Kiovonni LaRoyce Lyles was a 28-year-old Bay Area native, music producer and U.S. Navy veteran, who was found dead in a tent at Berkeley’s People’s Park on April 10. The Alameda County coroner’s office hasn’t yet released his cause of death.
Lyles, known as “Kilo” to many, grew up in Richmond and Fairfield and graduated from Hogan High School in Vallejo. He loved Bay Area rap music and the “jerk” movement as a teen, and started off with YouTube videos and grew into producing his own beats and music as an adult, his brother Kimani Okearah told Berkeleyside.
Lyles posted his most recent track on Soundcloud in January 2020, mixing a rythmic flow with a retro beat to share his future hopes and dreams. “Finna go to the top … my feet don’t touch the ground,” he repeated in his hook.
He was living in Hayward and still in touch with family and friends around that time, his father Thomas Lyles said, sending well wishes and attending gatherings for birthdays and anniversaries. But he dropped off a bit over the course of the pandemic year, and the last time his family heard from him was in November.
The coroner’s office was finally able to identify Lyles about two weeks after his death from his fingerprints. Both Okearah and Thomas Lyles said it was their worst fear coming true when they heard last Friday he had died alone, despite having a support system within reach.
“Any of us would’ve gone and scooped him up a month ago if we had even known at all that that’s what he was going through,” Okearah said of Lyles’ struggle with homelessness and drug use. “If there was anybody with equipment to help him out, it was (our family).”
He said it was especially hurtful to read in Berkeleyside that Lyles was initially described as a middle-aged decedent.
“He’s a 28-year-old kid, he was a baby-faced kid for most of his life,” Okearah said. “What happened to make him look like that?”
Okearah, who has the same mother as Lyles, grew up in the foster youth system. Even as a little boy, he said he felt strongly in his mind that he had a brother somewhere out in the world. He took to social media when he was old enough and tracked down Lyles and their sisters on Facebook and Myspace.
“When I messaged him, he straight up didn’t believe me! I sound as mountain Norcal as it gets, and he grew up in Richmond,” said Okearah, who added that the relationship was “seamless” once the two siblings got to know each other. He learned Lyles favorite television show was “Ed, Edd n Eddy,” that he was a quiet, generous soul and a huge 49ers football fan.
Lyles stayed with his older brother after leaving the Navy, and the brothers even filmed a short indie band documentary together in March 2014.
It was the only project they got to work on together before Lyles moved out, and eventually cut off all contact with his brother and other siblings by November 2020. Okearah and others have walls of unsent and unread messages to Lyles checking in on him, wishing him a happy birthday that same month, telling him they love him and that they hope he’s OK, Okearah said.
“All of his dreams were going to come true, he was going to be producing beats, he was going to be doing all of that,” he said. “That’s another source of pain for me — that potential … it was all coming together.”
Thomas Lyles, who now lives in Suisun, last saw his son in October, when he joined him for a small construction job. He said Lyles was healthy, vibrant and had a smile on his face, but shared some information about a relationship he was in and some difficulties he was trying to work out.
“I don’t know his last days, his last hours, or what — I don’t know what he was going through,” Thomas Lyles said of the months between October and his ultimate death. “I think he was in a state of confusion and just couldn’t realize, ‘I got options.'”
He described his son as having a “hell of a smile,” expressing himself through his tattoos, dreads and music. In an interview for an online music magazine in April 2014, Lyles said one of the main reasons he got into hip-hop production was because his dad played Tupac’s music for him during his childhood.
“He was a strong, young, vibrant man. But he succumbed to something that was greater than him,” Thomas Lyles said. “This was the dark part of him that finally came out, but this is not the Kiovonni that I know — this is not the man that I raised.”
Several residents at People’s Park told Berkeleyside that Lyles had recently moved into the area and mostly kept to himself, and may have died days before he was found in his tent. The coroner’s office will release his cause of death when the autopsy is completed.
“We could have tried a thousand times harder but we didn’t have the information that we needed, or the context that we needed,” Okearah said, explaining that his whole family is grappling with the fact that Lyles died on his own. “It’s a lot of pain in the unknown, but at the end of the day, whatever turmoil he was going through — and it appears he was going through a storm — the one point of peace I have is that he’s free of that now.”