BUBBA: A Lyric Review – Kaytranada Spins Pressure into Power via Bops that Embody his Evolution
Written by Corey Anthony Tucker.
We’ve all felt the serrated pang of pressure. It’s a creature with a penchant for petrifying our productivity. It loiters away from the light, down the dark alleys of our conscious mind – striking when we least expect it. Pressure arrests us with fears of impending failure. Failure to measure up to others expectations of us, failure to achieve excellence, failure to improve upon it. These pressures are a permanent fixture in the minds of black people, pervading us to our core.
For black people, excellence is often framed as the only feasible means – not a guarantee – of accessing spaces that would otherwise be inaccessible to us. Unsurprisingly, the music industry is one of those spaces. In an interview with Fader – Kelela Is Ready For You Now, the RnB/Electrosonics Queen vouches for black excellence in music being, in part, a byproduct of piercing scrutiny, ‘the urgency in which you have to nail the thing is so high… we [black people] don’t have the space to suck’.
It tracks then, that Kaytranada’s excellent debut album 99.9% bore a bitter after-effect. An impounding pressure on Kaytranada to surpass said excellence or leave himself susceptible to feeling, and eventually being, forgotten by the music industry. Kaytranada won’t be remembered for his excellence. He will be remembered because his excellence is informed by his evolution. There is power in the rebirth, the range, the refinement of his sound. The kind of power that pulverises pressure. On Kaytranada’s sophomore album BUBBA he embraces his musical evolution in all its glory.
Album opener DO IT echoes a simple conceit, ‘yeah, do it’, as if Kaytranada’s conscience is spurring him on. Daring him to ride out the weary waves of self doubt. To trust in himself, his evolution, and thus unconsciously chart a course to an isle of self-confidence. An isle of his own creation. An isle inside of him. The tracks capitalisation isn’t coincidental, rather, an aesthetic allusion to Kaytranada’s amassing confidence.
On Go DJ Kaytranada’s simmering soundscape emboldens SIR’s embrace of his paramour as they get down on the dance floor, ‘the waist keep winin’ while her ass keep twerkin’. Of the constellation of stars that shine on this record, SIR is one of the brightest. But he recognises that there’d be no constellation to contribute to without Kaytranada; rightly positioning him as the centre, the sun of BUBBA’s club-verse, ‘can I get a, “Go DJ, go DJ” (Go, go, go, go, go, go)’.
Kaytranada and Kali Uchis are comrades-in-confidence on the luxuriant 10%. To be your best self, to live your best life, you can’t play ‘pretend’. You’ve got to be yourself. And if that isn’t optimal, opt out. Be the best Kali Uchis you can be, ‘I wake up, it’s so good to be me/ In the mirror, it’s good to see me’.
The enticing VanJess team up with Kaytranada on the titillating Taste. The trio’s talent is tastier than ever here, and this tune teases collaborator hopefuls/admirers with a juicy tidbit. Their talents must be complementary to gain access to the trio’s goods, musical and otherwise, ‘if you want a taste, bring something to the plate, yeah’.
Estelle’s low-key energy elucidates when she joins Kaytranada on sparse electro-jam Oh No. A break-up song on the surface, the subtext delineates that Kaytranada doesn’t subscribe to industry pressures, namely, that he must rapidly pump out music or risk losing relevance, ‘not wasting time, oh, with your time’. Oh No proves that there’s power in creating at a pace that is right for the artist, ‘so I took my time and figured I’m good on my own’.
In his 99.9% era, Kaytranada’s uptempo tracks were densely produced affairs possessed of a hearty hyperactivity; boasting a near constant barrage of clashing, clattering beats. Post-BUBBA, these songs induce a bout of quasi-claustrophobia in me. Unsurprising given Kaytranada is a DJ. Of course his brash beat-work was reminiscent of the chock-a-block dance floors he did, and still does command. Don’t get it twisted, these tracks bump. Indisputably so. But they don’t breathe.
