“Look around. Look at life…You got so much more to appreciate.” So says Lil Yatchy, acting as California-native emcee and producer KYLE’s conscious on “iSpy,” the latter’s 2016 single that managed to break top ten positions on U.K. and U.S. charts. KYLE’s new album Light of Mine not only reflects this attitude but does so in a much more mature way that his previous two projects SMYLE and Beautiful Loser. Whereas KYLE has always crafted feel-good, upbeat genre-bending hip-hop music, he more fully acknowledges the not-so-fun aspects of life this time around. In the end, Light of Mine is not only an escape but also a call-to-action for the masses stuck in the doldrums of social media antagonism and negative news.
The album opener “Ups & Downs” is quite the introductory paragraph to the essay KYLE has written to support this thesis. In the last two years, the playful rapper from Ventura, California, has come a long way from the days of “Sex & Super Smash Bros.” He made the biggest hit of his career, but instead of being changed by the game, he seems determined to remain himself amid the pressure of expectation. Light of Mine doesn’t feature any video game soundbite samples or songs crafted around superhero double entendres, and a few notable features might seem to suggest otherwise on the surface, but the album is really a well-crafted argument against conformity. That conformity includes the en vogue tendency of many hip-hop artists to write songs about living one’s best life either accompanied by or amid drug overdoses, binge drinking, or treating life like a party. “Listen, please approach your early twenties with some caution/GPS my way back to myself, I thought I lost it.”
Light of Mine starts with the protagonist depressed and lost, and it’s not until the end of the album that he’s fully back to his old life-loving self. The penultimate track “Clouds” is the climax of the story here, where he remarks, “I’ve walked so many miles with my head aimed at the ground/I forgot the world and clouds (clouds, clouds, clouds, clouds)/If I could just look up, I’d see him lookin’ down/I know my grandpa’s proud.” It’s not that life’s difficulties and sadnesses are only of our own making, but their effects and lasting impact are largely just that.
It’s not that KYLE won’t smoke weed or drink alcohol (that’s the opposite of the truth). It’s not even that he’s beyond sadness or pessimism. However, Light of Mine is a reminder that the activities in which we participate and even the work we do don’t define us completely. Take “iMissMe,” for instance, where KYLE says, “Looking for myself, I found someone I’m not/Or someone I once was, someone I forgot (haha).” The music of the song is a danceable, new-age funk jam that whose lyrics show a person struggling just like everyone else choosing the light instead of the dark.
KYLE fittingly ends the album with “iSpy,” suggesting that KYLE has known for years exactly what he wanted to do with Light of Mine. This album isn’t quite made up of the nerd mantra hip-hop of which Beautiful Loser was comprised, nor is it the soundtrack to the happiest of young adult summers as was SMYLE. This album is more pensive and grown, but no less reassuring or enjoyable.