In a time of Childish Gambino visceral ‘This Is America’ video and Kendrick Lamar winning Pulitzer Prizes, Californian rapper KYLE offers a different kind of hip-hop. Upbeat, carefree and – dare we say it – fun, KYLE says he wants to “be a light for people in their dark times”. This new album, aptly-titled ‘Light Of Mine’ and out now (May 18), sees the star fighting back against negativity and offering up a manual about how to love yourself.
Speaking to NME last week, KYLE touched upon everything from working with Kehlani, touring with Logic and knocking Migos off the US charts. He also spoke about wanting to venture into acting and being inspired by Donald Glover.
What can fans expect from this album?
“On this album, fans are going to hear a story about me and my life that maybe they have not heard before, or heard in this amount of detail. That is what I am most excited about, I am most excited to reach out in the story of my childhood, just a little bit deeper this time around. I would say they can expect that and be excited for that. You get to know somebody you know, you want to know about your favourite artist and that is what I wanted to give a little more context to this time around.
“I wasn’t necessarily afraid to reveal more of myself in earlier albums, I just think the way and the approach I was doing it wasn’t necessarily as affective when it comes to really portraying the entire picture. On ‘Smile’, that was really a message about overturning things, a lot of people get whacked in the context of being happy. This time around, because I’ve improved as a song writer, this time around the content is not just about being happy, it’s about waking up every day being happy and remaining in good spirits when life is trying to get you down. The incentive this time around is a little more detailed, because I feel I am becoming a better songwriter. This time around I thought I need to focus on every line, every bar, everything I’m saying is a message that I can rap along with for the next 50 years, maybe longer. I can only do that by getting deeper.”
What kind of things were on your mind when writing the album?
“When I was writing the album I wasn’t entirely sure where I was in life. I felt I’d worked so hard to get where I was at, but still wasn’t where I wanted to be and on top of that I felt that I had overcame so many bad situations in order for God to just hand me some more. That’s how I felt at the beginning of writing it like man, waking up every day feeling really whack and I don’t know how to fix it. It was the first time in my life I didn’t know how to just snap of it and be like ‘nah, it’s going to get better, don’t trip’. I, Kyle the “happy” rapper, had to feel what it was like to actually be sad, experience what it was like to be broken, in a sense. I used this album to tell the play by play of what that was like, what that experience was like. This album is almost like a manual, or a detailed story, about how I decided to fight back against my depression and the negative feelings I was having. I came out on the other side a better person.”
What was the reason behind the delay in releasing it?
“A lot of it was trying to get things right. I’m not a fan of freestyling and just dropping it on my album, I feel like if I don’t have something new to say that I haven’t already said on my last album, there’s nothing for me to talk about. I was really waiting to gather all my thoughts, and be like this is how I feel about my life right now.
“On top of that, I had a hit song [iSpy] which was really strange for me. So as well as writing I had to travel around the world and play the song to a whole new fan base who didn’t know about me. It was almost like I was starting my career over, it was strange. When you have your whole family built up on mixtapes and have an underground following, managing your career like that to suddenly having a hit song is literally like you’re a brand new person and now you’ve got to go and tell the world who you are.”
You knocked Migos’ ‘Bad and Boujee’ off the US chart, how did that feel?
“During the time, you don’t realise how big it really is. In the beginning when it was first popping off everybody was like ‘oh my god, it’s a hit’, I had like 10 million plays or something, it was crazy. Then when it comes to 20, 60, 100, 200, 300, million streams somewhere in there things kind of get blurry. You can’t really fathom how big a moment you’re having. I had a song that literally people all over the world had heard, and that’s when it really hit me.
“It was insane, I appreciate it so much the way it worked. Everything was moving and happening so fast and it was all so overwhelming, it was complete bliss for entire year. My entire 2017 was just covered in ‘wow’, when you have a successful moment you sit back and take it in.”
Did having a hit affect your writing process for the album?
“It did for a second but I had to kind of snap out of it. There was a couple of months where I was like holy hell, this was so huge, there are so many people that are Kyle fans that are expecting something similar to come along. For a couple of months, I tried writing a song that would be a hit, and none of them where, that was a blessing too. That reminded me yo, remember you’re dope, you know what you’re doing, keep making the music that’s in your heart, tunes will come around. I was like, yeah, I don’t need to make a hit, I need to make good music. That whole trying to release new singles to make another hit, I don’t really care about that, let’s just try to finish this project.
“Then all of a sudden [Kehlani collaboration] ‘Playinwitme’ came out and that’s been doing the same, something like 15 million streams. What is a hit? Who can tell? Who decides what a hit sounds like? I needed to remind myself that, a hit is whatever people decide is a hit, I don’t make hits, I make music, people make hits. So I’mma just keep doing what I love and hopefully something will pop up, if not it’s sick, I’ll just keep doing the usual me, doing my underground rapper thing.”
