It’s the last day of Kyle’s sold out Super Tour, so it’s no surprise that when the call comes through from Santa Ana, California, the voice on the other end of the line sounds a little raspy and hazy. But after a brief pause warmly opening up he says “Hey Alex what’s goody my guy, how’s your day going?”.
Growing up in Ventura, California, Kyle was just a normal kid, obsessed with video games and anime. He was a middleman at high school who used to maneuver his way between the social groups hanging around with everyone from the football team to the drama kids. Musically his grandparents who he lived with used to put him onto the classics like Dean Martin and Frankie Lane, whilst his mum was an advocate for all things 90’s rock. It was his Dad however who first introduced him to rap. Whilst out on a father-son drive he played him ODB’s ‘Got Your Money’ and he said from then his “mind was blown”. He was instantly hooked, writing poems and raps and gaining his first taste of success when he used to make freestyle videos over old Drake tracks, under the alias “K.I.D.” which stood for “Kyle Is Determined”.
That’s why this generation has so much power, it’s why this generation that is coming out is so unique and so different than previous generations because they have all the power.
At the time Kyle was only 17 but his determination was far beyond his years. An early adopter of the DIY mindset he knew that if he wanted to follow this path, he would have to make his own way and he explained how having that self-belief, can help anyone achieve their personal dreams; “That’s why this generation has so much power, it’s why this generation that is coming out is so unique and so different than previous generations because they have all the power. Any 16 year old kid, even younger than that, any kid with an iphone can make a hit song tomorrow and there’s nothing any music person can do to stop it. So the DIY mentality that this generation has is remarkable and it’s definitely the most important part… It’s the fact that the kids need to know they have the power right now, so do it yourself.”
As his previous name stated it was clear Kyle was determined to be recognised for his art and I asked him how his mentality had changed following his newfound fame from that of his 2011 “K.I.D.” days; “The artist I am now and “K.I.D.” are the same dude more or less, the same optimistic energy but now I’m trying to channel it for better reasons. I’m trying to become a better super-hero… I’ve tried to hold onto the youthful, optimistic energy of “K.I.D.” but I try to add a little more intelligence, a little more firm direction with what I’m doing”
It’s the youthful, optimistic energy that runs through everything that Kyle does that makes him so endearing. His mantra of positivity is hard to not be drawn into and you can see it clearly in the way he carries himself on stage, how he speaks in interviews and through the music he makes. Following a name change from “K.I.D.” to “Kyle” he released his first album ‘Beautiful Loser’ in 2013, which received wide critical acclaim. He then built upon that collaborating with the likes of Kehlani, G-Eazy and Chance The Rapper before releasing his second album ‘SMYLE’ in 2015, which led to Rolling Stone tipping him as one of their artists to watch for that year.
So with a number of huge collaborations under his belt and a well-received back catalogue it was a surprise that a track like ‘iSPY’ was the one to catch the public’s attention. I asked him if it felt odd following the recent success of the track, that following a solid 4 years on the underground he’s only now receiving his nomination for the XXL Freshman Class, but as always Kyle was just happy to be getting the recognition for what he loves doing; “It feels good. Like trying to be a Freshman, like even being considered to be a Freshman is like one of those things that every young rapper dreams about. It’s like every 16 year old rapper ever has dreamed about being a freshman. So being considered is like DAMN!… It really validates everything for you.”
Kyle is also aware of his responsibilities as a young role model in the public eye, despite his age. Although his music is often happy-go-lucky, he doesn’t shy away from talking about social issues or things that affect our generation. He’s spoken widely of his love for Kid Cudi, who he saw as one of the first artists to make it cool to not be perfect, saying in interviews he “helped save my life”. So with the release of his track ‘Just A Picture’ with Kehlani, Kyle used his positive mindset to talk about the effects social media has had on the youth. Kyle clearly wants to do his part, like Cudi helped him, to benefit kids in the same way. When I asked him how he feels about using his voice to promote positivity and social issues he passionately exclaimed; “I just think its just such a huge part of our everyday life, you know what I mean? I just usually talk about what’s right in front of me at the time. Me and Kehlani, who is such an amazing songwriter, we were just like “Let’s write a song about an issue”. So we sat down and talked about it like damn, we’ve got all of these people who are trying to live their entire lives through social media and losing sight of their natural self. That was kind of the thing, I just want kids to not lose sight of their naturalness and just make sure that the kids look at themselves in the mirror, more than they look at their angles on their phone, you know what I’m saying?
Fast forward to 2017 and all of a sudden Kyle’s got a huge platform to promote his positivity. After teaming up with Lil’ Yachty, his summer smash ‘iSPY’ hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs Chart, dethroning Migos ‘Bad and Boujee’, #4 on the hot 100 and has been streamed over 200 million times. When I asked how it came about he said; “I made iSPY after a string of sad songs, I made like 7 sad songs that week. I came in the studio and was like “I need to make the happiest song of all time right now”. So I spoke to AYO, AYO was the guy that made it, I was like “I need a pick me up bro and I need some posy (positive) vibes right now”. It was made out of the sense that we need to fight off the sadness.”
