On Friday, iSPY rapper KYLE made his acting debut in Netflix's comedy film The After Party. Taking on the role Owen — a timid 18-year-old with rap star ambitions — KYLE's foray into acting was something he envisioned since his teenage days. With Will Smith serving as one his inspirations, KYLE's decision to embark on his new journey was a dream come true.
"That’s somebody I highlight the most," KYLE says in regards to the actor. "Obviously, I found out about Fresh Prince Bel-Air first, but I also found out about Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff. For me, when I was 12 or 13 and I really started looking at that stuff, it was the first time I saw a blimp in hip-hop that really connected to me." With an unbridled sense humor, KYLE's affability is what won him the role Owen, a character he once resembled during his high school days.
"I think there’s so many kids out there who were like me when I was KYLE trying to be a rapper that had these big ass dreams and no one really supports them," says the 25-year-old. "Everybody told me I wasn’t gonna do what I was gonna do. I think there’s kids out there who are gonna watch this movie and be inspired to be like, “Fuck what anybody says about me. I’m gonna go do it."
Not only is KYLE thriving in the acting world, but he's also zipping his way up the totem pole in rap. After a smooth sail across the world with Logic for his Bobby Tarantino Vs. The World Tour, KYLE is ready to head on the road for his own global trek. Dubbed The Lightyear World Tour, KYLE will saddle up and gallop all around the globe alongside R&B crooner, Marc E. Bassy.
With his career on the right track, Billboard caught up with KYLE about his role in The After Party, meeting his idol Jadakiss, why Will Smith is one his biggest inspirations, his thoughts on Kids See Ghosts and why he's the rap version Klay Thompson. Check it out below.
I just read your interview in Variety, and you were saying how important it is for artists to learn to bridge the gap between music and acting. Talk about that.
Big facts. I only say that because growing up from the ‘80s to me growing up in the 2010s, hip-hop had so many movies. Hip-hop culture had so many films, and nothing really makes something feel larger than life than a movie. That’s when something seems the most grand and the biggest. I felt like whether it was Do the Right Thing, House Party, the Friday series, Juice, 8 Mile, Get Rich or Die Trying, all the movies Master P did, I’ve watched a million those. All these films were so important to making hip-hop seem like it was bigger than everything and I really haven’t heard like a hip-hop film in so long.
That’s why I’m so excited to be a part this. More people whether it’s the Diddy’s or the Jay-Z’s or Dr. Dre’s, the hierarchy the hip-hop community, I think that we should get back into making films that involve hip-hop culture. Even if it’s a Do the Right Thing or Juice, it doesn’t have to directly be about rap, just the culture it and involve rappers. Artists and rock and roll have so many movies. There’s so many movies dedicated to that. I think we need the same thing.
When did you realize you yourself can bridge the gap and be multifaceted as both an actor and rapper?
That was always a goal mine. Will Smith is one my biggest inspirations, if not my biggest one. That’s somebody I highlight the most. Obviously, I found out about Fresh Prince Bel-Air first, but I also found out about Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff. For me, when I was 12 or 13 and I really started looking at that stuff, it was the first time I saw a blimp in hip-hop that really connected to me.
At the time, you know how you had to have hella tats or be shootin’ somebody, that was some shit that I wasn’t equipped to do. I wasn’t really ballin’ like that either and Kid n Play, Salt n Pepa, MC Lyte, Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff era rap, were people that I could relate to. It was fun and it was colorful. It was about dancing and it was about fully entertaining. Once I really got hooked on that, I really got hooked on Will Smith and I got hooked on really wanting to be an actor anyways. It’s funny because growing up I was hella shy. My personality was always hella caged for so long because I would just get roasted for everything. I’m very roast-able.
When I got to high school, I joined drama class. When I was in drama class, it was like this therapeutic, one-hour-long session everyday with this incredible teacher teaching me how to use my personality. That’s literally the study drama class: “How do you take your personality and use it enough to where you’re so good at using it that you can act like a fucking cowboy?” You just tap into this shit and that class unleashed my personality. It made me fall in love with acting and I was like, "Damn I really want to be an actor one day." I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I had no idea about auditions or producers and none that shit. I just knew I really wanted to do that.
For this movie, did you have a Fresh Prince moment? Like, do you remember the scene when Will hugged Uncle Phil and was crying because his dad abandoned him.
It’s funny that you mention that because I was in ninth grade and I was in drama class and I didn’t know if I was going to be there for long because drama class and shy people don’t mix. You have to get up there and talk in front people every single day. It was like the first two weeks or something and I didn’t know if I was really going to do it. There was this dude named John Ortega— I hope that was his name. I hope I didn’t get it wrong—and he was a classmate mine. He was a senior, I was a freshman and he did that scene. I got goosebumps from the tips my fingers through my entire body. I was covered with goosebumps after watching him. He was incredible. That was a scene that made me turn to my drama teacher and be like, “I want to get hella good at this.”
