One of the biggest laments in journalism is that you can never get a sense of personality over the phone. That’s true for a lot of people, but not fast-rising 22-year-old MC Kyle, whose sheer attitude and energy ooze through even a quick chat while he hustles to a meeting in Los Angeles.
He pauses in the middle of answers to comment on a man who has parked himself in front of an automatic door, and goes off on a tangent when I ask him what flavor of chips he’s just purchased. But at no point does this come off as the Ventura, CA rapper being unengaged with the interview, he answers every question thoughtfully and deliberately, even as he weaves through clots of foot traffic.
His earnestness and ability to jump from subject to subject are two of the things that have helped Kyle grow a large, rabid fan base, all of whom are currently blasting his second LP, Smyle, on repeat. With thousands eagerly anticipating the follow-up to his rollicking 2013 debut, Beautiful Loser, Kyle said he did feel more pressure stepping back in the booth.
“I felt more expectation to actually try and say something. I felt more burden to make something that had a little more emotional effect on people. It wasn’t just about Kyle having fun anymore,” he confessed.
That sense of responsibility manifested itself in a more mature, and occasionally darker record, that goes places that his free-spirited first release didn’t touch on. The production is bigger, more varied and anthemic, while Kyle’s bars are sharper overall. Fortunately though, they’re not devoid of the sarcasm and wit that makes him so unique.
“I wanted to switch it up a lot, I wanted to be dynamic,” he explained. “There’s a lot of albums, especially ones right now, where they find a good formula like, ‘If I do this, I add these trap drums to this type of thing it’s gonna be a good song.’ And then they choose to make the same song 13 times with a slightly different topic.”
Smyle is most certainly not that type of record. Even when the tracks don’t entirely come together, you can’t help but applaud Kyle for stretching himself as an artist and not sticking to the electronic-influenced, synth-heavy sound that got him his first taste of fame.
“Even if I’m better at making a ‘Don’t Wanna Fall in Love’ than an ‘All Alright,’ I’m gonna try and do it because life is dynamic,” said the rapper.
Kyle’s gameness is one of his strongest qualities as a musician, and played a huge role in how one of Smyle’s biggest tracks came together. He first met Chance the Rapper while opening for the Chicago MC in Santa Barbara, and the two quickly became friends. It was during a late night studio session with producer Nate Fox, a member of Chance’s Social Experiment band, that single “Remember Me” came into the world.
“Nate came over to my house one time. It was one of those perfect dream type situations, where all the stars aligned. I’m sitting there working on a song with Nate and he looks up at me and says, ‘Chano’s here.’ I was like, ‘What? Really? In Skid Row at 3AM?’ And Chance was like, ‘You know what, I got something for this song…’ It wasn’t the typical, play a beat, write a verse songwriting. We really connected on the project.”
Over a bluesy, piano-powered instrumental, Chance croaks out the cigarette-stained hook, giving Kyle free rein to assess fickle relationships through the lens of his newfound fame. The candor and wit are expected at this point, but they’re used in new and exciting ways. Even though “Remember Me” is a somber record, it is a tremendous accomplishment for an MC establishing his footing.
Despite all of this, Kyle still has to deal with being branded as a “pop rapper” for his upbeat sound. While he’s not angry about it, he’s quick to make it known that that kind of shorthand simply misses the mark.
“Everybody wants to label something…but me I want to express all avenues, all the shit I was influenced by,” he said. “I have made a pop song, I’m not a pop artist. I’ve made a boom-bap song, I’m not a boom-bap rapper. I’m a rapper, singer, dancer, dude, artist, that just makes music.”
Nov. 1 @ Reggie’s Rock Club (Chicago, IL)
Nov. 3 @ The Studio at Webster Hall (New York, NY)
Nov. 5 @ Vinyl (Atlanta, GA)
Nov. 7 @ Fitzgerald’s (Houston, TX)
Nov. 10 @ The New Parish (Oakland, CA)
Nov. 28 @ The Majestic Ventura Theater (Ventura, CA)