Having Found Financial Freedom Through His Music, Kyle Wants Fans to ‘Own Some of It’ Too

Los Angeles caught up with the newly independent artist to discuss his latest album and his ’I Miss U’ tour, which hits L.A. on March 12

Since Kyle, formerly known as SuperDuperKyle, burst onto the music scene nearly 10 years ago, the amiable rapper and singer has become synonymous with making records centered around joy and optimism.

From his 2014-breakout single, “I Don’t Wanna Fall In Love”—a sample of Jane Child’s 1989-track of the same name—which has been given new life in on TikTok in recent months, to his Lil Yachty-assisted 2017 hit, “iSpy,” Kyle is known for creating music that is meant to make you smile and dance.

The same can be said about his latest album, It’s Not So Bad, which released on January 28 and is his first as a newly independent artist. The Reseda native, who grew up in Ventura, announced his split with Atlantic last year via Instagram, writing, “I have not felt like myself now for some time… I felt like I was getting pulled in every direction and I had zero control of what means the most to me, my art. It is important to me that I give you all the best of me, and I couldn’t do that without being free…”

With that newfound freedom, the 28-year-old artist also decided to release the 12-track project as an NFT to give his fans and supporters the opportunity to own part of his album—a move he says he hopes to see the music industry follow.

“There’s a whole community of people who believe in being positive, being happy, and all that stuff, and I want to make sure I give them an opportunity to grow financially when we do have success because it’s really them making it successful,” Kyle told Los Angeles via Zoom.

Kyle kicked off his “I Miss U” tour in support of his latest album this week and will be making his way to Los Angeles’s Belasco Theater on Saturday, March 12. We caught up with Kyle ahead of the show to discuss what he’s learned since going independent, his favorite recording session so far, and his upcoming projects—including a short film centered on the album and a Black-led anime project with Colin Kaepernick and The Boondocks producer, Carl Jones. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Your “I Miss U” tour launched this week in San Diego and you’ll be performing in Los Angeles on March 12. After not performing for more than three years, how are you feeling about hitting the stage again?

I am O.D. excited and you know it’s real excitement when it has a dash of nerves in it. Like if there’s not an ounce of nervousness, you’re not as excited as you’re saying you are. For my career, so much of it revolves around these tours and shows and sort of like my in-person character, and being able to connect with the people that I feel like need me. But that’s like an in-person thing. And I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of social media so my presence, I think, hasn’t really been felt with people who love and support my music in a long time. And losing that in the pandemic really messed me up. I was like, “Wait, what is it that I do again for a living like? What do I do? I make songs?” I really felt like it was about being an entertainer and I’m so stoked to be able to do this tour. It kind of feels like finding that last little drop of water when you’re thirsty. Like I needed to do this tour in such a bad way.

You’re also going to be performing at the Majestic Ventura Theater in your hometown on March 18. In a 2018 interview, you spoke lovingly about that venue, which was the first place you got twerked on, where you had your first real fight, and where owners allowed you to open up for touring musicians when you were just starting out. How do you feel each time perform there?

(Laughs) Oh my God. Every memory just flashed through my mind right now. It means a lot every time I step into that building, I am reminded of my entire childhood. And with being reminded of my childhood, I’m reminded of how much I used to dream about being able to go on tour and becoming like a musician, and I used to really sit there and dream looking at that stage and looking at whoever was on it. I saw everybody there. I saw A$AP Rocky there. I saw Snoop Dogg there. I used to look at that stage and just straight up dream. Now, every time I step into a building, I kind of get to remember that I made that dream come true. It’s always emotional for me, and there’s truly no place like Ventura on planet earth. So going there just refills me. It refills my battery a little bit. So yeah, I’m very stoked for the Ventura show and the Ventura crowd is the best crowd there is.

What can fans expect at the “I Miss U” tour? 

The theme for the tour is kind of like romance, and romance almost in a Romeo and Juliet, kind of Shakespearean way. But, then again, it’s just art, so I kind of want to leave a little bit open for interpretation. But I’m leaning away more on an intimate, vocally impressive experience. I think people are gonna really dig the production and I think they’re going to really dig the set list. We’re also playing the classics, too. This is not one of those tours where I’m just playing the new album. Like no. I’m giving people every song they’ve ever wanted from me all in one show.

Congrats on the release of your album, It’s Not So Bad, which released in late January. It’s also your first full length project as an independent artist. What was your mindset going into the creation of this album and what have you learned about yourself since going independent?

I’ve learned that in order to truly make meaningful art, you have to be in control of the ship. And I think when you’re not independent and when you don’t have the ability to operate as freely as you need to, you get complacent with just letting other people steer the ship. And it’s like a part of the art is not just the ship, or just a product, it’s the entire story. It’s the path that you’re going on. So being independent has been really cool. I mean, there’s a lot of parts of it that are difficult. There’s a lot of parts of it that are challenging, but that challenge is what stokes a fire in me to make better stuff. I feel a lot of freedom. And I think when I released the music, the number one note I got back from my fans and critics is like, it sounds like I’m having fun. And I’m like, “Aight. Boom. That’s the key.” The key is to do something that you love uncompromised and that’s going to make great art. So now I can kind of do whatever I want to do. And in doing that, I’m going to make doper art and it’s already being shown.

You’ve said you released Its Not That Bad as an NFT after going independent to give fans a chance to own part of your album. Can you talk about why you thought that was important and why you think the music industry is shifting in this direction?

