Kyle Is Rapping and Playing It Safe
"I have a song called “Sex and Super Smash Bros.” To me it's weird that everybody’s played that game but nobody’s stopped to make a song about it."
California's Kyle Harvey is, for better or worse, the sum of his influences. He sounds like he was created in a lab where the chemist in charge tried to make the safest rapper possible, mixing sugar, spice, and everything nice in a Powerpuff Girls-style recipe. With a dash of Drake and a sprinkling of Will Smith wrapped in an umami flavoured soundtrack filled with lyrics about feeling good and being happy, Kyle was born. But the young Californian is as much a victim of his influences as he is succesful because of them. The blueprint of both aforementioned rappers appear throughout most of Kyle’s songs, from the “Best I Ever Had” sing-song raps to the fun time themes of “Summertime” and “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” It's an issue that Kyle has had to deal with since the start of his career. “When I first started I was like a 13-year old kid rapping about slaughtering entire villages and moving fucking mountains of cocaine,” Kyle says. “I was good at sounding like other people but it never felt natural when I would start recording.” Slowly but surely, he grew more confident in the recording booth and released his first series of mixtapes, Senior Year and Second Semester, to small fanfare. Looking to raise his profile online, Kyle made a Unrehearsed(Covers) EP in which he freestyled over Drake’s “Headlines.” That song would end up going viral after the video was featured on WorldStar. “My friends were like ‘you should do covers it’ll get a lot of views’ and I thought it was going to be wack, but I did it and it got the ball rolling for my career.” Kyle would win over viewers with his ability to sing and rap, and in doing so would create numerous “Drake-lite” comparisons. He would then capitalize with several more releases before dropping 2013 album, Beautiful Loser and the single, “Keep It Real” which addresses the comparison directly, “They say that I sound like Drake, I don’t.”
To his credit, content-wise that's true. Where the Young Money breadwinner lavishes in the darker underpinnings of his emotions, many of Kyle’s songs draw on sunny optimisms. Making music that feels thin but emboldens his loyal fanbase to enjoy video games, be happy with who they are, and stay positive in the cesspool of life. “I feel like one of my strengths is writing about stories that are unique to me but somehow relate with everyone, and the one thing I’ve found is that if you make a song wholly unique to you, then you don’t have to compete with everybody, because nobody else can make a song like you.” It seems that Kyle is finally starting to feel comfortable in his own skin.
Noisey: You used to write songs about doing big bags of cocaine and fucking people’s girlfriend, which is clearly the opposite of the more positive vibes that you're writing about now. What changed?
Kyle: I was always a good rapper and wrote clever punchlines, but none of it sounded good once I recorded it, but I didn't know why. I couldn’t put my finger on why all the songs sounded so fucking weak to me. But when I look back, I was like a 13-year old talking about slaughtering entire villages and moving mountains of cocaine, which I obviously wasn't really doing. Then I recorded this song called “Lemonade” and that song was the first time I just wrote about shit that I found funny and phrased it in punchline format. The way I was delivering the lines during recording felt so natural. I was laughing at my own punchlines, and when I listened back to it with my mom and friends, everybody was like 'oh my god this is way better than your past stuff.' Honestly, it was the first time I felt comfortable with what I was doing up. The moment I stopped rapping about shit that wasn’t real to who I am was when I started becoming the artist that I am now.
Now the “Headlines” cover is kind of what drew more attention to you as an artist but of course simultaneously created the countless Drake comparisons. Do you ever regret it?
You know the funny thing is I didn’t want to do that but my brother and friends told me to. At the time we were using all types of ways to get our music popping and we were like “Yo you should do these covers like watch it’s going to get hella views.” And I was like, “no this shit is going to be wack” but then I ended up doing it and that was what really got the ball rolling for me in terms of my career, so I was like, I guess I got to go with it.
You've made songs in the past that speak to your relationship with your father, like "Say What I Feel." What’s the status of that relationship now?
