Keys N Krates Break Down Their Debut Album 'Cura': Exclusive

Keys N Krates
Devon Little

Keys N Krates

Keys N Krates' debut album, Cura, has officially arrived and out on Dim Mak Records. The nine-track LP includes features from Tory Lanez and 070 Shake, and according to Keys N Krates, the album came at a much needed time for them. 

"We kind of felt like we needed to freshen things up and take our sound in a direction we were all more personally passionate about," the group tells Billboard. "We spent just over a year making this thing, but a lot of the first six months were spent just experimenting; making different ideas and demos in order to figure out the direction that we wanted to steer the ship in. After making a lot of different kinds of demos, we gravitated towards the ideas that sounded/felt dusty, melodic, soulful, and beautiful and then went in on making a bunch more stuff like that."

The live electronic band drew their inspiration from throwbacks, but wanted to bring a modern execution to their body of work. "We wanted the framework and constrictions of this vibe to allow us to float between being able to make slowed down disco records, trippy, weird, folky rap records, quirky instrumental “trap” records, boom bap sounding records, and even soundtrack records; and have that all make sense together!"

They continue, "We wanted the whole thing to be genre-less, but come from the perspective of hip-hop, cause that’s really where our three perspectives cross. We also wanted to make songs with verses and choruses, that could maybe be sung at a house party or maybe make someone cry at home alone or something. It was also important to have good instrumental records as well."

Cura accompanies the group's headlining world tour that includes appearances at Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Sonar Festival in Hong Kong and much more. You can check out the full list of tour dates, as well as the band's exclusive breakdown of Cura, below.

Keys N Krates - Inicio   

The idea for this tune started around an old Arthur Verocai sample, “Na Boca Do Sol.” Greg was listening to records with one of his close friends and he put him on to Arthur Verocai, and when he heard that horn line at the beginning of the song he was like, “ya we are gonna F with that.”  We knew the GOD Madlib sampled it, but we knew we could do a totally different take on it. We had a replay done of that horn line (shout out Ouici for helping us with that) so we could get the horns open, and started messing with them at different pitches, speeds, and with different grooves. 

Once we got that main part with the horns down, we spent a lot of time making the intro and bridge sections play on a suspenseful 70’s soundtrack vibe to set up those horns!  The goal with this tune was to make it cinematic, epic, but hard as fuck, while still maintaining the beauty. Once Matisse laid down that string melody over the intro we knew it was a wrap. It felt right to set the album off with a bang like we are f’in out here!  

Keys N Krates - Music To My Ears (Feat. Tory Lanez)

This tune actually came from one of the first beat ideas we made that really swung the direction of the album. When we first made that beat,  we were like, "Man, if we get the right vocal on this, this tune is a smasher.” It felt so good to us and kind of a great poppy extension of the sound we were going for. We started doing tons of different vocal sessions over it (with a lot of amazingly talented writers) and nothing was working, and the whole thing made us second guess the beat idea; so much so that throwing that beat into the folder for the Tory Lanez session was kind of an after thought. Frankly, when his engineer pulled that beat up first, we were all thinking at the same time, “Fuck, don’t play that one first”, because our confidence was so shaken in that beat from doing so many sessions on it that didn’t work out. 

But, as soon as it started playing (not even two bars into the thing), Tory was like, “Yo, put me in.” He jumps into the booth and immediately started singing the first verse flawlessly, and we all stood up, like, "Holy shit, something's definitely happening here.” He basically wrote his whole part in 20 minutes without writing anything down. It was insane. We actually did two ideas with him that night in the session. We were at first leaning more towards the other idea (which we hope sees the light of day, 'cause it’s insane), but our label heard the “Music to My Ears” demo and were like, “Yo, you guys are crazy if you don’t use this idea." And frankly, we gotta give them credit for that, 'cause it made us mess with the record, and after a few hours of tinkering, we were all like, “Holy shit, we really love this record now.”  Tory is the real deal. 

Keys N Krates - Do What U Do

Tune started this idea by flipping this '90s New Jack RnB song into a feel good boom bap loopy instrumental. We fell in love with the summer vibe of it and the fact that it kinda felt like a tribute to our idols like J Dilla and DJ Premier. The three of us triple-teamed it, adding all kinds of Rhodes [piano] and instrumentation to make the loop pop more musically. We then approached the change-up part from a '70s soundtrack perspective (like in "Inicia") again but this time using a big beautiful string section that we made; then re-sampled and warped the shit out of to make it sound like a loop from an old warped 45 record.