After class, I walked up to him and was like, “Bro, I never felt like that in class anywhere. Watching that scene was so crazy. How did you do that?” He was like, “Man, I just practiced for a long time on it.” He said Quincy Jones helped with the whole Fresh Prince scene. I started learning more the ins and outs it. It was watching that specific scene that made me want to stay in drama class. I ended up being in drama class all four years high school. By 12th grade, I had five periods drama. Five.
What similarities do you see between you and your character Owen?
At first, I found it hard to compare because now I have found myself. I’m so outward and optimistic about everything and Owen is so nervous and scared about everything. I had to really dive back into a time I was still like that. That was teenage me, and that’s what Owen is. 18 years old still scared about the world type shit. The similarities, I guess, were the situations me and Owen were in.
Owen is an 18-year-old aspiring rapper who wants to make it and has this big ass unachievable dream in front him. Kyle was also 18 and wanted to be a musician and wanted to be famous and didn’t know how to do it. I’ve just literally felt what it’s like to be Owen before. Not even in the sense being a rapper, but being a young person with a big ass dream that doesn’t know how he’s going to accomplish it, but goes for it.
That’s a unique position to be in. That’s the part the story I connected with the most. This is actually why I love this movie. I think there’s so many kids out there who were like me when I was Kyle trying to be a rapper that had these big ass dreams and no one really supports them. Everybody told me I wasn’t gonna do what I was gonna do. I think there’s kids out there who are gonna watch this movie and be inspired to be like, “Fuck what anybody says about me. I’m gonna go do it.” A dreamer’s mindset is not hard to come by, it’s just hard to keep. I think everyone grows up with big ass ambitions. When you’re a little kid, you always dream about being anything and the older you get, it’s harder to keep that. I remember what it was like when people were trying to take my dream away.
With this movie, it’s a star-studded cast. Who surprised you the most with their acting skills?
For one, Teyana was stupid fire. Like incredible. I was talking to her at the VMAs and I was like, “Was that your first movie?” She was like, “No.” And I was like, “Yeah, that for sure wasn’t your first because you were too raw.” She was incredible. Jadakiss…
Last year at Made In America I spoke to you and you were like, “Yo, I need to get a Jada verse.”
Off rip. I got his number now. I’m working on getting the verse. I’ve never met Jadakiss, ‘cause how the fuck am I gonna meet Jadakiss? Even with me being in the music industry, he’s not really someone who needs to go politic with kids in order to keep his career going. He’s a legend. Literally, the night before I was supposed to do the scene with him — and he’s not the dude who’s supposed to do that scene — they don’t tell me. The night before, they tell me, “Yo, Jadakiss is going to be the train conductor.” I’m like, “What!? Bro, you need to give me 72 hours at least to prep.” To prep my hip-hop history. To prepare myself spiritually n—a. You can’t just throw this on me last second.
I see him the next day and sure enough, Jadakiss pulls up. At first, I had to shake his hand like this and be like, “Man, you’re the fucking greatest.” Instead sparking a natural conversation, I just started spitting Jada verses.
Remember when you said you guys don’t even need a beat? All you just need is a snare for you and him to go.
All Jadakiss needs is a snare. All he needs is one clap or something and he can just eat anybody. So I’m just spitting Jadakiss verses for like 15 minutes. At this point, I know I’m weirding him out. I expected Jadakiss to be all reserved and hella New York like, *“Fuck outta here.” Randomly enough, Jadakiss is so fuckin’ funny. Jadakiss is so funny. I did not know this. I’m just little Kyle from the California suburbs and I find out Jadakiss is funnier than me. Jadakiss was flaming everybody. Somebody couldn’t walk by without getting scorched by Jadakiss. He told this one dude who had a big ass head, he was like, “Yo son, ya head is wild big. I know your mom had a C-section for sure.” He was torching everybody, bro.
With you being a double threat with acting and rapping, what arena are you hoping to tap into next and become that next triple threat?
That’s a good question. I have a lot aspirations for really taking a live show to a different level than just a standard performance. Standard performing now is just having an LED wall, turning up, running back and forth and having people put their hands up. That’s a standard rap show and it’s not like that’s bad. I have a lot theater and I have a love for, like I said, that Fresh Prince era. Hip-hop was such a more dynamic piece entertainment. You could go watch Big Daddy Kane, Fresh Prince, Kid n Play, Queen Latifah, any the people from that beginning era rap, they’re dancing. All them are dancing. MC Hammer. We kind stopped doing that a little bit and I kind see it coming back now.
You know Future got the choreography in his sets now.
