always been receptive to difference — it's clear the path to traditional fame has been rewritten.

The internet has for young queer people all over the world been a place of refuge and discovery, providing opportunities to explore identity that wouldn't otherwise be available for many. And it's allowed queer creatives to reach audiences who've often been neglected, expanding our ideas of what queerness looks and sounds like. Now artists, writers and musicians who would have been kept in the periphery in the past, have a chance at making it in the mainstream — like Jaboukie and Kaytranada.

Jaboukie honed his iconoclastic brand of humor on his Twitter feed, poking fun at everything from pop culture to politics, gaining a large, devoted following. And his stand up, with which he made his TV debut on Jimmy Fallon in 2017 doing, established him as a serious force. He's deft at picking apart assumptions about class, age and race and his upbringing with Jamaican parents and playing them. Since 2017, he's landed himself spots in writer's rooms for shows like American Vandal and Big Mouth and a correspondent role on The Daily Show.

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"There's an infectiousness to comedy. It's meant to be shared and spread," he told Teen Vogue last year. "So much of this shit now is just so abjectly terrible that there's no other way to engage with it besides putting a spin on it or a laugh."

Similarly, Kaytranada gained a devoted following on platforms like Soundcloud and YouTube because of his unique sound, starting with a viral remix of Janet Jackson's '90s smash, "If," which he produced from his home in Montreal back in 2013. He got so much attention that he started receiving invitations to go on tour, so he dropped out of high school and accepted them. The following year, he was signed to XL Recordings, and has been on a steady incline since.

In 2016 he released his debut album 99.9%, which fully realized his blend of house, disco, hip hop and dance music from all over the world. And in the years following he had a hand in crafting some music's most culturally relevant moments, like Chance the Rapper's breakthrough 2016 mixtape, Coloring Book. Kaytranada has also collaborated with artists like Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak. His most recent album, Bubba, came out the end of last year, sharpening his sound and collaborative process, featuring a diverse array of artists like Kali Uchis, Mick Jenkins and VanJess. One Pitchfork writer said it was flexible and ever-moving, "a dance record that could have come from no one else."

As it turns out, Jaboukie and Kaytranada have far more in common than their rises to fame — they're also secret fans of one another. Their conversation for PAPER Pride, below, touches on everything from coming out, to producer tags and what it's like to have Caribbean parents.

Where are you guys quarantining at? How's lockdown been?

Jaboukie: So, I'm in Bushwick. It's been good. I started composting. I've basically been doing a bunch of home projects and shit. It's crazy because before this, I would travel so much for tour that I'm used to going at 100 miles per hour constantly so yeah, this is the longest I've been in New York for one stretch of time since 2016 maybe. What about you?

Kaytranada: I'm home in Montreal right now. I came back from LA right when the pandemic was announced. I was in LA and was going to stay there for two months. I was going to work on music and try to get more production placements or whatever but then this happened.

Jaboukie: How are you?

Kaytranda: Exhausted, man. I can't imagine what it's like to be in the United States cause shit is a little more calm here. But just watching you guys through the internet, everyone's like losing it.

Jaboukie: I'm going back to Jamaica. Shit. I'm ready. I'm going back in the closet. I'm staying with my cousins. I'm finding me a nice little Brown skin ting. I'm posted up in the countryside with my fiancé. We're having a heterosexual life together. Sans racism.

"Before social media we only had this one gay image, and I didn't see myself in that." — Kaytranada

Have you been able to work on stuff?

Kaytranada: I've been doing shows. I did a show for Syracuse University and it was on Zoom. It was kind of weird, but interesting at the same time. There was that and also I've been working on beats. I'm working on pretty much like a B-tape project. I've been trying to wrap this up and I've been working on that for 3 years, just piling up beats and beats and beats. Pretty much 50% of my beats will be taken up by an artist and the rest is just on my hard drive, so I really want people to hear them. That's what I'm working on.

But right now the world's in a weird place and it doesn't inspire me to just be creative. I don't know. So I've just been doing a lot of nothing and just pretty much trying to inform myself. That's what I'm focusing on. What about you?

Jaboukie: I feel like this is just a time where I'm really stopping to think like, Okay, what is my point of view and my place in all of this and how do I enrich, deepen and inform that, so that it's relevant to what is going on right now? And luckily, actually, Duke College Press had like a half-off sale and I went crazy on that shit. So now I have a whole African American studies course load in my apartment. I've just been going through stuff like that, I've been writing a lot, a couple projects. I've got pretty far on this one project that I've been sitting on for the past couple years which has been nice.

Other than that I've just been trying to do fun shit, shit that I can do and it'll be fun. I'm like not going to do that millennial thing where I'm like, Okay, cool, I got a hobby how do I monetize? How do I flip this, how do I like make this be another hyphenate? The worm composting is a part of that. I've been fucking around in Logic. I've also been making beats.

Kaytranada: I saw your stories, by the way when you were rhyming. That's dope.

How do you want people to be receiving your work, right now? What do you want it to provide for people in a time like this?

