SPOTLIGHT: KYLE - A Gleeful, Geeky Anomaly in West Coast Rap


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“Kyle” is a ridiculous rap name. It's not only forgettable, but it isn’t even a full name. It’s like “Madonna” without any of the potency. But that’s not the only oddity about Kyle or his music, and maybe the strangest thing is how these peculiarities (including the name) work together to make some infectiously exuberant music. You may have already heard Kyle along with Chance the Rapper and Big Sean on “Wanna Be Cool” from Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s Surf. That song, an outspoken and fun anthem about the importance of individuality works as an introduction to Kyle’s music. His voice is weird, his references are geeky, and he spends a lot of time dealing with the plight of the nerdy. This kind of appeal to nerd culture, which is definitively identified as niche even as it becomes more and more obviously the mainstream, may come off as calculated or even manipulative. On the surface, it may seem like Kyle is cashing in on the constant nostalgia experienced and incessantly analyzed by millennials. Kyle’s debut album Beautiful Loser (2013) has songs like, “Fruit Snacks and Cups of Patron,” and “Sex and Super Smash Bros.” Kyle is clearly tapping into a nostalgic, reference-laden, youthful zeitgeist, and the access he enjoys to that ethos may strike some as cheap. KYLE But those struck thusly by Kyle’s music are missing some very important information: it sounds really, really good. Kyle, a West Coast rapper, seems far more influenced by beachy, feel-good pop music then he does by the gangsta rap born in Compton. The beats Kyle uses are spacy and electronic punctuated by high, chirpy tones. Consistent with his aesthetics, funny laser sounds, samples of dialogue from anime, and video game sound bites add character to his beats. What’s really important about these songs, though, is what Kyle does with these beats. In fast-paced boast raps like “The Force” on Smyle (2015) and “Bang” on Beautiful Loser (2013), Kyle’s flow is wildly fun and yet effortlessly precise. Kyle’s contagious audacity on “Really? Yeah!” make it an essential party track. In tracks like, “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love,” and “All 4 You,” (Both from Smyle), Kyle slows his flow and mixes soul vibes into his popish sound to craft some more emotional tracks to balance with his joyous levity. Smyle’s “Remember Me?” is a standout track (with Chance the Rapper on the chorus) that is genuinely moving. Given Kyle’s craftsmanship, his nerdy, surf-rock infused aesthetic (completed by Pikachu appearances and literal crowd surfing at live shows) comes off less as calculated and more as genuinely, joyfully un-self-conscious. Kyle is refreshingly easy to believe when he raps about not trying to be cool, and that is damn cool. As a rapper, particularly as a black artist, Kyle is not expected to rap over acoustic guitar riffs, to perform shows in colorful, extremely short shorts, to do the fusion dance from Dragon Ball Z with a friend onstage, and yet there he is ― defiantly and exuberantly. And, sure, maybe it's corny. But sit and listen to one of his albums all the way through and just try not to smile.
Credits Words by Micah Bhachech Images by SuperDuperBrick


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