It’s October, which means the weather is getting colder and Halloween is getting closer, but October is also notable for being National Bullying Prevention Month. Founded in 2006 by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, the month-long campaign aims to raise awareness for bullying prevention.
Rap music stands in a peculiar position with regard to that sensitive subject. On one hand, rap’s always seemed to praise the bully mentality of dominance, verbal and physical violence, and ultra-macho, tough guy personas that grow as much out of a sense of necessity than the natural personalities of its most prominent figures. On the other, hip-hop has also always trumpeted the underdog and the rags-to-riches tales of misfits and oddballs who used rap to garner popularity or express traditionally hidden emotions.
One of those rappers is Kyle, the Ventura rapper best known for his positive, upbeat music and optimistic, earnest persona on hits like “Doubt It,” “Playinwitme,” and “iSpy” with Lil Yachty. In fact, many of the glowing profiles written about him often make note of the fact that his approach runs counter to the stereotypical rapper persona. He admits to revamping his rap style early on to better reflect his middle-class upbringing and desire to be liked, setting aside sour gun talk for peppy motivational rhymes and heartfelt, confessional odes to relationship drama, crushes, and chasing his dreams.
However, the traits that make his music such a favorite among a widespread and diverse array of fans also made him a target in school, where he was bullied himself for not conforming to the standards of masculinity that have been propagated in hip-hop and in the wider culture by movies, TV shows, and video games that espouse stoicism, detachment, and aggression. Now that he’s a star, Kyle is choosing to use his platform to speak out against this toxic form of masculinity and change the narrative not just in rap music but in youth culture worldwide as he kicks off his first world tour, Lightspeed.
Teaming up with Axe grooming brand as part of the company’s initiative to transform the image of masculinity, Kyle returned to his alma mater, Ventura High School, to kick off his own anti-bullying campaign, sharing his story and providing himself as an example of achieving success on your own terms. It’s no secret I’ve been a big fan of his since checking out his dazzling debut album, Light Of Mine, so I was excited to find out more. During the course of our conversation, Kyle talked about his experiences, discussed his upcoming tour, and shared his views on how “harmless” bullying can lead to more problematic behaviors later in life through the context of current events. Our conversation turned out to be insightful, enlightening, encouraging, and fun, all the things Kyle’s music tends to be, and all the things rap music could use a lot more of in the future.