KYLE has built up a reputation of being the guy with a smile on his face and a positive force through his music; check Beautiful Loser and Smyle as exhibits A and B. Sure, he's got a lot to be happy about these days—a massively successful single in "iSpy," a loyal following that continues to grow, an upcoming summer amphitheater and arena tour with Logic—but it also comes from a place of motivation.
"The people that believe they can are right," KYLE explains. "And the people who believe they can't are also right." With that in mind, the 25-year-old rapper out of Ventura, California hopes to motivate listeners to follow the first path with his debut album Light of Mine.
Complex sat down with KYLE ahead of the album release to find out more about what went into making it, and how he uses Kid Cudi's music as a therapeutic tool. Stream Light of Mine, as well as check out our Q&A with KYLE, below. The album is available for purchase here.
You’ve said this is your most personal project to date. What specifically went into this that made you want to dig deeper?
For me, I feel like the most important part of music is the storytelling behind it, and that's my favorite; that's what makes my favorite artists my favorite artists, having the story that I relate to the most and that helps me the most. With my albums really I try to make it personal and take it kind of on a deep journey of who I actually am, and I felt like there was still a layer of that that wasn't explained. I needed to tell it, and I needed to tell it real, raw, uncut. That's what my mindset was going into this. I need to get as deep as I can into my own heart to really make people connect and react to the music as passionate as possible.
Are there any specific moments from your life you worked into this narrative with your debut album?
This album, I didn't really dive back. I didn't really dig deep into my past kind of like I've done on my other albums like Smyle or Beautiful Loser. This album was kind of about right now and what I'm currently dealing with. Obviously things in my past that led me to right now and how I'm feeling today and how I'm gonna overcome the battles I'm currently facing.
Where would you say the legwork started with this album? Is it something you started immediately after Smyle?
No tracks made it from the Smyle era. The majority of the tracks I would say were made in like 2016, starting from there. That year was really when I started collecting the songs that would go on this project, that was like the start of my realization of what was happening with me, and what I noticed was happening with me was I was building up resentment, I was building up resentment for other people, I was building up resentment for myself. I was trying to bury these feelings, these very real feelings I was trying to act like weren't there. And that was the top of 2016, that's when I really started expressing the feelings that would turn out to be this album.
How did you choose the collaborators? You got some big names: Khalid, Alessia Cara, 2 Chainz.
I usually just work with my friends. It has to start there, being natural for me. It's not that I haven't wanted to, I've just never been the type of person to get a random person I don't know on a song. So when it comes to Khalid or Alessia, those are really just my friends. I remember when I had “Babies,” the song Alessia's on, we had been texting and I sent her the song, before “iSpy” or anything. She just came over and sang it and killed it. When acquiring these big name features they just started as my friends, who happen to be superstars.
On “Ups & Downs” you rap, "When I need somebody to lean on I put that Cudi CD on.” You've spoken about his impact on your life in the past. What specific songs would you go to for Cudi for relief?
The most frequent song I turn on for relief would be “Ghost” which is the second to last track on [Man on the Moon II:] The Legend of Mr. Rager, and specifically that song because I feel like a lot of the struggle I have at times is feeling lost or feeling hopeless or feeling invisible, like the problems I have don't matter to anybody else in the world. And “Ghost" is a song that deals with those feelings of walking [sings] “down a road with no lights on/Can't describe it, and you don't move like them,” or, “Things do come around/And make sense eventually.” I remember that line always spoke to me whenever I was in a hard place. I don’t know when or where or how, but I know this is going to get worked out.
Like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! Exactly. And that's what that song specifically did for me. I really love Mr. Rager. I know the first album is incredible but my favorite Kid Cudi album is the second one.
I was actually having that conversation with one of my co-workers. The die-hard Cudi fans, most of them actually enjoy the second one more than the first one.
I feel like the emotion on the first one, it's a little more starry-eyed to the music industry, it's a younger version of himself. I feel like that second one… at least for the people who use Cudi's music as a therapeutic tool, it's even more personal, it's deeper, it's darker, it's realer. He's not even going for the straightforward hit on there. He's trying to unload all of his baggage on there into those songs, and so from that standpoint, for me being one of those kids who uses his music as a therapeutic tool, that's just a heavier dose. They're both medicine but that second album is just the heavier dose for me. “Trapped in My Mind” scared me, for the longest I wouldn't listen to that song.
Cudi goes to a darker place musically, but you kind of serve that purpose too where there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the music you make. The endgame is the same; it's gonna be alright.
Me, obviously learning from him, I'm a student of him, I learned how much good and how much change you can add to somebody's life through your music, and just by being there for people. That's always been my personality trait. I've always wanted to make people feel better or feel alright or feel comfortable or not threatened and feel OK in their own skin. With my music, and just with my life, I feel like I always have to try and figure out a way to resolve my sentence with, it's going to be OK. You gotta tell yourself that, 'cause the moment you stop reminding yourself that, the moment you start worrying, start doubting yourself, start blaming other people or blaming yourself, and giving up the fight, that's when you're going to lose sight of that, and that's when you lose the control in your life to make your own decision about how you view it.
How sunny is it outside today? That's up to you. Not physically, but metaphorically. How good things are gonna go is totally up to you. The people that believe they can are right and the people who believe they can't are also right.
If you could have your fans take one thing away from this album, what would it be?
I would want people to be their own superheroes, save their own days, know that nobody else is gonna do it for you. You have to pick yourself up out of your dark moment, you gotta be your own source of light just like I was for me.
KYLE's five favorite debut rap albums:
- Nas, Illmatic
- Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day
- Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle
- Kanye West, The College Dropout
- KYLE, Light of Mine