Jaboukie: For me, I just want the feeling of like — have you ever been in an all white space or like an all straight space or some shit like that, and there's just one person that you could look to across when some bullshit is happening and you're just like, I see you, we see each other, we see how crazy this bullshit is. I think that feeling is something I want to always be communicating. Whereas just like, I see you, you're not crazy. If you are crazy, then we're crazy together. That sort of thing.

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Kaytranada: Yeah, I have difficulties trying to find the right words to say most of the time. In the same way, I want to translate that with my music, but I make beats so I'm like, How am I going to do that?

When I was making my last album, I was really inspired by early house DJs, because now when house DJs actually come up, it's really those white DJs and people don't think about Black DJs in the sense that play House music. While I was making this album, I was like, This is the type of sound I went in to make: dance music, but mainly for Black people and if everybody else likes it, come through.

Jaboukie: I talk about this with my friends. There are certain songs that are markers for like, You're now in this space. Do you know what I mean? Like I know if I hear some Mac DeMarco, I'm going to see some white kids with cropped jeans and dirty white shoes, you know, like some trucker hats and shit. I feel like if I hear your Kelela remix, I'm like, Okay, this is a QTPOC space. I'm about to see some Black and Brown cuties. You know what I mean? And I feel like that is so important.

Kaytranada: I was definitely aiming for that, trying to embrace my sound.

I know that both of you are out and came out early in your careers. What went into that decision? Did you see any risk in it?

Kaytranada: I don't know. It was really surprising when I came out. It was like something snapped in me and I was tired of being straight for 23 years, you know? Living up to other people's standards...

Jaboukie: Wait, you came out when you were 23? Like publicly?

Kaytranada: Yeah!

Jaboukie: Oh shit! Me too!

Kaytranada: The Fader article came out when I was 23. I was just doing the interview and I was like, "Fuck it," and I just came out. It was kind of stressful for me until everyone read the interview. And I was like, Please don't make this a headline, and then the writer actually made it a headline on his Twitter. But you know, everything went well from then on. I was so scared, but my life is so much better now.

Jaboukie: That's dope. I mean the proof is in the pudding. You could not have made those bops.

Kaytranada: Like I know somebody wouldn't be obsessed with Janet and then make that remix and then just like be vibing and be straight, right. You know?

Jaboukie: You're right. It wouldn't have the same flavor. It kind of was similar for me. When I finally publicly came out, I had been doing stand up since I was like 19 and I came out when I was 23. Up until that point it wasn't a big thing to me because I was like out to my friends and I was out to anybody that I met. I just wasn't out with my family so that was the big thing. And Louis, you're Haitian right? So you already fucking know how the Caribbean...

Kaytranada: Dude, when I saw your stand up, when I saw your Jimmy Fallon special, there was so much shit I could relate to. I was like, "What the FUCK!" Just because the fact that like you're Jamaican and you're gay. I know it's the same history of homophobia that we're going through.

Jaboukie: I think it's interesting though because I feel like specifically when it comes to electronic music, I feel like there's such a history of gay, Black, queer, trans people being involved in music. It's interesting because I feel like you have a lineage. Where I feel like I wish comedy had that shit, you know? Like I wish I could go back and find some gay Chicago comedian from 1972. That's one thing that always drew me to your music too, you trying to flex all these different influences, but it's just like so effortlessly weaving them. Even some of the rhythms you use feel so Caribbean. I hear the thing you're pulling from, but it also feels like disco and then it also feels afrobeats. It feels so new, but so familiar at the same time.

Kaytranada: I mean it's just like the music I listened to growing up. I wasn't always in one genre. Like I was very heavily into hip-hop, like the '90s, you know? I was always the one who was saying, "Hip-hop is dead," at the time. I was also very deep into electronic [music]; I loved grunge; I loved house music. I stopped making hip-hop beats when I was a teenager. I just stopped and went to like the David Guetta-type of electronic [music], for like a year. And that kind of opened me up to like other styles of music.

Jaboukie: There is a specific kick pattern that if somebody put on, somebody would be like, "That's Kaytranada." I think that's so crazy. That's so dope, it's crazy. You literally created a sonic language.

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Kaytranda: Thank you, man. I use the same kick wave in every beat, so to me it's like a signature. Instead of dropping a name tag.

Jaboukie: Right, we got London on the track! That's so interesting too because I feel like you really came up in a time when producers were starting to get more shine. Where I feel like before the mid-2010s, the only producers you could really think of were like Pharrell. Maybe in the mid-2010s like Scott Storch but that was pretty much it. You didn't really know who was making the music besides lthe titans and then around the mid-2010s it was you, it was Metro Boomin, even Arca and Nguzunguzu.

Kaytranada: It was such a good time, man.

Jaboukie: Boy! That was the last good time!

Kaytranada: It was like exactly, 2013, Soundcloud days. You could download everything for free and you could see all types of DJs coming up and just dropping their own edits. Or their homie blows up and their homie blows up. It was really the time of producers blowing up because of Soundcloud and YouTube. It was just amazing.

