Nobody saw KYLE’s top ten Billboard charting ode to Instagram flirting, “iSpy” featuring Lil Yachty, coming, but KYLE’s ascension as the new millennial Fresh Prince has been more than a minute in the making. Since writing his first rap at age 13 after hearing Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon (Cudi truly is the inspiration behind a whole generation of music makers), the now 24-year-old Southern California native has been steadily amassing a fanbase of ardent followers, refining his brand of feel good rap and building a career out of being himself.
Self-proclaimed “nerd” and Will Smith appreciator Kyle Thomas Harvey first adopted his “Super Duper Kyle” persona in high school. He wasn’t necessarily the happiest kid at the time, bullied for a speech impediment, dealing with depression and the death of his grandpa, but to turn things around he made a conscious decision to start every single day by convincing himself that it was going to be a good one. “I started taking that attitude to school and seeing kids that were sad and trying to pick them up,” he told Rolling Stone. “I was walking around high-fiving people and telling them they were awesome.”
In 2013, “Super Duper Kyle” began using the moniker K.i.D, short for “Kyle is Determined”, under which he released a pair of mixtapes, Beautiful Loser and Smyle. Collaborations with the likes of Chance the Rapper, Kehlani, and G-Eazy followed, before he got back to basics and started simply going by the name KYLE. KYLE isn’t just a name though, like Rainn Wlson in the movie Super, KYLE is a regular guy that turned himself into a superhero. He’s Captain Positivity, he’s Mr Fantastic, he’s Dr. Awesome, he’s Drake, but like, a version of Drake the whole family can enjoy, he embodies Will Smith-style universal appeal and he is definite bff/boyfriend material.
Hopefully you’ve been paying attention, because all this back story is important to understanding and evaluating KYLE’s debut album, Light of Mine, a record so anticipated that even Drake has been counting down the days to its release. The album is the culmination of a lifetime of positivity and determination. In fact it’s an album that could just have easily have been a series of motivational, keeping it real, self-help and positive energy monologues, because as KYLE says, “Some of [my fans] would rather just hear advice from me than the music.” Instead, we get 15 tracks of effortless rap singing that KYLE delivers as though he just rolled out of bed one morning and willed them into existence. Clearly that is not the case, especially since KYLE has, in his formative years, done the kind of cringeworthy hustling that involves adding every single person from surrounding high schools on Facebook and spamming them with his music. That said, social media fame is fast becoming a standard route to making it in the music game, just look at queen Cardi B.
The production on Light of Mine is so breezy it’s like walking on clouds, with a simultaneously retro and contemporary feel that reflects KYLE’s general aesthetic (see the “iSpy” video), though the inevitable Autotune firmly grounds it as a 2018 record. A glance at the production talent behind Light of Mine will tell you that this is an album that was never not going to be on point. M-Phazes (Eminem, Zara Larsson) and Ayo (Cardi B, Wiz, Lil Wayne) take on the bulk of production duties, with contributions from Ricci Riera (Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Travis Scott, A$AP), Axel Morgan (ScHoolboy Q), Bossman, Sunny Norway, Charlie Handsome, 10A, Jake Troth, superbrick and Austin Sexton. Basically, it’s a who’s who of hit makers, and that’s before you take into consideration the featured artists like Alessia Cara, Avery Wilson, Khalid, and Kehlani. The thank you/acceptance speech on “It’s Yours” is a fun and bold move, while tracks like “Zoom” pick up the laidback pace – and despite how instantly annoying songs like “Ikuyo” featuring 2 Chainz and Sophie Black seem, they are pure banger level cuts.
It might not seem like KYLE takes things or himself too seriously, but you don’t wind up with an album like this by not putting some seriously hard work into your craft. Beneath the overwhelmingly feel good vibes, Light of Mine’s cartoon hijinks masks some deeper substance. KYLE isn’t in denial about the negatives in life and on album opener “Ups & Downs” he wastes no time in assuring us that he’s been there too, “Skrrt, I am a wreck / I’ve set a record for being upset / Truthfully honestly I am mess / I am depressed / I am obsessed with self deprecating and blaming myself.” There’s a level of self-awareness to KYLE’s flow, these are rhymes with lessons and at times it’s a record about growing up, finding yourself, struggling and navigating your way in the world as a young man. Even though it constantly looks for the bright side, it doesn’t ignore the colossal amount of shit that life throws at us, instead it’s a gentle reminder to flip things up when they get bad.
That said, there are some lyrical clangers and derivative sentiments, see lines like, “All my bitches come in pairs like balls in my nutsack” (from “iSpy”). Truly it would be a wondrous thing to find an album like this that doesn’t fall foul of misogynist slights, not to mention its overuse of the word “baby” because it is possible to be too smooth. One of the album’s surprising successes is KYLE’s conscience, played by Lil Yachty, which occasionally shows up to give KYLE comical inner voice pep talks; “You’ve got to leave that negativity shit in the past,” says Lil Boat, “That shit is old bro, how you supposed to grow up if you ain’t even glowed up?” This kind of thing is frankly adorable and peak-cute KYLE.
At best, you could say that Light of Mine is optimism as cultural rebellion – at worst, it plays things too safe in an attempt to be liked by everyone (in KYLE’s defense, at least it doesn’t feel he’s ever trying to be anything he’s not). “People should listen to my music if they are into a lot of different genres and kind of want to get it all at once,” he recently told Billboard. “If you feel like the day is a little harder than usual, and you need something to pick you up, and get you going, take a listen. I gotcha!” Maybe that’s why Light of Mine comes off more like the first full-length edition of ‘The KYLE Show’ (if someone doesn’t actually commission a KYLE show sitcom off the back of this, then what is this all for?), and in this respect, it effectively channels KYLE’s confidence and mad charisma. He really is the most joyously joyful bro this side of Broville, that’s for sure. On “Games”, KYLE says he wants to, “Rhyme like Busta / sing like Usher too,” and he does, like a pro, converting California sunshine vitamin D into positive energy like a feel good version of Superman. Everything’s gonna be alright everyone, KYLE’s here!