Concert preview: KYLE at Newport Music Hall

Joel Oliphint
Photo courtesy the artist

Kyle Harvey spent nearly all of his young adult life trying to be a famous rapper, and he was starting to make it happen. The Ventura, California, musician released mixtape after mixtape (2013's Beautiful Loser, 2015's Smyle) and landed on various “artist to watch” lists. But 2016 landed a crushing blow.

“Someone in my family got diagnosed with a mental illness, something called schizoaffective disorder,” said Harvey, who performs and records as KYLE. “And I wasn't there. I wasn't around. I was out trying to be a rapper, and it made me feel ashamed of myself. It's somebody I was supposed to take care of and be there for, and while I was out there trying to be famous, something really bad happened to them. I had this overwhelming feeling of failure and being ashamed.”

Plus, Harvey was in the middle of a tour he didn't want to be on, and his music wasn't at a place he wanted it to be. He was depressed. But in the middle of that downward spiral, the rapper took a lesson from his biggest mentor: his mom. “She has this crazy, indescribable ability to see the good in everything and everyone,” he said.

Full-blown optimism — the kind that sees the glass as half full and on the brink of a free refill — provided the mental antidote he needed. “You have to remain optimistic. Things can get better,” Harvey said. “It's not about being happy every single day. It's about waking up ready to fight for your happiness: ‘Today is the chance for me to have a really good day.' And if it's not a really good day, it's all good. Maybe even the nextweek is gonna be trash. But eventually, bro, life is gonna get better for you. That's what I had to tell myself when I was in that low-ass place.”

Less than a year after hitting rock bottom, Harvey released the song “iSpy” featuring Lil Yachty. “I literally called it a throwaway: ‘I'm just gonna put this out, test the waters, see if people are feeling it,'” he said. “When I first tweeted the song, I forgot to put the link to the song. I tweeted the picture. I left it up for two days with no link.”

But once the link went out, “iSpy” blew up; the pop-rap track has since been streamed more than a billion times. This past spring, KYLE released major label debutLight of Mine, and leadoff track “Ups & Downs” traces his improbable journey from emotional collapse to improbable hit. “2016 hit me like a bag of bricks/2017 switched up, like oh it's lit/I nearly had a mental breakdown/And eight months later had a hit,” he raps, evoking a smile in every line.

Harvey also scored the lead role in “The After Party,” a Netflix movie about a rapper trying to land a record deal. Now, he spreads the gospel of optimism any chance he gets.

“I just try to appreciate small things,” he said. “Instead of focusing all your attention and energy on how bad something is, skip that for now — it'll get better later — and just think about, ‘Damn, I have a really awesome friend.' Or, ‘My neighbor is really tight.' Or, ‘My shoulders are getting bigger; I should keep doing these push-ups.' Or, ‘I have really good reception today.' ... There's no reason to ever focus on something wack.”

Newport Music Hall

7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23

1722 N. High St., Campus

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