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.
This anti-bullying initiative with Axe is interesting. Rappers are always giving back in various ways, but this is so specific, and I think, needed. How did this partnership come about and why was this cause so important to you?
I’m only about really collaborating and working on topics that are actually true to myself or true to actual life story because one thing I’m not really good at doing is lying. So I try to just really do things that I’m honest about and that’s why I was so excited to work with Axe on this because it’s a program I actually wish was around when I was in high school.
It relates to me because I was bullied for not necessarily being the stereotypical man, which is such a backward concept. It’s still making the lives of so many young people out there really difficult because there’s nobody addressing the fact that we force all young men to put themselves in this box and if you take a step outside of it, you’re gonna get bullied. You’re gonna get beat up. There’s no end to the consequences for just being yourself.
That’s why I was so excited to work with Axe on this because I really felt passionate about it. I really do feel passionate about teaching young men out there that it’s okay to be something different than Hulk Hogan. I love Hulk Hogan, but we can’t all be like that. Some of us are sensitive. Like, for me, I’m hella docile. There was nothing tight about being a docile rapper. Is there an album titled the docile rapper?
Right. Because growing up, I can say all our rappers were like DMX, Ja Rule, or 50 Cent. There were a lot of aggressive, hyper-masculine, muscular, hood dudes.
Everybody was hella buff! Every single rapper you could think about was so swole it was crazy. That is so not everybody. Not only did they want all the lyrics and all the material to be the most aggressive, hostile shit ever, on top of that, they wanted everybody to be built like wrestlers. It was insane to think that I grew up idolizing that. That was the example of what a cool dude was to me: Somebody who was emotionally cut off, super hostile, and angry. And just really buff. I think for people that are actually like that or come from that type of background, come from that type of feeling, that’s naturally them. But we can’t expect that to be all of us. And I think that we need to be accepting of the other kids growing up that don’t feel like they fit that type of stereotype of what being a man is.
Right. Every person can’t be like that, just like every rapper can’t be like that. It’s limiting.
I can apply it to hip-hop and I can apply it to just being a regular dude in general. There are still so many stereotypes about the definition of a man that are so wrong and so backward and actually have nothing to do with the real day-to-day life.
You know how many raps I wrote when I was a little kid about guns? I didn’t have guns. I couldn’t even go get one. I just wrote so many raps about that or how many people I’d beat up. I might have been 85 pounds writing these raps, and it’s such a backward concept. And if you think about it, anger, hostility, aggression, those are all things that should be looked at in a more negative way. Those should be things that we don’t want to have. And it was like my culture and my society around me was almost trying to put that in me. Almost was trying to make me conform to feelings and emotions that we should be trying to get rid of in the first place.
The world should be trying to make our men more caring, more understandable, more docile, more kind. And it’s like we were replacing that and being like, ‘No, guns, hostility, aggression, more muscles, six packs, chains, emotionless.’ It was so backward to the point where somebody like myself didn’t even feel comfortable talking that much. I never talked, I was so quiet growing up. And it’s funny now because my profession is talking for four minutes at a time over music. But I didn’t even want to do it before because I was so ashamed of how ‘soft’ I was.
Exactly. It feels like when you are more genuine I think you connect with people and that’s why you get twenty thousand people and up to forty thousand people at Coachella. I caught your set and it was like your energy translated to the audience so much, you even drew in new listeners who had no clue who you were but just felt magnetized to the stage.
It was epic. I mean, that’s why I did it. Coachella is one of those things that I’m going to every year if I can, regardless if I’m playing because it’s like such an experience. Just to go there is one thing, but to actually perform at it is like an unfathomable dream for any artist. So when I got the chance to do it, I was like, ‘Man, I can’t believe I’m actually gonna play Coachella.’ Being on that main stage was insane.
You were definitely roasting up there in your space suit. I saw you losing pieces as you were going. So, tell me about Lightspeed tour. What’s the theme of your Lightspeed tour?
I’m very excited about [the Lightspeed World Tour]. It’s my first world tour ever. I released Light Of Mine, I’ve gone on my own journey that is finding the light that I and every other person on this planet has inside of themselves, the good part about yourself that you just need to nurture and water, and stand and watch it grow. So, now we’re gonna take that entire concept and we’re going to spread it to every single person possible around the world. That’s the concept of the Lightspeed tour, that’s the mission. And you’ve got to come to the show to see how it pans out.
What are some of the places that you’re most looking forward to performing?
I know I’m looking forward to performing in Tokyo. I’ve visited Tokyo on just some fandom, but now to actually have a whole string of shows in Asia, I’m very excited about that. And I’m hella excited to do my first London show because I opened up for Logic in London and that was lit, but now I’m going to do my own Super Duper Kyle sold out headliner, it’s going to be crazy.
I actually just wrote a thing about this same idea, where you go on Twitter and all these people are cracking jokes about how corny or cheesy Logic is, but then we chastise other rappers for being violent. How do we reconcile the two sides?
I get the exact same thing. I think hurt people hurt people. So when you see somebody like Logic who’s so vulnerable being himself… I like to think, ‘Damn, who has this much free time?’ You think about how much hate or energy people are putting out trying to make fun of Logic? I just think, ‘Who has this much time?’ Only somebody that is really feeling some type of way on the inside has that much time to spend all day long trying to make fun of somebody.
I was watching the Judge Kavanaugh confirmation hearing and I was seeing how people were keying in on the hyper-masculine anger and aggression and how people were connecting that to his prior behavior that he’s being accused of. And then I go on the next day and they’re making fun of Logic.
You know an example I use all the time? I would talk about how people listen to every rap song where somebody’s talking about murdering your mom and doing all this shit and then we’ll spend all day long roasting Logic or me or Chance or anybody that’s trying to do some positive shit. There’s a whole counter-culture to where if you were to make some type of mistake or something or you tweet the wrong thing everybody would be offended, but it’s like, you guys tweeting the whole lyrics to this song where this dude is talking about murdering everybody’s mom. I don’t know how to fix that. I would just say that it’s having a conversation about it and doing what you’re doing right now and talking about it.
We have to hope. Last question. What was your first thought when you saw your face on a Sprite can?
I was finally like, ‘Okay, now everybody in my family is going to get what I do.’ At first, I was like, ‘Nobody knows.’ They’re like, ‘What does Kyle do again?’ ‘He’s a rapper.’ ‘What is that though?’ ‘We mean he raps.’ ‘What is rap?’ I feel like I was finally on the Sprite can, my mom finally knew exactly what I did. She’s like, ‘Oh, okay, I get it, I get it.’