Keys N Krates - Cura

The object of this song was pure beauty and emotion. We wanted it to be something that we could see someone doing ballet or modern dance to, but also a tune that a rap listener would still scrunch their face up at. We again used our re-sampling method of playing in pianos and guitars, warping and processing them to death so they sounded like they were playing off a warped record. This felt like a great song to name the whole album after, since it has a vibe of innocence, discovery and optimism to us, which was very much the perspective we tried to come from when making this album. 

Keys N Krates - Glitter (Feat. Ambre Perkins)

We were really into the idea of making a slowed down disco record (like at 100 bpm), so we laid down some simple-ass piano chords that we liked over a little skeletal kick pattern, and threw it in our vocal session folder. We brought that beat into the vocal session with Ambre, and she immediately gravitated towards it. She put her head down on the desk for almost an hour with the loop on repeat. At one point Matisse left the room, came back in, and was like, "Yo, is she all right?” But then after an hour she gets up, goes into the booth, asks us to turn all the lights off and starts singing a form of the "Glitter" hook, and we were like, "Well, all right, this is gonna be fire.” She spent a good hour in there getting the right takes, and left us with this incredibly catchy but sophisticated vocal. 

After she left, Matisse and I got Tune on FaceTime and played him the shit, and he was flipping, saying, “Man, we gotta go in on this beat, 'cause right now her vocals are way better than our shit LOL.” So we took those vocals home and really went in on crafting the right vibe. We had our boy Ouici help us with some string arrangement stuff, and we had Rob Cappelletto (very dope jazz guitarist from Toronto) come in and lay down guitar ideas and chords down that we would re-sample and flip. We’re so proud of this tune and Ambre is so amazing and inspiring. 

Keys N Krates - Flute Loop (Feat. Ouici) 

Let us start by saying that Ouici is one of our favorite producers that nobody really knows about yet, and he helped influence the entire direction of this album. He helped us a lot with sample replays and string arrangements on the album. One day him and Greg were doing a session, just messing with ideas, and he started playing small throwaway loops from a folder, and he had this piece of music with a flute line over it. Greg was like, “Ayy, that flute line has something to it. Let’s mess with that!” So in that session we ended up finessing that lead line and writing a second part to it, and putting it to trappy drums. We loved the idea of having this kinda beat on the album, 'cause it felt like almost our quirky take on the current flute trend, but far enough away from the trend that it still felt like us. 

We thought the flute loop was catchy enough to be the chorus, and we just needed to build the music around it to set it up. We messed with a lot ideas and finally arrived at playing in this chord progression (which I think Tune came up with), with this really detuned mallet sound which we put through our re-sampling techniques. We knew at this point the song needed a small vocal element to make if memorable and human  We were stuck at that point, until Greg had the idea to ask his good friend to record his daughter saying some things into his iPhone, that we were able to sample to make the “Umm, I like to play the flute” line from. 

Keys N Krates - Something Wonderful

We made like four different versions of this song. It almost didn’t make the album. We really like the vocals Matisse had recorded with his friend and dope singer Deniz Reno, so we were stubborn enough to try a fourth version. The first version of this song literally sounded like a weird version of an M83 record or something, and was really cool, but just didn’t fit the vibe we were going for. Once we minimized it and started really swinging the drums, the whole thing came together. The harp runs that we played in and re-sampled and chopped also really helped to stamp the beauty of this song along with the string section at the end. It just felt wonderful to us, so we just called it “Something Wonderful.”  

Keys N Krates - Harps At Night

We were just trying to make some wild soundtrack music with distorted reversed harps and some guitar bits we got from Rob Cappelletto. We were really just trying to get very atmospheric here and create a song with no drums. Can we have our Explosions In The Sky moment here?  

Keys N Krates - My Night (Feat. 070 Shake)

This was a crazy session. We literally made the idea for this beat the night before this session, in our hotel lobby. It was the first thing we played for Shake. The vibe was trippy and turned up in the studio, and the beat was on some trapped-out beach house vibes, so it just felt right to play that really loud and see how she reacted. She immediately started singing the hook idea and we recorded that along with tons of other ideas. 

Shake kinda writes by riding a stream of consciousness which gives you an arsenal of ideas and directions you can take the song. I would probably venture to say there’s a bunch of other song ideas in some of those other vocal takes. Once we had Shake’s vocals and messed around with them we tried to make the beat extra trippy with weird ambient sounds, reverbs and delays. We also brought in Rob for some additional guitar textures. This unanimously felt like a nice last song for the album, 'cause it kinda feels like it could soundtrack your last night on earth.