That touches on something I wanted to ask both of you. Social media and the internet has been really central to both of the beginnings of your careers. Do you think it's been a blessing and now that you've already reached this level of fame, has your relationship with it changed?

Jaboukie: This is something I think about a lot. The most universal queer experience in the 21st century is just flocking to the internet to find something. I think looking around you and being like, I don't see myself in my physical reality, and then going online and finding a space for that, whether it's comedy or it's music, art, whatever the fuck. I think that is something that every fucking queer person under 35 can relate to. It's such a powerful feeling of knowing that like, no matter what your surroundings are like, you have a window into an entirely different world in your pocket. That's something that I think we take for granted so much. Not to be super sappy, but I think it's beautiful.

"This go around for Black Lives Matter feels way more LGBTQ-centric. I'm really seeing a lot like Black trans women, Black nonbinary people, Black cis women get to be at the forefront." — Jaboukie

Kaytranada: Social media really opened a door for a lot of artists like me. Without social media it would have been really dead. Especially for me, coming from Montreal, it would have been almost impossible if I hadn't had the money to travel, or to go somewhere to make myself known. I did it exactly right where I grew up, in the suburbs, you know? And the whole world heard it and I was still at home.

Jaboukie: This goes back to 2013 and the 2010s and shit. I think there was a renaissance in online creative shit — art, music and everything — before the social media companies and the tech titans figured out the algorithm. I don't think I would have happened now. One thing I think about a lot is how the algorithm is dictating art and taste to a certain extent just by what it's choosing to highlight and what it's choosing to not highlight. It's crazy to think about at a time when like with Soundcloud, a lot of it used to be based on community and getting people behind you, but now it's just literal luck. Like if your track just happens to play after a Kanye leak or some shit, that's your whole career. And that's sheer lottery. Or maybe it's not, maybe there is some kind of science behind it. But now, I feel like so much of it is trying to figure out how to hack an algorithm.

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Pride means something different to every queer person. What has Pride meant to you in the years since you've been out? Has it changed?

Kaytranada: It changed for me. I really didn't understand what it was until I came out. It's weird to say that but I now notice how important it is. Before social media we only had this one gay image, and I didn't see myself in that. It's so important just to show someone like me can love themselves, and it's all good. That's how I feel about it.

Jaboukie: I feel the same way. Sometimes it will hit me, what it would have done for me to see me when I was younger. Actually when I first listened to you Louis, I was like, This is it. This is speaking on and tapping into something that I didn't know existed, but had always been looking for, you know?

Kaytranada: That's dope because like myself, as a stand-up comedian fan, I watch a lot of stand-up comedy and when I saw your shit I was like, This is it, too. I was like, There you go. It's what I was just looking for.

Jaboukie: Let's do a tour. I DJ, you do stand up.

Kaytranada: Dude, we should totally do it. Do you come to Montreal for Just for Laughs?

Jaboukie: Yeah, I have. Yo! We should definitely do something, that would be fun as fuck!

Kaytranada: We should totally do it! I'm so down!

Jaboukie: This is giving me a post-corona thing to look forward to.

So just generally, are you guys feeling hopeful right now about the world?

Kaytranada: I don't feel hope at all to be honest. I'm just staying clear-minded and just being here in the world and just trying to do my part and maybe help a little bit and help change. That's hope, in a sense, I guess.

Jaboukie: If there is one thing that actually I'm excited about is that I feel like this go around for Black Lives Matter feels way more LGBTQ-centric and I'm really seeing a lot like Black trans women, Black nonbinary people, Black cis women get to be at the forefront rather than their ideas be siphoned and then regurgitated. I think that that is actually pretty cool.

Kaytranada: I see that in my friends too. I wouldn't have imagined them back in the day being so supportive of LGBTQ people. We were in a different time then. So seeing that gives me hope.

For our 2020 Pride cover series, PAPER tapped photographer Bryan Huynh — and his team of digital art pros led by Rodolfo Hernandez and Willem Stapel — to reimagine our subjects, sculpt their bodies and transport them into otherworldly environments.

The experimental production began with a Zoom — connecting with each talent over video and talking them through the process of a face/ head scan iPhone app. Once the rough scans were exported, Huynh went back in to fine-tune facial details, humanizing the rudimentary imagery. Alongside subjects' features, Huynh's team sculpted digital bodies posing talent into positions that would match their unique environments, which were also digitally made by hand.

When it came to the fashion, stylist Matthew Josephs worked closely with our cover stars, as if they were on set, to ensure their individual aesthetics translated in pictures. Josephs sent the final looks to Huynh's team, who then built the clothing into their 3-D spaces.

Three months of dedicated hard work later under COVID-19 restrictions, PAPER is proud to present this year's Pride portfolio.

Photography: Bryan Huynh
Fashion editing: Matthew Josephs
3D art lead: Rodolfo Hernandez
Art direction: Jonathan Conrad
3D clothing design: Jiyoon Myung
3D accessories design: Joohee Jeon and Yousun Hong
3D face art: Joaquin Cossio