Following sample credits on both Drake’s playlist More Life and Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN., the name Hiatus Kaiyote has cropped up more and more frequently of late. Either tucked neatly away around the 2:05 minute mark of the 9th Wonder produced “DUCKWORTH.,” gliding along the beat of Anderson .Paak’s “Without You” (also 9th Wonder produced) or set as the backdrop for Chance The Rapper’s unreleased “Hiatus (Broadcast),” the charismatic, crackling and sultry vocals of Nai Palm, the group’s lead singer, saw increased intrigue, particularly near the release of both Drake and Lamar’s projects. Who, or what is a Hiatus Kaiyote and why should you care? Let’s take a look at the band’s rise to relevance in the greater hip-hop circle.
“Multi-Dimensional Polyrhythmic Gangster Shit,” the tagline of the Hiatus Kaiyote website, is a slightly confusing yet exemplary description of the quartet’s musical stylings. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Hiatus Kaiyote came to existence in 2011 as a collaboration between vocalist and guitarist Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield, bassist Paul Bender, keyboardist Simon Mavin and drummer Perrin Moss. One year later, the group had released their debut studio album, Tawk Tomahawk. Described by listeners and critics as the crossroads that is “future-soul,” Hiatus Kaiyote has become a paragon of creativity and musical expression that simultaneously gives tribute to their forefathers while avoiding any semblance of stereotyping.
In a 2015 interview with Guest of a Guest following the release of their second album Choose Your Weapon, Nai Palm recalled the creation of their musical terminology:
“Yeah, it’s funny when you just say something randomly and it becomes a thing. [Laughs] It was kind of a joke – just riffing and coming out with different genres like Tinsel-Goth or Wondercore and somehow, that one I guess kind of stuck.”
The seemingly arbitrary descriptor complements Haitus Kaiyote’s layered compositions, discouraging listeners and critics from approaching with a singular preconception. In similar fashion, the quartet’s name stems from a similar ideology or lack thereof. Speaking with Okayplayer in 2013, Nai Palm again discussed the nomenclature.
“It’s [Hiatus Kaiyote] a made up word, but it kind of sounds like peyote and coyote – it’s a word that involved the listeners’ creativity as to how they perceive it.”
She continues to detail that the “Hiatus” portion is, just that, a pause to absorb one’s environment, drawing in surrounding energies and experiences and exhaling them as “Kaiyote” an abstract depiction of “the listener’s creativity.”
Free range of the mind, maps the fire coasting the sideline. Hiatus Kaiyote – “Building a Ladder”
Despite their genre-busting intentions, Hiatus Kaiyote has been nominated twice for Grammy Awards in the R&B category, first in 2013 for their performance with A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip on “Nakamarra” and again in 2015 for their performance of “Breathing Underwater.”
Although the group came up short, the second nomination served as validation for their talents and craftsmanship, according to Nai Palm, particularly considering “Breathing Underwater” was a featureless, near six minute track that highlights the group’s sonic fluidity as synths trickle in and out and percussion punctuates the lead vocals.
Beyond their two studio albums, Hiatus Kaiyote has released the extended play, By Fire in 2014 as well as Recalibrations Vol. 1 something of a remix EP that features renditions of “By Fire,” “Nakamarra” and “Laputa,” the latter of which features Anderson .Paak. Tawk Takeout is another such remix album, that includes a spot from fellow Melbourne band Kirkis. The group was also featured on Robert Glasper’s Everything’s Beautiful, the soundtrack to the motion picture Miles Ahead, that incorporated samples and edits of Miles Davis recordings.
As far as the hip-hop world is concerned, both the abstract nature of Hiatus Kaiyote’s lyrical content as well as the transformative production highlights the group’s opportunity for sampling and incorporation. The variable time signatures of Hiatus Kaiyote tracks add flair and personality to the requisite 4/4 beats of hip-hop, just as Nai Palm’s vocals contrast well against the kicks and thumps of drum machines, a la this Instagram clip of 9th Wonder chopping up “Laputa.”
Avoiding the temptation to draw comparisons between Hiatus Kaiyote and other artists is a hefty challenge complicated by the aural pleasantries of the group’s music. The quartet provides a musical armory, offering listeners to choose their weapon amidst a cornucopia of sounds, themes and ideas.