That is where Kaytranada’s uptempo evolution comes out to play on the vibrant, near-perfectly ventilated Vex Oh. Not unlike his pre-BUBBA uptempo tracks, Vex Oh is driven by an infectiously rhythmic drum pattern. The throbbing drums are urgent, but understated, allowing gorgeously satiny grooves to thrive throughout, giving the track a soft, quilted texture. The productions blend of propulsive and plush qualities sonically mirrors the motion of breathing, the rise and fall of a chest. Fitting, considering ‘no vex’, a phrase common in West African Pidgin, particularly in Nigeria, roughly translates to ‘don’t/ no stress’.
Vex Oh’s effervescent confidence is bolstered by contributions from singer-songwriters Eight9Fly, Ari PenSmith and rapper Goldlink, all of whom lyrically allude to components that comprise Kaytranada’s confidence. In Eight9Fly’s eyes, Kaytranada’s confidence stems from the specificity of his musical imprint, so distinct it can’t be ‘undone’. Ari PenSmith posits that Kaytranada’s confidence is a result of remembering how hard he’s worked on refining his talent, ‘you gon’ try, try so you not forget’. Goldlink goes for the gold, reasoning that Kaytranada’s confidence is born from the unequivocal quality of his beats, ‘I just try to supply when the beat good’.
There’s no better bop to bump to in your car than Kaytranada’s Culture. The intro finds Teedra Moses quietly testifying to the truth that black women are made up of an absolute, an abundant love, ‘XO, XO, XO, XO’. That said, her love isn’t easily accessed; so a PSA to any players out there with aspirations of abusing it: you can’t play the un-playable, ‘are you tryna be slick? ‘Cause I’m way more clever’.
To view Teedra’s love as a ‘vibe’ is to do her love a disservice. That is, vibes can be fleeting and have a tendency to fall away. To enjoy the layered, lasting affects of Teedra’s love, one must engage with the utmost care and respect, not unlike engaging with a ‘culture’. An empress of initiative, Teedra is the type to to talk her lover through the tenets of her love, her culture, ‘You don’t know the vibe, I can coach you, nigga’. The subtext of Culture speaks to Kaytranada’s having definitively carved himself a place of permanence in the culture of black music, ‘it’s the culture, nigga, yeah’.
Fearlessness fuels flight on Kaytranada’s boundlessly atmospheric The Worst In Me. Bedevilled by an emotionally unavailable boyfriend, Tinashe struggles to shake her devilish beau loose from her shoulder, especially when faced with his alluring – albeit meagre – affection, ‘always change my mind with one little kiss’.
Freedom is the foundation on which Tinashe flourishes, and thus, her desire to be loved and supported by a label, ‘I want your love’, is curtailed by the consequence it could bear on her individuation. This track contends that Kaytranada is anti-label, particularly when label controls infringe on or mischaracterise artists creative capabilities, ‘you bring out the worst in me’.
In celebration of Kaytranada’s conversion of catastrophic pressure into an evolved sound that salvaged his self-confidence, he and Pharrell fuse, form a shimmering supernova on jubilant album closer Midsection. The daring duo set out to remind humanity that we are better together by broadcasting their harmonious tune worldwide, ‘shit is all over TV; outside, the streets are crowded/ (Wait, wait, hey) Get down […] All these people, don’t you love it?’
The duo’s message is empowered by its inclusivity, bypassing tolerance in favour of championing disenfranchised groups, i.e the LGBTQ+ community, ‘All these people, don’t you love it? […] ROYGBIV, favorite color’. The marvel of Kaytranada’s production prowess is on full display here, and Midsection’s most potent lyrics stem from the true source of miracles and marvels alike, women.
The duo proclaims to the world that women’s autonomy is divinely inherent, ‘God didn’t make her for man’s subjections’, in spite of the ‘manmade rules and religious projections’ that are set up to subjugate them. Midsection is Kaytranada’s call-to-cherish Black women worldwide. A wish and a want to live in a world that recognises the proactive power in the female form – and its variety of variations, ‘cause I see power when I see her midsection’. A world that empowers women and their invaluable worth is the kind of world we should all want to live in. I sure as hell do.