Kyle is a rapper who has consideration and sensitivity in his bones and he’s not afraid to show it.
Toxic masculinity is a nasty fight that followed him from high school to hip-hop. One of the toughest battles males have to face is deeply intertwined through his art’s foundation and it took a lot of energy to break down these stigmas. Kyle’s fundamental principles are happiness, acceptance and love. He wants to reach out, especially to teenagers, about the importance of recognizing their worth. Partnering with AXE, Kyle spoke at his alma mater, Ventura High School, in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month. As someone who has endured bullying as well, Kyle knows the significance behind giving attention to those being bullied and those doing the bullying themselves. Spreading positivity through music and action: Kyle found his outlet through true self-expression. He wants all boys to know that being themselves, all identities included, is the correct way to “be a man.”
The Knockturnal: How has making and consuming music served as an outlet for dealing with bullying?
Kyle: For me, I always used my songs as places where I could have the tough conversation that I couldn’t have with anybody else. So all of my raps have always been very conversational in a sense like I am talking to somebody. And the hardest parts of my day always ended up in my songs somehow. Me either having a conversation with one of my friends that I didn’t have in actual real life. Me having a conversation with my girlfriend that I didn’t have in real life. My songs almost felt like a confessional in a sense, where I could go and say how I really felt about something. Because, just for me, I was sometimes too scared to actually say it in the real world so I would say it in this make-believe world I came up with which was my songs.
The Knockturnal: What is the most important thing kids interested in art and simultaneously enduring bullying should do?
Kyle: I think everybody needs to find an outlet to express themselves. I think the common thing with music or art or just anything that it is that you do, it’s about expressing yourself and really being tapped in with who you are as an actual person and just being tapped in with the truth. The truth about yourself. So I think that’s where art plays a big role in my life and plays a big role in a lot of other kids’ lives is being a tool that they can use to express how they feel on the inside. And I know it sounds overly simple, but just expressing how you feel on the inside is the most important thing a kid can do. The most important thing a human can do. Period. Express themselves.
The Knockturnal: What advice do you wish you could give your younger self?
Kyle: I would tell him, ‘Dude!’ I would literally snap right in his face like, ‘Homie. Look at me. The you that’s inside of there that you’re not showing anybody is actually a star. He’s actually somebody interesting. You’d be surprised but girls like him. The you that you’re hiding from everybody, that you’re so ashamed of, that’s the you that’s gonna actually get you somewhere.’ I would tell him, ‘Don’t be afraid of that. Don’t be afraid of the way you sound. You’re surprised you can sing. You just don’t know it yet because you never talk. You can rap. You’re funny. You can tell jokes. You’re all of these things. Yeah, your teeth are crooked, who cares? It’s gonna end up working.’ I would try to tell him to be confident in himself because all the things that he’s so ashamed of are gonna be the things that end up making him successful.
The Knockturnal: How has enduring bullying influenced your music? Influenced you as a person?
Kyle: Yeah, I would say it has because it kind of gave me a different fire about it. It’s hard to say that without being bullied I wouldn’t be successful because I don’t know, but I would say it has definitely inspired me to do my career and make the music I make for a reason. Because I’ve been bullied before and I know there are kids out there being bullied right now. So I would say I make music to help people and I make music to help kids. And when I say that, I know there are kids out there that lack confidence, lack belief in themselves, lack love from either themselves or other people around them and I want to be their outlet for that. I want them to see me smile, with this grill, and know there’s nothing wrong about that. I talk to kids all the time too, I’m like ‘There’s nothing wrong about you. You’re not flawed. There are no flaws in you. You weren’t born with any flaws. Your teeth look the way they look because they’re supposed to look like that. And if you wanna fix it? Cool. If you don’t want to fix it? Don’t be ashamed of it. There are no flaws in the way you talk. There are no flaws in the things you’re into. If you want to be on the football team and you want to play pokemon? Do it. It’s tight.’ I try to use myself as an example to other kids out there who were bullied or who don’t feel good enough.
