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KYLE - Light of Mine Music Album Reviews

KYLE - Light of Mine Music Album Reviews
The carefree California rapper’s debut is an exceedingly joyous and self-aware slice of pop rap.

Seventeen months have passed since KYLE launched his exuberant single “iSpy” into orbit. A bouncy portrayal of online flirting, it rocketed to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning the Ventura rapper his first and, so far, only smash hit. It cemented his place in the happy-rap ranks—a world inhabited by Aminé, Chance the Rapper, and DRAM where songs are made of cartoon nostalgia and cheerfulness is a commodity. But with his debut album Light of Mine, KYLE peels back another corner of his rose-colored veil to expose the obstacles to his joy.

On “Ups & Downs,” he raps about his big breakout year, how he “nearly had a mental breakdown and eight months later I had a hit.” His cadence flutters like a nursery rhyme and, combined with his lisp and nasally tones (his “soccer mom voice” he called it), make even his most dour lyrics sound caked in hope. The message is clear from the outset: He’s going to smile anyway, even if it’s forced. Lil Yachty, his “iSpy” co-conspirator, reprises his role as a Jiminy Cricket-esque conscience who aims to keep KYLE from wallowing as he embarks on his glo-up. With his cards on the table early, KYLE spends the rest of his debut foraying into buoyant pop rap.

“Playinwitme,” with its piano-driven production more fit for Nickelodeon theme than a love song, creates the perfect space for his personality. Kehlani makes for an ideal complement as the two riff about their lady interests wasting precious time. Even the hardships of courting sound like sugar when KYLE is serving them. Similarly, “iMissMe” is a fluorescent break-up anthem which finds him crooning alongside the ubiquitous Khalid. He has one of the stronger singing voices of his peppy peers, and he deploys it liberally across the album. Despite assists from formidable vocalists like acclaimed gospel sextet Take 6 or former “The Voice” contestant Avery Wilson, KYLE does much of the heavy lifting himself.

But it isn’t the ability to snake between singing and rap or between rap and pop that anchors him. It’s his self-awareness. Whatever you think of KYLE, he’s already beat you to it and is somewhere figuring out a way to play it up in a song. “Games” features an on-the-nose production that is quite literally made of arcade sound effects as he likens his success to, well, games. “It's Yours” is a woozy narrative lifted by his fizzy rhymes about his first time having sex with a girl. It comes out like a whimsical version of J. Cole’s “Wet Dreamz,” complete with references to himself as a “loser” and a so-ridiculous-it’s-funny victory speech to close out the track. That’s how his weapon works: KYLE is so confidently corny it eventually morphs into charm.

He is the sun and breeze peeking through the darkened haze of drug-addicted SoundCloud raps and hood politicians burdened by an eternal cynicism—entertainment that is free of collateral damage. It can be hard to take this brand of over-the-top mirth seriously when it’s coming from someone who grew up in a beach community, as if happiness is something to be earned only by hardship. But tragedy has never considered zip codes, and a genuine smile is contagious no matter where it comes from. KYLE is peddling joy because he knows the world needs it—because he, himself, needs it. Almost like a cautionary tale, he exists in a land of giddy synths and animated piano and syrupy melodies, but he’ll always remind you none of it is real. One-liners about how he almost lost himself in the façade of it all are sprinkled throughout the album. On the sleepy “ShipTrip,” he waxes about the pressures of his life while the dreamy “Clouds” is his own optimistic reminder to breathe it all in and offer himself as much love as he offers the world.

With the bubbliness somewhat dialed back compared to his 2015 mixtape SMYLE or 2013's Beautiful Loser, Light of Mine is still more carefree than most current rap. It’s far too pop for fans who like their lyrics with edge, but how else can such an inoffensive disposition, such unabashed levity thrive? More than a few of us could use a page from KYLE’s book on finding your own light and then refusing to dim it for anyone.

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