Last week, the rapper KYLE found himself sobbing in the middle of a Kid Cudi concert.
“He’s had such a huge impact on me...I always take a piece of the knowledge I got from growing up on him, into everything I do,” KYLE said, when he called me on the phone from his front stoop in Los Angeles. “It’s always real fandom here.”
The 23-year-old rapper gushed about Kid Cudi with the same amount of genuine exuberance he (seemingly) brings to everything else he does. He was equally excited discussing about his upcoming Netflix movie, his new partnership with UGG, or, when I met him in New York a week later, about his appearance at ComplexCon last weekend.
KYLE has reason to be gleeful. The past six months have been what a young artist could only dream of: His breakout single “iSpy”—with an assist from Lil Yachty—went platinum three times, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard rap chart and No. 4 on the Hot 100. The song has amassed well over 400 million streams to date. In June, he graced the cover of XXL Magazine as a member of this year’s Freshman Class of rising hip-hop stars. All of which is to say that KYLE has established himself as a star in a very short amount of time.
“iSpy"—KYLE's launching pad to the top of the charts—is a good-natured ode to feeling good. It's about fun, spotting cute girls online, and the occasional G-rated dig sprinkled in, all coasting over a bubblegum trap beat.
“And I'm in my happy place posted, I ain't frown since '06/I ain't cried since '01, my pad like Six Flags and your house is no fun,” KYLE raps.
Despite the deliriously joyful breakout single, KYLE quickly offers that there's more to him than being the poster boy for “happy rap.” “It’s not about being happy 100 percent all the time, cause that’s just life,” KYLE says. “I make sad songs too, that really only make the happy songs better.”
He plans to bring that wider range of emotions on to his upcoming album. “It’s my most personal piece of work I’ve ever done, hands down,” he said. “I’ve never had so much focus in just using these words to really describe how I’m feeling as a person and what’s really been on my mind and in my heart.”
“It’s not about being happy 100 percent all the time cause that’s just life,” KYLE says. “I make sad songs too, that really only make the happy songs better.”
KYLE embodies the growing trend in today’s generation of rappers who aren’t afraid to talk about their feelings. Positive anthems like KYLE’s “iSpy” vie for top 10 spots on the charts alongside darker songs about suicide, like Logic’s "1-800-273-8255" and Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3.” The spectrum of creative expression in the genre has been expanding for years—now there’s enough room in rap for artists like KYLE and emo-rapper XXXTentacion to appear on the same XXL cover. KYLE cites artists Kanye West and Kid Cudi as the ones who blazed the trail for artists like himself to talk about emotional, self-reflective topics in the genre.
KYLE’s music, along with many of his peers, is also a product of the internet.
Online music communities like YouTube and SoundCloud have “helped music become a little more unique, a little more creative,” KYLE told me. “Everyone just started doing s**t in their room and putting it online and it would turn into these super famous songs. So I’m really thankful that I grew up in the internet era of music ‘cause it kept me unique and it kept me like, ‘Nah I can actually do what I want and it might f**kin’ work.”
While the internet provided KYLE his eventual, rapidly growing audience, he still credits his hometown for making him the person he is today. Ventura is not known for its hip-hop scene, but the city’s laid back, “do your thing” disposition is embedded in everything the rapper does, from his personal style to his music. “As long as you’re true to yourself, I f**k with you,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter if you’re sad or happy. I can be sad, you can be happy, it’s all good. That’s all I’m saying—let’s just be us.”