Kye Harry, a Chicago native and relative newcomer to Fort Worth’s rap scene, got his stage name over a few lines of cocaine a little over a decade ago in his hometown. Harry was dealing the drug then, and a regular customer scored a baggie one night, then invited Harry and his buddies to partake. “Kyeyote, you don’t hit the slopes?” the man asked, beckoning from across the room. Harry said he didn’t partake –– but he did scoop up the nickname. “It just kind of stuck with me,” he said.
From his Bedford apartment recently, Kyeyote recalled that day with the reserved amusement you might expect from a former drug dealer turned indie-rap impresario. He’s a gainfully employed father preparing to release a sophomore album, For the Love Ballads, due out this fall.
The name soon landed on marquees across the Chicago area. Today, local hip-hop heads recognize it too. He’s played shows in venues from Lola’s Saloon to Dallas’ Green Elephant and many clubs and bars in between.
The Fort’s rap establishment has been quick to embrace the 33-year-old whose style combines the socio-consciousness spit by fellow Midwesterner Brother Ali and the deadpan delivery of Southern California trio Dilated Peoples. And his dealer background adds street cred, of course.
Kyeyote’s rapping versatility is on full display in his first album, the 22-track opus Send the Limousine, featuring the single “Kewl,” probably the most poppy and well-worn track on the disc. DJs in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Dallas markets spin it. Of course Kyeyote can get darker, on songs like “The Real Reasons.” Along with the social commentary, though, he is guilty of the occasional cliché: swagger and thugging and women and spinning rims. He shrugs it off as just part of rap culture.
[pullquote_right]“Let me know something that’s intriguing,” he said. “Let me get to know you as an artist, and let me get to know you. That’s what I do as an artist. I write about life.”[/pullquote_right]Kyeyote pointed out that his music goes beyond those tired topics. He raps about his daughter and various other women in his life, like his late single mother (who died of lupus nine years ago) and the indifference of the streets of his youth. “Let me know something that’s intriguing,” he said. “Let me get to know you as an artist, and let me get to know you. That’s what I do as an artist. I write about life.”
He also emphasized that, even when he was dealing drugs, he didn’t use them. “I’ve never used it, never in my life,” he said.
Cocaine “was never that enticing to me, never something I wanted to pick up,” he said. “It was a habit I didn’t want. I saw how people reacted on it and wondered why I would ever want that. Cigarettes and hardcore drugs — I never even attempted to try them.”
Glancing at his daughter Kennedy, 10, playing a video game nearby, the rapper described his dealing back then as “just something on the side — pocket hustling. I wasn’t buying houses and getting indicted or anything.”
It was Kennedy’s birth — to a longtime on-and-off girlfriend — and a 30-day stint in Chicago’s Cook County jail (for a battery charge from a bar fight) that convinced Kyeyote, then in his early 20s, that rapping might be a better way to add to his income than slinging coke.
At least once a week, he’d perform a show that would last until the wee hours, which might not have been a problem had he not had a day job as a claims adjuster for Blue Cross Blue Shield. “I’d just drive straight from the club to park in the garage and sleep for an hour, then go upstairs,” Kyeyote said. “I’d be processing claims in the same clothes I was in the day before. There were a lot of nights like that, and I just wanted a change from the street life, but I still liked the music scene.”
He continued to perform at Windy City venues and on local radio stations until he got laid off a few years ago. A hoped-for transfer to a job at Blue Cross Blue Shield headquarters in Richardson fell through. But he liked the area — for the weather, cost of living, and abundance of jobs. So he found a job elsewhere in the North Texas health insurance sector. His daughter, whom he sees regularly, has since moved down here with her mother.
Kyeyote continues to perform across Tarrant and Dallas counties as momentum builds around his name. A hint of self-consciousness crept into his voice as he talked about the difference between his concept of rap and that of his peers here in Fort Worth and, for that matter, the South in general. Generally speaking, he sees rap from up north as slightly more cerebral than the Southern version, whose focus seems to be on repetition, choruses, and butt-moving beats.
On For the Love of Ballads, he’s blending his own Northern/Midwestern style with his newfound Southern influences. “Not saying that I could ever be a pioneer,” he said, “but if people can say, ‘Hey, we really, technically, didn’t have Kyeyote’s sound down here until Kyeyote got here’ — if I can get that recognition, I would love it.”