Just Keep Swimming: Playground Conversations with Super Duper Kyle
Who could forget Hey Arnold? The cherished '90s cartoon followed the life of a football-headed grade schooler and his troop of adventurous pals, galavanting on adventures throughout the streets of New York.
“I really liked Hey Arnold, and how the kids would be running around the city," says Super Duper Kyle, a Ventura, California native who now finds himself in the city of his cartoon childhood hero. "Arnold would, like, fall down a random sewer hole or something, and they’d all end up hanging out with Monkeyman. That’s what I used to imagine New York to be like.”
But it’s not the concrete jungle (gym) illustrated in his favorite childhood TV show. The happy-go-lucky rapper tells me he’s discouraged by the reality of New York City, dispirited that a friendly flash of his boyish grin can’t even crack a reciprocative smirk from some of these worn-down New Yorkers.
“Hey Kyle, wanna go to the playground?”
It’s a sunny spring Wednesday in Brooklyn, and the suggestion transfigures his facial expression into something reminiscent of the heart-eyes emoji. Kyle and his "Super Duper Crew," all Cali natives, are fresh off the jet from the West Coast. Kyle, who stands just above the 6-foot mark, is sporting faded pink Vans, distressed denim, and a thrift-store-looking t-shirt decked with illustrations of marine wildlife. Even though we’re being introduced for the first time, he acts as if we’ve been homies for years.
His good natured enthusiasm flavors the whole of his 2013 debut album, Beautiful Loser; the introductory track, “This Is A Hit,” is a blast-this-with-the-windows-down pop-rap hybrid; a few tracks later, the sunny vibes continue on the self-explanatory “FUN,” where he welcomes us all to a party at his place.
We venture into the park and stumble upon a tot-mobbed play area. Kyle saunters alongside me, all smiles. The rapper looks like the quintessential boy-next-door, less concerned with designer sneakers than with which sprinkles to ask for at the ice cream truck. (He went with the cookie crumble.) I have to remind myself that tomorrow, the 21-year-old is embarking on a two-month string of shows across North America.
"We've done tours before, but this is the first one I'm doing on my own. It's a really big deal for us."
We climb onto a kid-friendly play set and indulge in childhood memories. Kyle tells me he’s been making music since he was young, having written his first song when he was in his early teens. He was also active in his high school’s musical theater program, boasting that he once starred as Seaweed in Hairspray, and then, as if on cue, erupted into a sample of one of the production’s musical numbers. (As the afternoon went on, I noticed this behavior was typical for Kyle—breaking into mini-dances at dull moments, humming Drake lyrics in between conversation.) It’s clear that Kyle is happiest when he’s entertaining. And though he wholly considers himself a full-time musician, his jubilant influence prolongs past just the happy raps and poppy guitar riffs.
“There’s this expectation these days to be negative, and this preconception that I’m supposed to be mad at the world. I’m just trying to make it a really positive place, and that goes beyond just the music.”
Kyle’s like that kid from high school you couldn’t hate if you tried. You know, the guy who would've gladly taken the seat next to the lonely nerd at lunchtime, the one who always recycled, and if he’d ran for class president, he could have won by a landslide. His ability to always look on the bright side — to chew on crappy situations and spit out “it’s all good, though” encouragements — makes him this charismatically lovable character whose charm could warm even the coldest heart.
He tells me that the music he grew up on shaped his optimistic perspective, and that he hopes to similarly articulate his high spirits into listenable art for the masses. One of Kyle’s most recent singles, “Just A Picture,” encourages a generation of tech-obsessed youth to step away from their screens and reconnect with their real-life relationships. Back in LA, Kyle’s in the later stages of piecing together his second major release, which he says will further his pursuit in making that objective a reality.
Kyle takes a break in the conversation to finesse a run of monkey bars with several swings. As he returns his attention to me, a four-foot-tall bystander approaches him and studies the fish on his shirt. “I’m trying to identify the species,” the little girl tells him, pushing up her glasses. He smiles down at her and points to one of the clownfish. “Well you’ve got this guy, that’s Nemo,” he says.
His innocence conceals the scars, but Kyle’s journey has faced its fair share of road bumps. Because his last album was created two years ago, he says that his forthcoming sound will be slightly evolved, reflecting from recently acquired wisdoms and maturities in both life and love. “I want each of my projects to be like peeling back a layer of myself,” he says.
“Eventually I’m hoping to peel back enough layers to reveal something bigger about humanity.”
Though he points out societal flaws and speaks earnestly on emotionally taxing obstacles he’s confronted, a running theme in Kyle’s ethos is his indivisible contentment with life. He seems to feed off a deep inner well of gratitude — a sense of warmth toward everything he’s stepped on, both the sandy beaches of elation and the mucky puddles of strife.
The world needs more Super Duper Kyles.
Images: Tyler Mitchell