INTERVIEW | Keys N Krates Discuss New Album ‘Original Classic,’ Musical Influences, & More

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Keys N Krates has been paving their own way for over a decade, curating a sound that transcends any one genre. After gaining notoriety for being trailblazers in electronic trap music during its golden era, the Toronto trio has consistently evolved and gone against the grain of just doing whatever is trending at the time. 2017 proved to be a turning point for Keys N Krates, releasing “Glitter” featuring Ambré Perkins, which would eventually be released on the vibey melodic album, Cura. The 2018 record would later become a vehicle to showcase their fresh sound, followed by their 2019 mixtape A Beat Tape For Your Friends.

After the success of both projects, Keys N Krates is finally here with their brand new album, Original Classic. Overflowing with heavy-hitting features from the likes of Juicy J, Chip, Bibi Bourelly, and more, the group brings 13 tracks of high-impact energy, worldly influence, and pure danceability. The record calls back to every stage of their musical career, becoming a comprehensive listening voyage for those who’ve been Keys N Krates fans from the beginning, or even a perfect introduction to those who are stumbling upon them for the first time.

The trio—made up of Jr. Flo, Matisse, and Adam Tune—took some time to sit down and chat with us about Original Classic, and we’re gassed to report their positive yet chill aura on stage definitely transfers in person. As you read through the interview and learn more about the album, their individual pandemic experiences, and their thoughts on Squid Game, listen through Original Classic and vibe with us!

Keys N Krates – Original Classic

Thank you for taking time to talk today and congratulations on your newest album! What’s been the highlight of making Original Classic so far?

Jr. Flo: That’s a tough one. Like, I think we love all the songs in different ways. They’re like our children, you know? Maybe a highlight has been it finally coming together and really seeing that it was what we were going for. Because we were really going for like, cohesive body of work. That felt dancey, tribal, had different tempos, but still felt like one thing. And when we felt like that was all coming together, I think that was a highlight for us because we’re like “Oh, we’ve really achieved what we’ve set out to do.”

Adam Tune: Yeah, it was when we actually started sequencing the whole thing and putting the songs back to back and figuring out the order of them. One night, I came home, smoked a joint, and actually listened to it. You hear all the songs individually throughout this whole process, but to actually hear it put together in a sequence that makes sense was cool. The next day, I came to the car and was like yeah, I was like, “This is a good listen.” I think that was probably the highlight for me.

The title track is stacked with features, but you‘ve always worked with big names in music. You said that you want to bring on people that are unexpected, and this album does exactly that. What makes you actually want to reach out to someone to work together?

Jr. Flo: I think we all gravitate towards people that are kind of quirky and characters in their own right. Juicy, Bibi, Lido Pimienta, and Haviah… they’re all characters. They’re like people that are a bit quirky. They’re just not normal. They’re just kind of weird characters in a great way. And I think that’s what we gravitate towards. People that kind of can’t help but be themselves. I think the idea of bringing quirky people like that into our quirky world feels like a good match because we feel like what we do is kind of quirky, and not very much identifiable or up the middle. So it feels like sort of a natural fit.

“I think the idea of bringing quirky people like that into our quirky world feels like a good match.”

It’s interesting you say that because you’re a group who’s been able to seamlessly transition from hip-hop to heavier electronic music, and with Cura, into more melodic pop-leaning music. Not many artists can do that as well as you did. And I find that I hear a lot of them are worried they’ll lose fans when they change their sound because the fans “miss the old stuff.” Do you have any advice you can give to those artists?

Matisse: There’s truth in everything you said there. You are going to lose some fans, you know. And we knew that when we switched… but you’re gonna gain some new ones, and you just got to be comfortable with whatever path you’re walking on. You can’t have it all. So, we would probably say just be true and do what makes you excited. Because if you’re not making music that makes you excited, what are you doing this for?

Jr. Flo: Totally. You can’t get mad at fans for wanting something that they’ve liked. But there’s going to be some people that follow us because they like the underlining vibe of what we do across everything. And they’re down to the sort of ride on this journey with us.

“Be true and do what makes you excited. Because if you’re not making music that makes you excited, what are you doing this for?”

You mention the “underlying vibe” is always consistent, regardless of what sound you’re making. How would you describe the Keys N Krates vibe for people who aren’t familiar with your work or just people who’ve been following your work from the beginning and still fuck with your music?

Jr. Flo: Most of the sounds we gravitate towards have an organic feel, even when we’re doing harder electronic music. Organic samples, organic sounds, and organic vocals over that OTT-ed out synths and serum patches and shit like that. And I think that comes from the fact that we’re all like, people that listen to hip hop, r&b, and soul growing up. Even older house music had a bit more of an organic vibe to it. 

Like even when I listened to the original version of “Dum Dee Dum,” to me, there’s no difference between that and like, “A Milli” by Lil Wayne. We always felt like that it was a great way to play these fun instrumental rap beats and kids gravitated towards that because it also fits amongst the harder “trap” stuff.

