Kyan: What Are You Listening To?

Kyan: What Are You Listening To?

Rising R&B songwriter, Kyan, has curated a playlist of his current rotation and favorites.


Eric Whitacre, “Carry Your Heart”
This piece was recommended to me be a Royal College of Music student in London who I met on the way home one night. We got to talking about music, and I was saying how much I loved choral harmonies, in particular reference to tone clusters. There’s something about the release and beauty of a resolve following dissonance which hits me right in the chest. It’s something I’ve explored on my upcoming music, but after hearing this piece, I can’t wait to see what else is possible. It’s truly otherworldly.

Lauryn Hill, “Tell Him”
As soon as the guitar starts in the song, it breaks my heart. I’ve always felt the most emotional songs are those that tread that fine line between joy and sadness. That bittersweet sound is very nostalgic and always evokes those long summers as a child. Fond memories, but lost innocence. This song conjures up all of that for me.

LV, “Ruiselede (feat. Tigran Hamasyan)”
As a singer, I’m often drawn to vocal led tracks, but this instrumental track is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. I’ve listened to it everyday for the last few years and it’s the most incredible blend of jazz piano and a modern hip-hop beat. It feels like a real moment captured and I’ve never come across anything quite like it.

Stevie Wonder, “Maybe Your Baby”
You can barely hear the kick and snare on this song, yet it still manages to groove harder than anything I’ve heard before. From a raunchy growl to soaring ad-libs, it’s a vocally diverse and gymnastic performance, but one born out of pure emotion rather than display.

This definitely feels like the song Michael Jackson got his famous “hee hee” from! I’ve listened to this song most days for the last 15 years, and it still feels a fresh as the day I first heard it. A true timeless piece of music.

Pharrell, “Frontin’”
So much groove, the melody, the Curtis Mayfield/Marvin Gaye-esque vocal delivery, the close harmonies, the simple, clean production. It’s perfect and I can’t sit still to this one.

Don McLean, “Vincent”
I came across this song for the first time via James Blake. It stopped me in my tracks and I listened to it obsessively.  Fittingly, the song feels like a painting, the imagery is so vivid. The lyrics are so poetic, intricate, effortless, and I love that a ballad like this, with all of its subtlety and a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, managed to be a hit in the UK and America.

Rodriguez, “Cause”
Rodriguez’s lyricism in this song is just beautiful. I’ve always felt that the job of a songwriter is to articulate something everybody feels, but in a way they’ve never been able to say themselves. This, in combination with the lush orchestral instrumentation, is more than enough to keep me coming back to this song over and over.

Dr. Dre, “The Watcher”
2001 is one of the best sounding records of all time. The space in the production, the groove, the minimalism of the mix. It is sonic perfection. I wish I had that discipline to keep things simple, but I always get far too carried away and go more for a Phillip Glass “wall of sound”-type approach with layers.

Nina Simone, “Sinnerman”
The energy in this song is unparalleled. It has that gospel feverishness and segways into different musical sections. In the same way that I don’t want to watch a film and know exactly what’s going to happen, I love when music has that ability to surprise and be unexpected. This song has a great deal of craft in it, but you don’t see the nuts and bolts, you just feel the expression. That’s how music should be, I think.

Kanye West, The College Dropout  
I tried to pick just one song, but for me, this entire album as a movement is what I love. I feel like this album was where I found my centre and direction for how I wanted to produce records. From growing up listening to artists from the ’60s and ’70s at the same time as a lot of early hip-hop, I almost felt pulled between these two worlds. This record was the first I heard as a kid that sampled a lot of great soul records, and brought them into the 21st century. With my own music and songs I write and produce for other people, that’s what I’m always aiming for. I don’t sample like Kanye, but I apply the same concept by creating music that almost could have been from a bygone era on the piano or guitar, and then finding a sonic landscape and lyric that feels relevant now.

Roberta Flack, “Killing Me Softly”
I always tell the story of me when I was 7 or 8 years old and I got dared to sing in a post office for 50 pounds. This song was my favourite at the time, so I stood up and sang it with my eyes closed in front of a room full of strangers. The movement of the chords, the beauty of the melody, the lyrics…I’ve always felt like this song does something chemically to my body, I always feel totally overcome when I listen to it.


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