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Kevin Abstract
Kevin AbstractPhotography by American Millenial

Meet the Texan teenage rapper taking over the world

Kevin Abstract has all the makings of a superstar – we spoke to him about suburbia, adolescence and falling in love

In a world where TV talent shows reign supreme, and where big artists come in conjunction with even bigger brand names, Soundcloud can be a magical place. Birthing a fresh new wave of DIY sounds, the creative spirit of the Internet feels limitless, and the cream always rises to the top. Kevin Abstract might be that ‘cream’, but he’s adamant not to be boxed in as just another Soundcloud artist – and rightly so. While he might have emerged from that world, there’s much more to Abstract than a few self-produced beats and half-baked rhymes, and his eyes are facing firmly to the future.

The 19-year-old artist first shook our attention as part of BROCKHAMPTON, the 7-member self-described “boy band” made up of kids from suburban Texas who could rap, sing and produce – the result a beautiful mishmash of styles, from trap to odd hip hop experiments. As a solo artist, Abstract’s music also spills over genre’s borders, from lo-fi R&B (“Echo”) to dirty, angst-filled noise rap (“Hell/Heroina”) and melodic, sun-plashed hip hop (“Drugs”).

With his steely, unapologetic ambition, coupled with a fiercely unique approach to sound, it’s easy to find similarities between Abstract and 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye West, and it’s hardly hyperbolic to imagine that he could tread the same path. Now that the dust has settled on his 2014 debut album MTV1987, the rapper/singer has been working on this year’s follow-up, titled They Shoot Horses – an album he’s put his “whole life into”. Ahead of the release, we spoke to Abstract about his biggest fears, falling in love, and why "the mainstream sucks”.  

How did you get into making music? Did you have a creative upbringing?

Kevin Abstract: I want a Grammy. But that’s just like when I really wanted a girlfriend in high school. So when I get that Grammy, I’ll probably learn a lot about myself, and throw up all over it. No one in my family was creative. One of my sisters went to a university and pretty much most of my siblings live a basic and dull lifestyle. I don’t know why I had to be the one who chose to run away from home and figure shit out on my own. I’m building my world and universe everyday. I pick the characters, I write the script, I control the narrative. This was all meant to happen. 

“The biggest pop star in the world shouldn’t be a boring white kid from Canada – the biggest pop star in the world should be a creative black kid from Texas” – Kevin Abstract

You started out in BROCKHAMPTON, right? Tell me a bit about that.

Kevin Abstract: I created BROCKHAMPTON in January (last year) because there are no good current boy bands. Everyone sucks. No one tries hard enough. We’ve got the tools to make art fast and cheap. Some people have made fucking incredible things because of technology and some people have made shit. Tyler Mitchell and Grimes are my favourite examples of people who have made quality because of it.

The biggest pop star in the world shouldn’t be a boring white kid from Canada – the biggest pop star in the world should be a creative black kid from Texas that doesn't know how to come out to his family – that’s a way more interesting story, and it gives a new type of kid some hope.

Why did you decide to go solo?

Kevin Abstract: I've always been solo, and I’ve always been in a group. I’m just finally ready to become bigger than the Internet this year. I’m putting my entire life into this new album. I cry when I get a good idea because I’m scared this shit won’t reach enough people. No one knows who I am still and no one knows what I’ve been working on for the past two years. I let go of so many people just so I can keep my tunnel vision and create a good record and just fucking make it. 

Your music seems to dip in and out of genres, from rap to R&B to indie. How would you describe your sound? 

Kevin Abstract: That’s just a reflection of me – I still don’t know who I am. Most of the time, with artists like me who go on to become superstars, you never see them when they are still lost and trying to figure life out. I’m super transparent, and my fans know what the fuck is happening in my life at all times. Imagine seeing Kurt Cobain’s twitter while he was still in high school.

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not making music?

Kevin Abstract: I’m in a long distance relationship right now, so I’m on my phone all of the time texting. Other than that, I just watch a lot of movies and listen to music. Ideas come to me throughout that process as well, so I guess I’m always working. 

What themes are you most drawn to rapping/singing about? 

Kevin Abstract: Adolescence, heartbreak, suburbia – just for now though, just while I’m doing this Kevin Abstract project.

You’ve got a new album coming out this year. Can you tell me a bit about it?

Kevin Abstract: The entire album takes place in a garage during band practice. These kids are obsessed with The Smashing Pumpkins, Shia Labeouf and Kanye West. They Shoot Horses picks up where MTV1987 ends. I’ve just been focusing on songwriting and creating worlds for people to live in. I’m also so focused on making a film right now with Tyler Mitchell. I’m also into making clothes, so people can feel like they are apart of the universe I’ve made. I made the “Echo” hoodies so kids can have a uniform to wear when they’re about to runaway from home. Like, as you’re packing your bags and writing a little plan together on your Macbook, you have that hoodie on while “Echo” is playing in the background. Everything goes together, and everyone that fucks with me can be a part of it.

On your twitter, you told bedroom artists to step up because the mainstream sucks. What do you think the underground has to offer that isn’t currently present in the mainstream?

Kevin Abstract: The underground always has the best ideas. Sometimes those underground artists transcend and make it to the mainstream, but most of the time the big guys just steal from us. I’m going to be one of the idiots that transcends though – no one is taking nothing from me. My album is way too good to be heard on fucking Soundcloud. I love Soundcloud, and it’s cool when a big artist like Frank Ocean or Kanye West drops shit on there, but if I do it just puts me in a box.

Labels put me through so much bullshit in 2015. It’s the CEOs and the old dudes that have this backward ass mentality. No one ever knows what to do with me, or how to market me. What these old dudes don’t understand is that I'm already marketing the fuck out of myself. All ya’ll have to do is give me a little bit of money so I can make better quality art for these kids and expose me. I’m not going to dress how you want me to dress. My legacy is the most important thing to me.

What is your biggest fear?

Kevin Abstract: I’ve been in Los Angeles all month, and every time I’m in an Uber I just hope I don’t get in a fatal car accident and die. I have to get the album out – that’s my only concern. 

Have you ever been in love and how has that inspired you creatively?

Kevin Abstract: Yeah. I’m in love right now and it’s helping shape up this album. I was so depressed writing MTV1987. I’m still dealing with demons, but the new stuff feels glorious. I’ve cried listening to some of the demos and rough cuts so I think that’s a good thing. I’m saying a lot of stuff I thought I would never be able to say on record. It’s my most bold writing yet.