December 12, 2018Feature

Multi-platinum rapper turned actor KYLE has collaborated with artists as diverse as Lil Yachty, Chance The Rapper, Kehlani, Madeintyo and more. After being inducted into XXL’s 2017 Freshman Class, alongside Playboi Carti, XXXTentacion, Aminé, among others, his career catapulted even more. Hannah O'Connell catches up with him ahead of his show in The Academy on December 12.

“People think it’s corny to dance and they don’t understand that if you really do some history, rap started as a very live, colourful, exciting, energetic performance.”

 

A debut album, a debut world tour, a film debut, it’s been a year of firsts for Kyle.

The Californian artist is coming to the end of a 28-night North American run of his Light Speed World Tour, yet sounds energetic and enthusiastic when the call connects. He’s got five cities left to play before he moves onto the European leg, followed by dates in Australia and New Zealand, concluding the run early next year in Asia and Hawaii. Despite the astronomical success of his musical output, Kyle sounds genuinely surprised and pleased to be performing in countries he’s never been to before.

He’s been steadily releasing music since 2010, then under the moniker K.i.D. [Kyle is Determined], no doubt inspired by Kid Cudi, his biggest influence and favourite artist. In 2013 he broke out under his given name with ‘Keep It Real’ and has since built up a healthy back catalogue of mixtapes and singles. He held back on his debut album where other artists may have felt pressure to put it out, and finally released ‘Light Of Mine’ in May of this year.

“By far the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my whole life is put out this album,” he confesses. “You work on it for so long. You don’t have a clue if anybody is going to like it and there’s nothing you can do about that. You spent so long making it that if nobody liked it, you’d feel like you wasted all this time.

“For me there was a lot of fear going into it, but then right before it came out, literally 30 minutes before I was about to drop it, I was like, ‘Afraid of what? I love this music…’. I think it’s incredible.”

Kyle can comfortably trust his judgement as the record has since been certified gold with the third single ‘Playinwitme’ featuring Kehlani racking up over 200 million streams on Spotify alone. Speaking of features, one of the things that jumps out about ‘Light of Mine’ is the volume of collaborations on the track list. In addition to Kehlani, artists like Khalid, Alessia Cara, Lil Yachty and 2 Chainz appear.

“The majority of the artists I collaborate with, literally every single one of them on the album, besides 2 Chainz, who I’ve only really met once, they’re all my close friends,” Kyle tells me when I ask what he’s gaining from these collabs other than having another big name on the track.

“Making music with them is something that I feel is just dope in general and I don’t know what I necessarily gain from it. We’re friends. Now people know we’re friends because now we have a song with each other!”

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but it’s refreshing to know that not all massive features are a result of record label string pulling, not that Kyle needs it, and that a collab can still be born from friends in a studio just wanting to have fun and be creative together. That brought us on to Kyle’s most successful song to date, ‘iSpy’ featuring Lil Yachty. Specifically, these lines:

All this shade that’s comin’ at me I wonder who throws it

They can’t see the vision

Boy must be out of focus

That’s a real hot album, homie I wonder who wrote it?

Oh shit…

He confirmed to Genius in a video about the track that the verse isn’t a Drake diss, as many assumed, but a lyric about Kyle’s work as a songwriter. Ok, but that answer begs the question – who was he ghostwriting for?

“I guess it’s a secret, but when I first moved to Los Angeles, I was a writer for Atlantic,” he reveals. “I would go to Atlantic offices in their studios and just write mad songs for their artists. Anybody who was on the roster at the time. I don’t necessarily know who used what. They’ll be like, ‘Ok so this pack of beats is all for this artist’.

“The thing about being a songwriter, or a good songwriter, is being so personal but also universal,” he continues. “That’s the whole key. You want to write a song that sounds like you made it, but you could hear anyone else singing it. That’s the key to making a good song.”

I make a mental note to try and figure out when he started writing and who was signed to Atlantic at the time, already resigned to the fact that I’ll never know. We move on and I ask Kyle if he’s ever dealt with writer’s block to which he animatedly replies, “Oh hell yeah! It sucks”, but he’s got a solution.

“I go look at poetry. When I happen to have writer’s block I look at the way they put words together, I keep repeating one of the sentences and try to take something from there.”

This method must work because we’re never long waiting for the next Kyle project or release. He seems to have bountiful energy, that manifests into a strong work ethic and drive.

“For me motivation is not something I struggle with because I always want more,” he tells me.

“I’m never really satisfied. Even though all these great things have happened, all I can think about it is, ‘Damn, how do I make this bigger?’. It’s kind of a wack thing to do, but I definitely do that a lot. I don’t really have to worry about wanting to take it to a bigger place or take it a step further because that’s just something that’s constantly on my mind.”

He keeps it healthy though, with a good work-life balance. Downtime is binge-watching Game of Thrones or getting lost in video games for hours, but ultimately writing and creating music is what he loves.

“You know, it’s weird because my work plays such a huge role in my happiness so in order to maintain that I have to consistently be succeeding and be working and be making myself better and building my career. And at the same time, I have to be consistently giving myself breaks from working so hard. It’s a fine line.”

The energy that Kyle pours into every track, every video, isn’t refined to the studio. He brought it to the set of Netflix’s ‘The After Party’, a film he stars in and wrote music for alongside Wiz Khalifa, and he brings it on tour. You may have noticed from his vigorous live performances that he’s actively trying to reconnect hip hop with its dance roots.

“It’s important to me because hip hop started that way and we’ve lost it somehow,” he says. “People think it’s corny to dance and they don’t understand that if you really do some history, rap started as a very live, colourful, exciting, energetic performance. Every rapper had dancers and every rapper knew how to dance. Every rapper choreographed dance moves and when I first started, I just really wanted to bring that back.”

He’s looking to James Brown, New Edition, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-N-Pepa, The Fresh Prince & Jazzy Jeff and “even NWA to a certain degree” for inspiration.

“Their performances were theatrical, so much more than kids care about doing now. They don’t necessarily care about synchronisation, and a planned, executed performance. They’ll just run out there and scream it out. All of my favourite performers really performed back in the day… It’s really just recently that we’ve stopped caring about fully performing.”

The Light Speed World Tour and its dynamic lead man will make their way to Dublin in December for the final date of the European shows, but Kyle promises to bring it as if it was opening night and he wants to audience to do the same.

“Expect the most live energy show you have ever seen. Expect not your average hip hop show and expect to be impressed by real music and somebody who is actually caring about performing and somebody who just wants to have mad fun. Don’t come if you’re not ready to have mad fun [laughs]!”

I’m exhausted just being subject to Kyle’s relentless energy, but nonetheless inspired by how much he’s already achieved and by his astronomical plans for the future. Before he signs off, incredibly politely, he reveals some big plans for 2019.

“I’m definitely trying to shoot another movie, trying to drop another album and then do another tour. Dude, I want to keep it all going together.

“It’s all secrets for now, but know that I’m already getting a lot of scripts, know that I’ve already started working on my next album and know that my next tour design is already finished too.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Kyle plays The Academy on December 12.

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