Yeah, he got Meechie and them. I remember me and my friend Brick, we found out about Meechie in 2014 and shit and we were bringing him out to our shows. We were hittin’ them folks together and this was 2014. We’ve been doing that shit. Me and my homie Brick, we’ve been hitting all types choreo together. I really want to keep developing that and making it hella okay for rappers to really just get hella choreo and dance moves together. Black people are so dynamic and we’re just so skilled in different areas. Dancing is something I want to incorporate, too.
I have a lot fashion aspirations, too. Same thing as acting, you could be really raw at something as long as you really study it. I want to take time and really study that shit, and eventually kill that, too.
You were recently on tour with Logic and I know y’all both are strong advocates mental health. Did you guys drop gems on each other about staying zen?
Big gems. He dropped gems for me, and I would like to say I dropped gems for him; I don’t know if it was shit he already knew. He’s a little older than me and he’s highly intelligent himself. We were sharing knowledge back and forth about everything. I remember we were having a bad Father’s Day and he pulled up and we were talking about this, this, and that. I would say he’s somebody that I consider to be a real friend because he actually cares about how I’m feeling and vice versa.
When I’m talking to Logic, I’m asking him how he’s feeling, asking how his he type shit. How we can help other people like us and how we can help other people who aren’t like us. Our relationship is based on how we can be there for each other and joining teams and how we can be there for everybody. He’s really about that shit. It’s not a gimmick to sell records. It’s something that he’s really about.
Logic has really experienced some shit before. It’s funny because it’s so easy for other people to want to hate on him for this or that, and it’s like, how are you going to hate on him when he’s actually experienced some shit and you might have grew up with mommy and daddy all perfect?
Looking back at your debut album Light Mine, if you could give yourself a letter grade today, what would it be and why?
Right now, I’d have to give that shit an A. Up until this point, it is for sure maximum me. It’s me at my best in every field. When it comes to picking production, songwriting. One thing I really took a long time on that shit was songwriting and making sure every song I wrote down a line for a song, it was something I could look back 50 years from now and be proud . I really had to take time to “big boy” the topics I was tackling. Having fun is great but I wanted to dive into the deeper issues that I have with myself or the world and really document it in a mature ass way I’m going to be proud when I’m hella older. This album, I feel like it’s the mature me. I feel like it’s the first time I used the grown up me. I had lines I’m always going to be proud . And it’s the best beats I’ve ever had, too. From a songwriting point and production point, it’s the best I’ve ever had, so I have to give that shit an A.
One my favorite tracks was the intro, “Ups & Downs” and you had the Cudi shout-out in there. As a fan, how did you feel about Kids See Ghosts?
I fuckin’ love Kids See Ghosts, man. I was so excited for that for all the reasons it turned out to be. I feel like Kid Cudi with the guidance and the help, obviously Kid Cudi can do incredible shit on his own and he always has, but when he’s around somebody like Kanye — I feel like Kanye brings out the best in Kid Cudi and Kid Cudi brings out the best in Kanye. I think Kid Cudi makes Kanye the true artist he’s supposed to be.
I think Kid Cudi was inspiring Kanye to not give a fuck about the Hollywood bullshit. I think Kanye inspires Kid Cudi to really have that fire in him to be the best. I feel like Kid Cudi always has the talent to be the best, but in a civil explanation, Kid Cudi makes Kanye more artsy and Kanye makes Kid Cudi hell more hits. Kanye is trying to take Kid Cudi to the world, and Kid Cudi is trying to make Kanye himself. When they mix, it’s the perfect balance.
It’s pretty much like when Goku and Vegeta do the fusion shit.
Literally when they come together. Kid Cudi is a true artist so he’ll be making rock music or be doing this or that, then when he gets with Kanye, he’s like, “Nah, we’re going to make the hardest shit out. Period.” That’s Kanye’s mindset. I feel like Kanye West is hella inspired by Kid Cudi. I feel Kanye West looks at Kid Cudi and is like, “I want to be as artsy as you.” I feel like the Kanye album was hella good and top albums the year, but I feel like Kanye’s bars on this Kids See Ghosts one are so much more fire. He was going stupid. Why is he just going stupid now?
Cudi was like, “We’re not going to talk about bullshit. We’re going to talk about meaningful shit.” And then Kanye was like, “For sure, and it’s going to be on these hard ass beats.” They bring out the best in each other.
I know you like hoops. If you could give me your NBA comparison, who would you say and why?
I’d like to compare myself NBA-wise to Klay Thompson. It’s like, Klay Thompson is really a force to be reckoned with, even if nobody knows it yet. He dropped his 60 piece. I don’t think I’ve dropped my 60 piece yet. I think I’m still waiting to and I’m getting there. I think very soon, I’m going to drop it and everybody’s going to be like, “Oh shit, n—a’s mad nice.” I’d say Klay Thompson because whenever he really wants to take over, he can. I think it was just a matter time until he did, and I think I’m headed there.