The Knockturnal: And this AXE program actually seems like a good way that you could actually do this. Right? To give yourself an outlet to actually help students.
Kyle: Definitely. I feel like this is one of the first programs I’ve ever seen formulated by a brand to effectively go and reach out to kids who are dealing this. Period. I haven’t seen something like this and I wish something like this was around when I was in high school. I wish there was a rapper I thought was cool that linked up with a brand that I already thought was cool and was out there trying to make a difference and pulled up to my high school and told me it’s okay to be me. Because I would’ve dropped an act a long time ago. It took me until I was nineteen something years old and a lot of obstacles in order to accept myself and start being myself. Whereas I feel with this program, I can sort of get ahead of it and help kids that are in ninth grade, help kids that are just getting into high school. Which is the battleground of this toxic masculinity thing we’re talking about. This is the day of that. This is like Gettysburg of that. The most intense it’s ever going to be. So I feel like now more than ever they need kids holding their hand through this.
The Knockturnal: Do you believe in revenge? And if so, do you believe you have gotten proper revenge on those that bullied you?
Kyle: That’s the funniest thing, is that through being a rapper, I’m not just liked by the kids who have these issues with finding their confidence and are being bullied. I’m liked by all the kids too, so it almost seems like I already got my revenge. But I don’t seek revenge on them because now that I actually came out on the other side of it and became the person that I am today, I feel really sorry for kids that are still currently doing that. I know that hurt people hurt people. I know that kids who are out there bullying other people and lashing out on other people really are lacking a lot of love inside of themselves. I think getting to the core of stopping bullying is reaching those kids directly. The ones who are doing the bullying. And finding out, ‘Why do you feel so low about yourself on the inside? Is it because you’re really sensitive too and you probably want to paint or something like that? Just want a hug? Whether it’s your dad, whether it’s other people around you, your group of friends, the situation you’re in has you so confined to being one way: you don’t know how else to express yourself and get these emotions out besides tearing other people down.’ And it makes so much scientific sense, if you’re not expressing your true self, you’re containing all this shit inside of you. And the only way you’re gonna be able to get it out is by ridiculing other people. It’s hard to be around other people who do love themselves when you don’t. It’s hard to watch other people eat when you’re hungry. So if you see another kid out there expressing themselves, being different than the norm, and inside you really want to but don’t have the confidence to do so yet, you’re gonna envy that person. It’s really jealousy. If someone’s taking the time to bully you, there’s something about you that stirs up an emotion in them that causes anger. So I think it’s about getting to the root of kids who are being bullied and let them know they can drop the act too. It’s safe for them too. Bullying kids are really on defense mode. It’s funny too because I always say that all the kids in school that were the most gangster, people that are in gangs period, are all so emotional. Every single friend of mine who was the gnarliest gangster there was, is the most emotionally gripped person of all time. They love you and they hate you. There are so many things going on inside themselves and they don’t express themselves through any means. So it just creates such a gnarly individual who then is going to go out and hurt people. So I think it’s about finding that person, helping them, saving them the same way we’re saving kids who’re being bullied. Because toxic masculinity is affecting us all. The people who are getting bullied by it. The people who are doing the bullying. It’s a problem that’s going on with all of us. I think you got to help us all. Or at least that’s how I think about it. I try not to shun them out because I have these big nerd meetups where we just make fun of all the jocks. I’m trying to not do that. My shows can very well much be a nerd convention where it’s just like ‘Ah! Look at us now!’ … but I know that’s not the right way to do it either. I have an older brother who is tattooed from head to toe and I know a lot of the reasons he was trying to be the tough guy was not because he was a hateful person. It’s because he was hurt and didn’t know how to necessarily deal with it besides being the tough guy. Besides getting in every fight. Besides proving he was the manliest of all men. And so I feel just as bad for those people as myself.