I think it’s important to let my fans own some of it because if anybody is responsible for songs blowing up, it’s them and they get none of the money. So, I think in a way what would be cooler moving forward is when you love an artist and you’re a part of that artist’s community. Like you’re a part of the people that are promoting that artist, going to their shows, talking about them, and you’re the fire behind them moving forward, I think that those people should get rich off of the things that they invest all of their time into. Because I think in today’s world, it’s not necessarily even about money, it’s about time and attention. That’s where the money is at. And I think that so many of my fans, man, they changed a lot of people’s lives, mine included. But a lot of people who just work for whatever company my song is being released under, they changed their lives as well. But in reality those people don’t care about this product the way they care about it.

And also, I think the reason that the NFT thing is a really cool idea is because for a lot of rappers, it’s like, nine times out of 10, we’re kind of like the spearhead for our families financially. We’re the first person in our family to kind of break the threshold in having this amount of money or wealth. And when I think about it, if I could go back to like my first breakout hit, and this NFT thing existed, I would have told my aunt, my uncle, my cousin, my mom, my dad, I would have been like, “All you guys should buy a piece of this album because it’s going to have one of the biggest songs ever on it and we’re all going to go up together.” It just puts power in the hands of the artist to grab the people that support them and love them, whether it’s family, friends, or fans, and kind of like bring them up with them. There’s a whole community of people who believe in being positive, being happy, and all that stuff, and I want to make sure I give them an opportunity to grow financially when we have success because it’s really them making it successful. I’m just trying to make tight shit, and then they are the ones that are really promoting it and telling people “I think this is awesome.” So they deserve a cut too. Why just keep giving all your money to a record label? Why not give it to your fans? You don’t really need a record label at all. Everything is promoted to your Instagram, and on your Instagram people either love you or hate you, and the people that love you, you can sell them percentages of your album like it’s a stock, and they’ll be able to benefit as it grows.

How have fans been reacting to that opportunity? NFTs are still a new concept. 

I think a lot of my fans don’t even necessarily know what it is or how to grasp it. But I think there’s a little bit of a learning curve and it’s going be a process for people to really understand it, but I think it’s good that it just exists. But when it was first announced, I think a lot of people were like, “Oh, this is dope. I don’t necessarily know what it means.” But I think the sentiment of like, I’m doing this so that—it’s not doing it in spite of the label—but it’s doing it to prove like, there are much better ways to share the copyright to your music. There’s a lot better ways to divvy up the royalties of your music than just giving it to a company.

It’s Not So Bad features some exciting guest appearances including U.K. garage pioneer, Craig David, who you sampled for your song “Sunday,” and he’s featured on “Unreplaceable.” How did that song come to be and what was it like working with him?

When I started off making this album, I knew I wanted to make R&B music, but I was trying to figure out how to make fast R&B music because a lot of Kyle-music is always meant to be danced to. I have a really international, diverse family. Some my family are actually Welsh. They’re from Cardiff and growing up they would always play me all the U.K. music Big Narstie, Wiley, and Craig David. And so I was always familiar with Craig David, but then it clicked in my mind to go study that again, and I’m listening to all his music and I’m like, “He is the absolute G.O.A.T.! He is so incredibly fire.” And through really tapping into his music, I was like, “Okay, I want to take inspiration from this.” Then I started playing it for people in the studio and being like, “We need to harness like, kind of garage vibes.” And through sampling “Sunday,” I reached out to him and he cleared it in and that’s when we kind of really became friends. And then I went to London because I was like, ‘I have to meet this guy in person and I have to work with him.’ And then that’s how the “Unreplaceable” record came about.

There’s another song we made out there, too, that he has, that is too fire. It might be better than “Unreplaceable.”

What was it like being in the studio with him?

He is the nicest individual ever. Literally makes me seem like an asshole. He’s that nice. (Laughs) And he’s also the best in-person singer I’ve ever been around. I’ve never seen somebody be able to sing that well like right on the spot in front of me. It was absolutely mind blowing to watch that kind of talent. And I think back in the day—and this is no knock to like myself or any like my generation—but I really think back in the day, in order to become a famous singer or musician, you almost had to be like a freak of nature talent because it was so much harder and there were so many more gatekeepers at that time. And sitting with Craig David in the studio, I was like, “Oh, this is like a freak of nature talent.” He also has the most snacks ever. He had mad candy, all this kind of like crazy fruit, and an ice cream machine. Like, bro had it all. That was one of the best experiences of my life.

I read that you’re planning on releasing a short film for It’s Not Too Bad. Is that still in the works, and if so, when can fans expect it?

That is something that is still in the works. We’re in the editing room. But, you know, I think I’m going to focus on this tour, but maybe sometime when I get off, it will be released. We don’t have the actual release date for it yet. We’re just trying to get it right. But there was a short film shot for it, and I think fans should definitely brace themselves because it’s not necessarily the KYLE experience they’re used to, but they’ll be OK.

Is it more documentary style, or fictional?

No, this is a full blown, kind of fictionalized story. It’s a fictionalized story about a really important topic that I think we don’t discuss enough. But it will be out soon. Don’t worry.

What else are you working on?

I’m working on a Japanese-styled anime project produced by Carl Jones, Colin Kaepernick, and myself. It’s something I wrote maybe in 2015 and it’s called Kiraku. And we’re in the middle of development and pitching it right now, and it’s like my life’s baby. I think it’s an important message to share with the world about optimism and the power of being optimistic, and believing that things will be okay tomorrow, type vibe. And I think it’s also going to add a Black cartoon character that is powered by joy and optimism, instead of revenge, because that seems to be the only thing that we get, and I think it’s time for a change.

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