Definitely can see that. There are always blurred lines between what are “hip-hop beats” and what are “electronic beats” anyway.

Jr. Flo: Totally.

Can you tell us about the impact that world music—and specifically Brazilian music—has had on your sound?

Jr. Flo: We’ve been listening to Baile Funk for years and we’re not the first ones to be influenced by Latin America. But I think we get it from listening to Baile Funk, afrobeat rhythms, and even traditional Brazilian drumline stuff because we wanted to do more uptempo, dance rhythms that were influenced by house but had a level of like syncopation and jankiness that isn’t totally present in jackin’ house. We wanted our approach to it to feel a little bit janky and I think referencing those kinds of grooves felt super spot on for us in terms of getting the jankiness, looseness, and the kind of this tribal, hypnotic feeling. 

And also part of our influence comes from listening to older hip hop like Timbaland. His approach to sampling world music like Bollywood. A lot of our coming to that stuff is still through the lens of hip hop. Like, “What would Timbaland do if he was making house today?”

Funny you say that because I actually wrote a piece about sample-snitching and mentioned how Timbaland was just under fire from Tik Tok for sampling—people called him a thief. I’d love to know your thoughts on that.

Jr. Flo: I don’t think any real person that’s into music would talk shit about Timbaland because he sampled. Even if they were, that’s not really going to have any impact on him because he’s a genius. And everybody that’s credible knows that. And he doesn’t need to prove anything. And whether or not he should have credited people, I think that’s a separate ethical question.

Matisse: If it was easy to borrow someone else’s music and make it get off and then we’d all be doing it. So yeah, it’s still a talent to be able to take something and pull it off and make it something good. 

Adam Tune: It comes from an uneducated place.

Jr. Flo: We make music from sampling, and we make music not sampling. And they’re both super hard. And sampling is very hard to do. To hook up a sample and make it sound good is just as hard or harder in some ways than just writing. It’s not easy. None of it’s easy. Getting the product of great music is never easy. However you arrive at that I don’t really care, personally. If it’s great music. It’s great music.

“Getting the product of great music is never easy. However you arrive at that I don’t really care, personally. If it’s great music. It’s great music.”

Definitely appreciate the perspective and agree with you. As long as it sounds good at the end, that’s all that matters. I’ve actually seen you all making beats live on Twitch since lockdown and it definitely doesn’t look easy at all. But a big part of what makes you special is the live experience since the makeup of the group is so unique, and I’m sure virtual sets don’t hit the same. How has the past year and a half in lockdown been for you?

Matisse: I think we’ve all experienced it differently. I need to play a lot so I’m playing small venues and I found for me, it was extremely difficult. I struggled to make music during that time because, for me, they go hand in hand. I need to perform the music that I’m making and be at shows to get inspired. So personally, it was challenging to stay inspired.

Adam Tune: ​​I actually got to unlearn a bunch of bad drumming stuff during COVID. Like, like I’d never played with shoes on. I always had to take my shoes off because of the way I learned to play drums and I wanted a chance to just go back and just technically learn how to play drums right. So it was like a forced break, to be able to rip everything that I’ve learned that’s wrong in drumming away and then just relearn it correctly. It was good for me that way. But I definitely missed not playing live shows.

Jr. Flo: I just needed the break. I mean, I needed perspective. And I just needed the time. Because the last 10 years, we’ve been kind of playing like 100 shows a year, every year. And I kind of feel like my life’s a bit of a whirlwind. I feel like it was a great time for me personally to like, reflect and figure out what kind of stuff I’m trying to make, and try and just get better at making it. Like I learned to play a bit more piano and dug in on production techniques that I probably wouldn’t have been able to dig in if I was still in tour mode. So for me, it was great. And I loved it.

Are there any songs from the album that you’re really excited to play live?

Matisse: It’s funny because we just did Life Is Beautiful Festival in Vegas. And truth be told, before the pandemic, we were playing out some of our songs from the album anyways. So I was already getting a lot of enjoyment. Like we’ve had “Bollywood Bounce” for a while. It has this weird bounce to it that the setup has to be specific for the crowd to get it. I just always get a kick out of watching people move to it because I get a rush out of seeing how people move to something new. So any of the tracks on our album that have that kind of particular janky kind of dance groove that our audience isn’t used to dancing to and they have to get used to and they enjoy it. I look forward to that. 

I’m excited to see it live! I know we’re running out of time, so last question. It’ll be a fun one. I saw you recently watched Squid Game. Do you think that Sang Woo was dirty for doing Ali like that, or do you think he just did what he had to do to play the game?

Jr. Flo: Yeah, yeah I think he cheated.

Matisse: Yeah. That was a cruel episode for the entire audience. 

Adam Tune: *nods*

Jr. Flo: Like that old man? I was actually happy in the end when I was like oh the old man’s like a piece of shit you know? Like that kind of gave me some solace because the old man shit it was tough to watch.