The Knockturnal: Has anyone who bullied you when you were younger reached out to you in any way?
Kyle: Yeah! I’m friends with all of them. I see them all the time now. It’s almost like every time they look at me it’s an eye-opening experience for them. The funniest thing is so many of them are singers now or artists. All the football jocks, all the coolest dudes, they’re starting rap groups and singing with guitars and stuff now. And I know a large part of the influence of it is me. Them seeing me be able to do what I’ve done from our small town. And now I seem them and they’re shooting music videos the same way I did when I was just starting. I see them now and it’s all love and now all they wanna talk to me about is art and all this stuff. I see them all the time and I’m still friends with them, I’m happy for them. I’m happy for anybody who can just truly be themselves. And that’s another thing I want to address too, it’s not like being a football player or being in this certain type of man is a negative thing. It’s not, it’s just trying to conform everybody to fit into one category is the problem. Some of us are sensitive. We’re all sensitive. Humans are sensitive in general but some of us are more than others. Some of us are athletes. Some of us love that. Some of us love being that type of man. I think they’re all OK. I think it’s just about truly being honest with yourself about what you are and then letting other people be exactly how they are. It’s really hard in high school to accept diversity. We’re not really into that because we’re afraid. High Schoolers are scared of being made fun of so they all want to be like each other that way no one can make fun of them. I don’t think any of that is bad. I think it’s just about being honest with yourself. And let everybody be the type of man they want to be.
The Knockturnal: How do feel you (most efficiently) battle toxic masculinity in hip-hop? What do you feel is the most difficult battle concerning toxic masculinity in hip-hop?
Kyle: So, me, specifically, when I started in 2013, rap was a complete different landscape than it is right now. Thinking about it for a whole culture to change in five years is crazy. When I first started I hit it full speed. I was the guy with the messed up teeth. I had a hashtag called #HugLife. My twitter was called Love, Kyle. My first album was called Beautiful Loser. My second one was called Smyle. All these things that were so anti what rap was and I got ridiculed for it. I got shot down all the time. No publication wanted to talk about me or if they did talk about me it’d be slander on my name. So many people were so against it because as a culture they were so shocked by it and they didn’t want it because it was different than what they were supposed to be. I would say I grew up in the era of just tough guy rap to the max. Whether it was 50 Cent, NWA, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, all people who I love. I’ve met Snoop Dogg many of times: he’s epic. That lifestyle didn’t necessarily match every single kid that was a fan of hip-hop. For me, I always had a hard time identifying with myself. I had a hard time identifying being mixed, being half-white. I had a hard time being OK with that. So when I survived high school, that gave me the confidence to go on and ‘OK, I’m gonna survive this rap thing too. I’m gonna make it as a rapper. My rap name is gonna be KYLE. My album is gonna be called Smyle. All my music is gonna be major chords which is just happy. I’m gonna make happy rap. I’m gonna make that a thing.’ And I remember at first everybody was like ‘Yo, you’re tripping. Do not do this’ and I just tackled it head on because I knew the truth. And the truth was if I’m being honest with myself at the end of the day there’s nothing you can tell me. There’s nothing you can take away from me. My armor cannot be dented. Because it’s the truth, I’m being who I am. And there’s nothing negative you can say about that. And if you say something negative about it, in the end, you will be on the wrong side of history. And then you fast-forward five years later: everybody’s positive. Everything is about being positive. Everything is about being nice. Giving back. Being happy. From everybody, from Kanye to Lil Yachty to the toughest dudes now are all about positivity. Everybody. And I definitely take a lot of credit for pushing that forward because I was fighting for it for so long. I think that’s something that hip-hop has had a complete revolution in the past five years and it’s a beautiful thing because now you notice hip-hop is something that has been such a tough genre and all of the toughest people have gravitated towards it. The people who need this the most, who need this positive charge in their life, are now getting it because hip-hop, the biggest genre in the world, is now such a positive influence. Everything is about being happy. Everything is about being accepting. Everything is about being honest. I love it. I love the fact that so many rappers are opening up about mental health and about being honest about their mental health. Especially something, I feel like in a Black community, we never really had, one: this shit’s been hardcore for so long now. Two: we haven’t really had this mental health thing. We don’t even know about it. It’s not even something we’re necessarily allowed to talk about. Now that our favorite rappers are talking about ‘I’m bipolar. I have had anxiety for a long time. I go to therapy.’ Things like that that humans need are finally reaching our community through hip-hop. Hip-hop at one point was so anti-everything about me and now it’s something I’m so proud to be a part of because I know how many doors it’s kicking down for so many people. I feel like I’ve conquered it in a sense. Came in with my shield and my sword went in there and slayed the dragon that was toxic masculinity in hip-hop. Which was a big ass dragon. It was huge. I was Super Duper Kyle.