Clearly Kyle had been breaking from his positive mantra and his fans and the world wanted him to get back to doing what he does best but even he couldn’t foresee how far ‘iSPY’ would go. In his latest track ‘Not The Same’ he even refers to the now platinum selling single as a “throwaway” track; “I did not know iSPY was gonna do what it was doing, so yeah that’s what that line was basically about. I made that song (‘Not The Same’) for a movie called “Sleight”. It’s about a kid who can do magic and these unbelievable things and that’s what that represented. “I know how to do something nobody can, take a throwaway track, turn it into a plaque.” Almost like a magic trick, because there is absolutely no explanation for how that happened (the success of iSPY), it feels like a magic trick to me”.
And it’s a track that has further added to the generational divide conversation that is in the hip-hop community today. The toy-piano chords, the super-positive vibe and the near always controversial addition of Lil’ Yachty, leaves those who value the older styles of rap still puzzled. With Kyle though you know it’s coming from that genuine, youthful optimistic energy that he talks about but the OG’s often feel like there is something more contrived when they hear that style of rap, they feel like an artist is trolling them.
Oh my god a hard time, that’s an understatement… I think all the OG’s like Ebro might hate it but a lot of people, their kids might love it
I asked Kyle what he thought about those who question the authenticity of the music that the younger generations in hip-hop are making. I referred to his recent trip to Hot 97 where Kyle was promoting his single and came up against a very head strong Ebro, who in turn told Kyle that he thought the song was a “shitshow”. When I mentioned Ebro giving him a hard time in the interview he laughs and opens up honestly explaining; “Oh my god a hard time, that’s an understatement”… “ I think all the OG’s like Ebro might hate it but a lot of people, their kids might love it, so it’s like I feel if you’re age is 30 something to 40 you probably have kids like 8 year olds who might love the song, so I have a lot of OG’s telling me like, “I don’t love iSPY, but my daughter loves iSPY” and I’m like “Thanks”.
I think that was my point in that interview, I don’t think the older generations of hip-hop have to love the new music, it’s totally understandable if they hate it, that’s the way of life, people get older and say “You kids don’t know this about this”. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to happen. But when it comes to the gatekeepers that are still currently working, when it comes to the Ebro’s and it comes to these people that are like really credible in the hip-hop community you can’t try and just tear it down, you have to at least allow it some room to live and expand.”
Kyle is aware of his position in the game and understands the need to pay tribute to the old heads. He is for one a student of the older generation, his favorite rapper is Jadakiss but he also understands his position as a leader of the new generation and feels that both can easily co-exist within the genre. It’s what he does so well as an artist. Even those who might not like the happy-go-lucky sound of ‘iSPY’ can’t deny Kyle’s ability as a lyricist. Often those who enjoy the MC side of the genre want people to continue to do that but it’s credit to rappers like Kyle, like Lil’ Yachty, like Lil’ Uzi Vert who can do both and push the boundaries of what is expected from an artist’s style.
So looking forward to the future, what can we expect from him and his new found position at the forefront of the genre. Of course we want to know what to expect from a new album. Although there’s still no confirmed date, following the success of his plan of releasing new singles every month, would he follow the path of someone like Drake and opt for a ‘More Life’ style playlist? Or was he planning on creating a concept album? Understandably tight lipped he couldn’t say too much but he did say; “It’s definitely going to be more of a concept album. I don’t know, it’s more experimental, more of a vibe. Don’t expect me to be trying to have like hit single after hit single.”
And although his main goal is to make music that is “positive” and “make people happy”, what were some of his own personal goals he wanted to achieve; “I want to win a Grammy for sure at some point just to say I did it. You know what I mean? That’s also like a young kid frame of mind. I definitely want to do an arena show at some point and be like “damn I did that” and I really want to write and produce a musical. If I could do that in my life I would be so happy.”
Skepta is one of my favorite rappers right now period. Like when it comes to rapping, like just the skill of rapping, Skepta is one of the top dudes.
So before Kyle left I had to get some last thoughts of his about UK music and it turned out that he was deep in the know about the scene. He said “I think MNEK is amazing, he is like one of my favorite singers and I like XO music”. It caught me by surprise but he further explained how “I have lots of family from different places from all over the world and I have some family that’s from Wales. So growing up he was putting me on everything.” At which point Kyle broke down into a full rendition of Wiley’s track ‘Wearing My Rolex’. I kid you not it was word for word on point. And brilliant.
“I love Wiley. Big Narstie is hard AS HELL. Big Narstie has got the most freestyle gigs, Narstie can just go… and Skepta is one of my favorite rappers right now period. Like when it comes to rapping, like just the skill of rapping, Skepta is one of the top dudes. Like nobody can keep going like that. The way Skepta rides a beat and he gets into the different pockets you know what I’m saying. He is just crazy.”
And before I knew it my time was up. With a quick “Thanks Man you have a good day” Kyle was off to his final show. Chatting to him was a whirlwind of good vibes and positivity and even if he does have concerns or worries, to me he seemed like someone who is always looking at the bigger picture. He’s making music, touring and doing exactly what he started out to do back in his early days as “K.I.D” in Ventura, California. Even with a name change and newfound notoriety, his youthful optimism is paying off. He’s still the same guy. Kyle is still, very determined.