Sunday, February 21, 2021

MEET… Kevin Abstract

For fans of Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator, Troye Sivan, Rex Orange County

Clifford Simpson, better known as his stage name Kevin Abstract, is a rapper meets singer-songwriter meets director meets founding member of Brockhampton hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas and perhaps the textbook definition of what a self-made artist is. Although he first gained mainstream recognition in the music scene with his debut self-released album MTV1987 in 2014, he’s been producing and working on his music alongside a group of his then virtual internet friends, now fellow band members in Brockhampton since he was a young teenager. It shows - just listen to any song of Abstract or Brockhampton to see what I mean...

Abstract was interested in music from a young age and has cited inspiration from artists like Frank Ocean, Kanye West and Kid Cudi.

It was his love for Kanye West that eventually led him to meet his future bandmates as they were all members of a fan forum KanyeToThe and became close after Abstract posted “anybody wanna make a band?” on the forum. Soon, they had set up their base in Texas before moving to LA to make an “all American boy band, the best boyband since One Direction,” and focus on producing their music and promoting themselves seriously.

Abstract currently has three solo albums, each one digging deep into his personal life and identity as a black queer man who had been all too familiar with racism and homophobia growing up in the deep American south. 

His first album MTV1987 introduced listeners to Abstract by blending together references and sounds from past and present pop culture. (The album has since been removed from most streaming and downloading services).

Kevin Abstract, Drugs music video from album ‘MTV1987’

Sophomore album American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, released in 2016, gives listeners an autobiographical listen that paints a more dismal, realistic picture of how Abstract really felt as a teenage outcast growing up in the suburbs of America filled with lingering guitars, boasting trumpets and nearly theatrical raps. His feelings are probably most straightforward on the triumphant track Miserable America where he sings about a homophobic mother, a racist best friend and an overall miserable country that assassinates one’s character if they don’t meet a society’s standardised expectations.
Kevin Abstract, Miserable America from album ‘American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story’

His latest album, Arizona Baby, released in 2019, continues his narrative but with additional turmoils that have accumulated since the release of American Boyfriend. Between 2016 and 2019, Abstract and Brockhampton had gained recognition and popularity fast among both fans and the music industry itself. For example, Abstract went on tour with The Neighbourhood in the U.K. in 2018 and in the same year Brockhampton signed a $15 million deal with RCA to produce six albums over three years. Although some fans were left confused by the deal since Brockhampton had been a DIY collective since the start, they were assured by Abstract via Twitter that the group dynamics would remain the same, “in the living room making songs” despite being signed by a major label.

But the challenges Abstract faced both personally and professionally didn’t stop once considered successfully signed to a label, and he lays it all out on Arizona Baby, which bends genres from simple acoustic and vocals to cinematic, alternative hip hop styles. The dissonance felt as he moved to LA to follow his dream of being a star and finally gaining recognition is heard on melancholic Georgia that showcases both Abstract’s rap as well as distorted vocals: all of us in jon’s car / packed the trunk with merch, i was tryna be a star / same time i was cool with Uzi, my life felt like a movie / left my troubled home, hollywood, what the fuck am i doing?

Insecurities about his identity and personal relationships, as well as the pressures of leading his bandmates, can be heard on Corpus Christi, named after the town in which he grew up, with stark, straightforward lyrics: none of my boys know how to cope with this shit… / i get called a snake, a liar, a faggot and a phony / sometimes i feel like all i’m gonna have is my money … / i think about the people that surround me, and how i let ‘em down

The turmoil concludes on Arizona Baby with Boyer, an abrupt and upbeat track with addictive backing vocals and lyrics like:  everyday a new demon takin’ over me / too scared to let a therapist talk to me / in turn, it make the ones i love turn they back on me / you cannot run forever now / gotta learn your lesson, child

Although it’s unclear what Abstract or Brockhampton has planned next (their latest album, Ginger, was released in summer of 2019 and is probably their most vulnerable album as a group to date), Abstract’s vision and way of working on his music has always been clear. Abstract and Brockhampton provide their listeners with realistic, honest depictions of what it means to be an outcast, American, queer, black, and anything in between with self-made and -proclaimed voices for those who need to hear it and find courage to do it for themselves.

Brockhampton, Sugar music video from album ‘Ginger’

Emily Savidge
TWT: @emilysavidge

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