My relationship with my father is fine. Every relationship has its ups and downs because bad things happen in all relationships. But for me, I can only write about what I’m feeling in the moment and something that actually happened to me. When I hear a beat that makes me want to tell a story, then that’s what I’m going to say. At that time, I was going through some things with my Dad. But now, everything is good. I mean, he is the reason why I became a rapper.
Now on the song “Fruit Snacks” you repeat at the end “Someday we’ll all be encased I silver and gold.” What was that about?
That line basically means no matter what your life is like here on earth in any situation whether you’re poor, born with no legs, whatever the case is, when this life is over we’re all going to be in heaven and were going to be surrounded by everything we want. Basically, one day everything will be fine and you don’t need to worry.
I also saw on your Twitter you also used that line in reference to you friend who was unfortunately shot.
Yeah my friend, James was shot by police. I mean I don’t know the majority of the story I just know that there was some type of gunfire or something where he was at but I don’t think it involved him but there were a group of kids; black kids in a confined area. It’s like the person next to you can do something wrong but if you look like him it could be the [end] of your life. But even with my friend James like I said before I guarantee he’s in a much better place right now
The line was just to pay your respects to him?
Yeah it was written way before that shit happened but that line does pay respect to him or to anybody who’s lost their life in the wrong way. Just anybody who has gone through or is going through some hard type of struggle like eventually it’s going to be fine.
How have you grown as a writer since Beautiful Loser?
I’ve been trying to write more and take more personal and reflective ideas that connect with people to the next level, and I’ve just grown more in terms of the topics I touch on, and wanting to make songs that are timeless and can’t be recreated. The one thing I’ve found is that if you make a song wholly unique to you, then you don’t have to compete with everybody. For instance, I have a song called “Sex and Super Smash Bros.” To me it's weird that everybody’s played that game but nobody’s stopped to make a song about it.
Why do you think out of all of your previous songs, people are connecting to “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love?”
I feel like everybody who listens to this track just instantly gets into it. I mean when I first heard the beat on soundcloud I was instantly like 'fuck this would be an awesome for song' at least that’s what I thought when I listened to it. When I first heard it, I would just play the beginning of the beat and feel like that song has the best people fucking with it. I just think the production on that is ten out of ten.
You've said that one of your biggest criticisms levelled at you is that you’re too pop. Is that a label you're okay with?
You know, honestly, at this point I’m comfortable. That doesn’t bother me at all. The one thing I’m definitely not afraid of is being labelled a pop artist. If anything, what I’m afraid of is being an artist who's limited because he’s afraid to make any kind of music. I don’t want to be an artist who never makes "Happy" or a huge song because he doesn’t want to be called a pop artist—that’s dumb. But that’s definitely not something that’s bothered me before. I make whatever song makes me happy in the moment, whether it’s over a Mariachi band, the Blue’s Clues them, a fucking underground rap song, or a pop song. I just want to be an artist that makes exactly what he feels. If someone says to me like "oh wow you sold out and make pop music" I’ll be like, “Hell yeah, shit's tight.”
Being yourself and staying true is a main theme in your music. How are you going to continue being true to yourself as an artist and balancing that with the idea that your viewpoints on what's genuine or not will change in time?
Yeah I think you answered the question right there. I’m not going to try to do anything that people think is cool or do what I’ve done before. My ideology for my upcoming album is that it’s going to feel a lot different than the previous ones, and I think that’s what I’ve always done, so I don’t have anything to worry about. I’m just going to continue to treat myself like a boss. Five years from now I could be totally different, but again I’m just going to make music that feels unique to me. A 17-year old kid isn’t going to stay that age forever.
Are you a happy person?
I would consider myself pretty happy. I’ll smile at you if you’re walking down the street and you’ll be like who is this. I’ll also laugh at your jokes evem if there not funny, but I hope they are.
Jabbari Weekes is on Twitter - @DaysAndWeekes