KYLE’s Debut Album ‘Light of Mine’ Is Diet Coke for Hip-Hop Heads
KYLE hails from Ventura, California, and he’s not your typical rapper. In his own words, “I’m not in the club. I’m not popping bottles. I don’t sell crack. Haven’t shot nobody. I don’t plan on shooting anybody.” Well-aware of how rare this makes him in his genre, KYLE has overselled the factor, sometimes presenting himself under the ridiculous moniker “Super Duper Kyle,” and delivering a strain of ultra lite hip-hop, leading many to call him “the happy rapper.” He started his career pulling beats from soundcloud, and creating mixtapes, gaining critical acclaim for 2013’s “Beautiful Loser” and 2015’s “Smyle.” He has now released his debut album, “Light of Mine,” prominently featuring Lil Yachty, Khalid and an impressive roster of other stars.
“Ups & Downs” begins with stream of consciousness pitched-up vocals, sounding like how one might imagine AI if it acquired emotions — and some swag. It swells into a tight, hermetic beat with whooshing sounds, spliced vocal samples, and jazzy keys. It’s a bit like Prefuse 73’s early productions with the glitched factor turned down. At one point, KYLE mentions, “When I need somebody to lean on / I put that Cudi CD on.” In fact, it was Cudi that first inspired KYLE to make music, and you can hear the influence.. Next, “Coming, Going” sounds like an alternate dimension in which Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie is a pop rapper. The track seamlessly segues into “Zoom,” over which KYLE’s rapping is consistently masterful. His flow is smooth, and innovative in its restless percussive and melodic variety. He has a distinctive voice and accent, often slurring his words and simultaneously over-pronouncing them in way that sounds rather effeminate, and sometimes as if he has a speech impediment. Whatever the case, it gives him character, and he raps more than well enough to generally pull it off.
“Ikuyo,” with Japanese artist Sophia Black rapping in her mother tongue, is one of the album’s most fascinating moments. The minimal beat with cowbells, sputtering percussion, and some serious bass makes a perfect backdrop. 2 Chainz also appears, and his rougher, signature style add refreshing variety. “Games” begins with Yachty asking, “Y’all niggas thought this was a game, huh?” The track assembles a beat seemingly from 8 bit video game themes, and features KYLE assering, “I wanna play real games, not no CPU.” The apparent sentiment is that life itself is the game to play — in which case, the answer to Yachty’s question is “yes.”
“Babies” is a bit of cringefest, beginning with KYLE singing, “Yeah, I am pretty insecure,” in a feeble baby voice. Admittedly, this is a relatable topic, and there’s something to be said about the unabashed honesty, but does it really have to be so pathetic and infantile? Even if KYLE presents himself as an anti-rapper of sorts, such maudlin wallowing is unbecoming. In the chorus, KYLE sings, “And maybe we’re still babies,” with help from Alessia Cara, and he might be on to something. In “Open Doors,” Yachty asks, “Having girl problems, huh?” to which KYLE responds, “Nah, I’m good.” Yachty rejoins, “You ain’t sound like it nigga / I only heard light-skinned niggas sing like that.” Apparently, Yachty has never heard of The Weeknd. What follows is, predictably, a whining extravaganza. It’s a rather creative number however, with an exciting moment of harmonized rapping in the pre-chorus, as well as understated jazz elements and an overall quirkiness that are vaguely reminiscent of some Tribe Called Quest material.
“To the Moon” brings back the recurrent space theme. KYLE’s rapping abounds with clever, little fun touches, like the way he punctuates many of his lines, here, with “Hmmm,” building up to a sustained “Mmmmm,” and finally opening into the word, “Moon.” “Playinwitme” continues about the girl problems. Jay-Z would be very disappointed. The title line, “Girl, why are you playin’ with me?” sums up the song fairly, and guest singer Kehlani takes turns voicing the chorus, keeping the line intact, extending the sentiment to other sexual persuasions. Next, “iMissMe,” featuring Khalid, suddenly goes full ‘80s, sounding, at moments, like an aerobics video soundtrack. There are ‘70s funk riffs in the mix too, and ridiculous synth basslines, setting a tight groove. The song cleverly and articulately tackles the ripe subject of being so engrossed in other people’s concerns that you miss yourself.
“ShipTrip,” is an exciting sonic standout, a delightfully off-kilter, deconstructed number reminiscent of Slum Village and some Outkast. The chorus, “I’ve got this ship, let’s take this trip / Into Japan, we’ve never been,” continuing the space time — Japan is just about as wild. In the end, Yachty comments, “ It’s okay to not be okay… Everybody got problems bro, everybody.” The statement is presented in close focus and dramatic reverb, framed as if these trite platitudes are the most profound words of wisdom, and it seems to cheapen the whole presentation. Next, “Rodeo” is easy listening hip hop, with the chorus lines, “I can take you to Rodeo… We can do it e’rydayo.” It’s very much the same sentiment as that of the last song, just this time a rodeo rather than Japan.
“It’s Yours,” returns to Slum Village territory, with a spacious minimal, a laidback bleeping bassline, and apparently a pitched-up KYLE rapping. It’s an uplifting song, ending with the words, “You did it… it’s yours,” and prompting an interlude with an acceptance speech and audience applause. It adds a little cinematic flavor. “Clouds” is KYLE’s reflective moment, rapping with only background ambiance. The reflection is little more, however, than an acceptance of Yachty’s last advice. KYLE concludes, “I guess I’ll just keep tellin’ myself that I’m fine / Remember it’s all alright,” alluding to his song “All Alright” from “Smyle.”
Finally, the last track is KYLE’s breakthrough single, “iSpy,” a catchy tune, with a childish sing-songy chorus, and a beat that is chirpy and bouncy in the same way as Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life.” The chorus explores KYLE’s Instagram strategy: “I spy with my little eye / A girlie I can get ’cause she don’t get too many likes.” Right… Lower expectations. KYLE probably gets plenty of likes, but perhaps you’ll like him anyway. After all, there’s plenty to like. His positive authenticity and disavowal of phony gangster posturing is a refreshing stance in hip hop. He’s a skilled rapper with a unique voice, and his new, exceptionally well-produced album abounds with engaging musical ideas. Plus, maybe the ego boost will cure him of his insecurity, solve his girl problems, and make him truly deserve the description of “the happy rapper.”
“Light of Mine” is available May 18 on Apple Music.