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“Let’s break the rules.”
These are the words singer Kyle Dion blares out on the opening track to his second album Sassy. This idea of negating the world’s expectations isn’t a newly-discovered concept for the Los Angeles-based singer, he’s been doing that from the very start. From his 2016 EP Painting Sounds through his 2019 debut album Suga, Kyle Dion has made his uniqueness very clear. He possesses the energy of a rockstar, has one of the more impressive voices in the R&B world, carries an impenetrable confidence like most rappers do, and he does all of this while traversing the world like an indie act. It’s these qualities that helped the singer craft his last album, Suga, one of the most impressive R&B albums in 2019. The album’s 13 tracks detailed the rise and fall of love filled with equally climatic and crushing moments. Each was accentuated by the singer’s ability to excellently portray the raw passion needed for whatever emotion was at hand.
With that being said, his invitation to break the rules is more so for we as listeners, and maybe even his contemporaries, to join him in moving against the expected flow of the world. It comes with the hope that we’ll find an exhilarating freedom in doing so. But how does a rule-breaker continue to break the rules in a way that’s still attention-grabbing rather than recycled, repetitive, and even exhausting? Well, for Kyle Dion, he does it by simply having fun. His second album Sassy taps into a different side of his personality, one he describes as “an exaggerated version of myself.” However, even Dion has set boundaries for his anti ways. “I’ll never make the same song or album twice,” he says over a Zoom call. “That just doesn’t stimulate me at all and I don’t want to hear that, so I wouldn’t make it.”
It’s a line of thought that Dion said multiple times to me during our conversation. Even without him saying it, one might have guessed it as his mantra after listening to Sassy. The 17-track album is lively in ways that even the most energetic moments of his previous two projects hadn’t reached. “Parmesan” welcomes your best dance moves while Dion sings of his saucy ways and “Drip” with Duckwrth picks up the pace for an infectious number that commends a woman’s spotlight moment during a night out. “Money” is a cut-throat record that happily accepts the idea that cash rules everything around him while “Fix Vision” with Channel Tres praises a woman’s beauty on the beautifully constructed track.
Kyle Dion’s change of emphasis on Sassy came after he discovered a falling point with his 2019 album. “I remember going to my friend’s house and they couldn’t play a song of mine on Suga at a kickback or something because it was not the wave,” he says. “I want to be played at a kickback, I want girls to be twerking and sh*t. I want to be played at different things.” So after touring the United States and Europe, all while having a blast with friends as he created moments like partying and “peeing in a lake and sh*t” in Amsterdam as well as the “lit as hell” experiences of Chicago, Dion set his mind on making a more outdoor-friendly album. While some may have not caught on to his versatility yet, the singer is very aware of his Rolodex of talents. “I can do many things and I’m not scared to show people that I can do many things, I don’t want people to expect things.”
And there it began. Sassy and all its beauty slowly came together, and as Dion worked to put the pieces together, there was one thing he was sure of. “One thing that I’m always gonna be able to do is sing my ass off,” he proclaims. “I’m always going to incorporate that into everything that I do, but there are no rules in what I’m able to do. I can do whatever I want as an artist.” It’s this refusal to conform that also welcomes a surprising, unexpected, but pleasant guest appearance from Ja Rule on “Placebo.” The New York rapper’s appearance came after Dion jokingly mentioned him after Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real” came to mind while recording “Placebo.” “We just felt like it was funny and kind of a stretch, but we put it out there to my team,” he says. “A member of my team knew Ja Rule’s camp, and we sent it out to them.” Well, it turned out to be a great move as they received more than was asked for. “We were so excited when he sent a verse back instead of adlibs and I was like, ‘Yeah, man, this shi*t’s crazy.”
Furthermore, Dion loved that I labeled Ja Rule’s guest appearance as unexpected because it plays into the random and freeform artist he strives to be. “Like you said, You didn’t expect the pairing and that’s what I love,” he boasts. “I don’t want anyone to expect anything from me because I’m ever-changing, I’m ever-growing, and evolving. That’s what it is.” For some, change is dangerous as it promises an equal chance of rejection as it does praise. It’s something Stormzy alluded to during an interview with Billie Eilish. “Your spirit sometimes wants to stick to what you know,” the British rapper said while speaking about the pains of a sophomore album. “But then you want to venture out and like you’re just trying to figure out… the world really loved me for everything I did the first time around, so how do I approach the second one?”
So in a world where many, understandably, cringe or shudder at the idea of sharing something completely different than what they’ve found great success in and have been typecasted to, Dion practically begs his peers to throw caution into the wind and show their full palette of colors. “People are scared bro, people are so scared to show the range [and] do different sh*t,” he says with a bit of frustration in his tone and later adds, “Do what you want in the moment [and] be unapologetically yourself.” It’s sound advice from the singer who’s spent half a decade doing this. Being a musician is founded on constant leaps of faith as you repeatedly subject yourself to criticism or acclaim with every release. However, there’s a reason the saying “you miss every shot you don’t take” exists.
One of my favorite aspects of Sassy comes right after Dion’s collaboration with Ja Rule. Following “Placebo,” the flashing lights and pyrotechnics that come with the show that Dion puts on throughout the album are replaced with a single dim light as the singer’s tender touch returns to the forefront. “Comfortable” provides a warm blanket to a lover in hopes that the gesture will provoke them into opening up and showing him their true self. “Kiss Me Back” uses an endearing collection of guitar chords to beg for reciprocation and his “Good Bye, Good Luck” interlude lets go of a love he so desperately hoped would last forever. This versatility, and mastery in controlling it all, is truly impressive. It’s sequenced perfectly into the album making it a smooth transition into this relaxed moment as well as one out of it as the singer laughs off his sad-boy moment to return to the fun and bring the album to a close.
Sassy is filled with color from top to bottom and Kyle Dion is aware of it. The album isn’t painted within some imaginary lines that were set for it. That would quite literally go against the boundary-breaking agenda that the singer set for it. Instead, it contains splatters of vibrant coloring all over the canvas, and even if it doesn’t amount to a beautiful work of art in society’s eyes, it’s elegant enough for Dion and he’s happy that he did it that way. “I just threw up on this album and [it’s] like, “What do I do now? What’s next?” he ponders as our conversation nears an end. “Just as a young man growing into myself, I’m so curious as to where I’m gonna be next and where I’m gonna go next, but I’m happy that I let that out.”
Being a rule-breaker requires you to put up blinders to how people may respond to you. Going against the grain is rarely applauded, and it’s something the singer understands with his second album. “I did this one unapologetically, this is how I’m feeling, take it, love it, or don’t,” he says to me. However, even this rebel can’t help but hope for one thing from the world that consumes Sassy. “Do what you want and f*cking respect people that just put their sh*t out there and be f*cking free, unapologetic, and exactly who they are,” he declares. “If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but you got to respect it. That’s what I want, people should do whatever they want. That’s it.”
I think we can all agree with that.
Sassy is out now via Kyle Dion/AWAL Recordings. Get it here.