What was it like working with Kehlani?
“Kehlani is dope, I’ve known Kehlani for a lot of years now, they came out in like 2014 and she’s always been a really inspiring friend to have, everything she does I’m really proud of. It motivates me to be better and keep going. Working with her is like playing basketball with Kevin Durant, like you’re getting to watch somebody be excellent. I appreciate the fact that that’s my homie, I really have a friend who’s amazing at this. She’s such a sick songwriter, she has such a phenomenal voice, I always say Kehlani is one of the best singers, in music right now, vocally. She writes about such amazing things; it was so cool to work with her. She just came on and first try annihilated it.
The video is pretty fun, how was shooting that?
“That was hella fun, that’s my pocket, not taking things too seriously. I like being funny, I like laughing with people. There wasn’t a second of that video that felt like work. Shooting a music video sometimes can be a job. A lot of people don’t know what I mean when I say that, sometimes it’s not what you expected it to be but this time it was a breeze. I wish I could have shot it again, that’s how much fun it was.”
Tell us about this new Netflix movie you have coming out
It’s called The After Party. It is a coming of age film and a friendship film, but also a hip-hop film too. My character’s name is Owen. I play a kid who is kind of shy, he’s not really confident yet in himself, which I feel a lot of high schoolers are. He wants to be a rapper, he wants to be in the music industry, but like every other kid trying to make it in the music industry, he has no idea how. He also has a dad who’s a strict military type who wants the best for his son. It gets to a point where you’re trying to make it as a rapper and his Dad is like you have to give this up and join the military and do something with your life. Me and my friend Jeff, we’re trying to get a record deal in one night or else I’m going to get shipped to the military. All these wild things happen as they go on this one-night adventure to make it all happen.
“It’s really fun, I think that any kid that wants to be a part of the music industry is going to love this film. It’s eye-opening. I think it’s about what every kid wanting to make music dreams of. Me included. The 16-year-old me trying to get into the music industry was exactly like this movie.”
Do you want to do more acting in the future?
“Definitely. I love theatre, that’s a passion of mine. I like Broadway, I’ve written a couple of plays and shit before, so I really like that. I’ve always wanted to do acting. It’s so fun to learn something new, it’s such a cool experience learning a brand new brain, that’s how I think about it. Now I’ve done this one, I really want to do another one. At the screening for the movie I was like damn, I want to do this again. Like with anything, I want to take my time and get better at it. And learn more about it. That was my first time ever doing it and it was such an eye opening experience, I want to get better, I want to do way more movies, I want to play different roles, all that.”
People like Donald Glover have been able to juggle both mediums. Is this inspiring to you?
“Growing up one of my biggest inspirations was Will Smith, I thought he was so cool, I saw so much of myself in him and I saw that wanting of showing all aspects of my personality, I just want to be me in every medium I can. So Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, and definitely Donald Glover.
“Donald Glover is an everyday right now inspiration. Every day I wake up and he’s doing something ground breaking in a totally different view and I’m like damn, how do I do what he does? I think we’re starting to see that people don’t usually do one thing, a lot of people are multi-talented but never get a chance to express it, and in todays world, the way the media controls, you can be a sing in control of all these different genre of things. I definitely want to a musical, I want to direct a movie, I want to maybe do a stand up thing, I don’t know, I feel like I’m kind of funny, fuck it, let’s see what happens. Yeah, it is inspiring.”
Your music is a sharp contrast to a lot of the political rap out there at the moment.
“Yeah, I feel I’ve always been the type of person who wants to make people feel relaxed. I always want to make people feel good. I always want to make people feel better than they did before they talked to me. I feel that it’s somebody’s job to remind people that it’ll be okay. I don’t mean that from a political stance, more an emotional and mentally stable stance. I know how hard life can be, I know how whack life can be. I know what it’s like to wake up every day and have things to deal with. It’s what I try to shake or heal or nurse with my music.
“That’s what my job was with this album. It was to any kid out there who’s going through a rough time. I wanted to be that source of light that shows them the way back to loving themselves. Being happy, like we all deserve to be, that’s my aim and where I’m at with my music right now. If people can use that to get clear of the political issues that are happening, that’s great too. I just want to be a light for people in their dark times.”
Are you excited about touring with Logic?
“I remember watching Logic early on in high school and thinking this ‘Man is killing it right now’. I was like, ‘how does anybody rap that fast?’. I always liked his music videos. I admire Logic as an artist and as a person, really, and everything he stands for. How in touch he is with real social issues that are going on, that’s something that’s always good to be around. I like to surround myself with intelligent people and he’s one of the most intelligent people in the music industry right now.”