The Knockturnal: Synesthesia is when sensory inputs overlap. What color is your music?
Kyle: It’s hard because every single album or every single song to me is a different color. I would say when I first became Super Duper Kyle, my music was this light bright red. Not like a dark red, but a very present red, but it was kind of light. And that was it because it was so radical in a sense. Radical in this really nice guy way and it felt like that. And then Beautiful Loser almost felt like this real light but deep blue. Light blue on the outside and just kind of dark blue in the center because it really felt like the sky to me, or like the ocean, because I knew what I was embarking on had so far to go.
The Knockturnal: Kind of like the cover art.
Kyle: Exactly! Exactly. And I just knew that ‘OK, you’re about to try and become the nice guy rapper. Has this worked before? I don’t know but this lane is so deep and so open and so vast.’ I felt free. That’s what it felt like. Smyle felt kind of like a yellow. A real bright electric yellow or a real bright electric purple or something. Some type of electric blue, electric purple, just electric bright neon ass colors. Light of Mine was this real fluorescent seafoam green and these dark purples and these bright pinks because it was such a mix of emotions. Because on Light of Mine, there was a part of myself I didn’t face before. I became Super Duper Kyle and I knew my message so well, but I was working on everybody else except myself. And then Light of Mine was when I turned around and looked at my own bruises and I looked at my own scars and I looked at my own issues and I was like, ‘I’m going to address this on my music right now because this is how I feel.’ I was trying to escape it. I had seen my mission and I was blasting off towards it and everything from my past was catching up to me and I thought I could outrun it by becoming a successful musician. And then the older I got I realized, I was like, ‘Nah, these are things you gotta deal with before you fully become an adult. You’re not going to be able to fully grow up and become an adult until you talk about things you’re sad about. Things you regret. Things you wish you could fix. Things you’re still afraid of.’ And that’s what Light of Mine was about. Was really going back to that dark place of mine and seeing the tiny little ball of light I had left in the there and focusing on that and remembering why I should be appreciative for the things I have. Remember why I’m a good person at the end of the day and why I should feel proud of myself. Remember the things that are important to me. This tiny little ball of light here, not all this other shit around me. That’s what Light of Mine was about. So coded in there, I had to go through the dark purples and the deep blues and the heavier shit. Whereas Smyle was just bright all the great things about life. Because you need both of them. Life is fifty-fifty balance between good and bad. Period. It’s about facing the bad times and dealing with them in the appropriate way. Because you could just get drunk all the time too. Many humans have lived an entire lifestyle like that. That’s so regular in our society to just be like, ‘Ah, I’ll just pick up this pack of cigarettes. I’ll just pick up this bottle of alcohol. I’ll just do this until I’m seventy years old and just figure it out.’ People will do that instead of just being like, ‘Nah, let me just go to a therapist real quick and focus on this specific issue of the way I grew up’ or ‘Oh, my best friend passed away and it’s like I’m trying to ignore it, why don’t I just go professionally deal with this and get it done with.’ And that’s what Light of Mine was to me.