Kaytranada: Photos From the Billboard Cover Shoot

In February, when Kaytranada’s stage manager, Tamir Schlanger, texted him to ask if he had a vision for his Coachella performance, the artist responded with screenshots of the giant metallic head from The Wiz, the 1978 musical film featuring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. He wondered: Could Schlanger replicate it, but with his own head?

Out of context, the images were menacing — the almighty wizard, spewing smoke and lasers — but funny, too; one featured Richard Pryor’s character, a failed politician from New Jersey named Herman Smith, peeping up sheepishly through the hole in The Wiz’s eye. All smoke and mirrors. Was the 30-year-old producer-DJ commenting on the steely facade of celebrity? Was the production meant to highlight the dichotomy between Louis Kevin Celestin, the shy kid born to Haitian immigrants who grew up in a quiet Montreal suburb, and the Grammy-winning musical wiz better known as Kaytranada?

“There really was no thought process at all, honestly,” Kaytranada admits about a month after his performance, emphasizing that the decision was purely aesthetic: He was just a fan of the movie and noticed his own physical resemblance to The Wiz’s face. “I just wanted to make something iconic,” he says.

Prior to his Coachella performance, there was little disputing Kaytranada’s accomplishments behind the scenes, where he had cultivated a reputation as a personally reserved but musically boisterous tastemaker. Over the course of two albums, 2016’s 99.9% and 2019’s Grammy-winning Bubba, he established himself as a go-to producer and deft collaborator, a singular artist able to adapt his sound to the strengths of everyone from hip-hop stars like Chance the Rapper to experimental R&B singers like Kelela while still maintaining his distinct style: a feel-good blend of dance, R&B, Afrobeats, disco and hip-hop. In the process, he also became one of the biggest gay Black artists in a genre of increasingly influential music founded by gay Black artists.

Read the full Kaytranada Billboard cover story here.

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