Abstract is far more than a rapper – he is an architect. From the Texan dust, he created the megastructure that is BROCKHAMPTON, becoming the propulsive force behind ‘the best boyband since One Direction’. Between the hip-hop collective’s meteoric rise to success, Abstract has nurtured a prolific solo career that was heralded by his 2016 debut, American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story. Fans have been clamouring for the release of his latest project, ARIZONA Baby, after drip-feeding cryptic clues and snippets on social media. The three-act EP dropped when, and only when, he felt like the time was right – and in the signature Kevin Abstract way, without warning.
Before even pressing play, it’s easy to see that ARIZONA Baby promises the gold standard; you’d expect nothing less with production from BROCKHAMPTON’s Romil Hemnani, paired with pop mastermind Jack Antonoff. The two producers converge with Abstract like glass catching the light, splitting into a spectrum of colour. Abstract has stepped away from the soft, bleeding glow of acoustic guitars and melodic vocals of American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, and instead favours a bold, experimental approach for this EP.
“Big Wheels” is a declaration of intent: from the starting block, Abstract takes dive into his hip-hop skillset. His flow is bidding to outpace itself; it’s a short, propulsive burst that gives way to a mellow instrumental, with glossy synth and soulful, pitched brass sections.
Abstract’s love of vocal experimentation has come to define his own – as well as BROCKHAMPTON’s – sound. Across the collective’s four studio albums, Abstract has toyed with pitch, so that vocals are transformed into a pinched, M.I.A-style falsetto. “Joy Ride” bears this hallmark, but takes an alternative approach. Abstract taps into the vocoder, which mirrors Abstract’s idol, Kanye West. The track is sun-kissed, with bold trumpets and skittering pop sensibilities – Antonoff, whose production credits include Taylor Swift’s Reputation and Lorde’s Melodrama, is a strong influence here.
The crowning glory of ARIZONA Baby is undoubtedly “Georgia Baby”. The track brings out the tenderness Abstract has come to master; if it weren’t for the pitched vocals, you could almost describe it as ‘stripped-back’. A recurring motif in Abstract’s work is a need to return to simpler times, and the nostalgic feelings tethered to Georgia, his home. His relationship with his roots is at once affectionate and complex: he doesn’t neglect the struggles of growing up black and gay in Southern America, yet it was there that BROCKHAMPTON began and his life irrevocably changed.
ARIZONA Baby is the first of a trilogy of EPs, the next of which is Ghettobaby, set to be released April 18, 2019. Though naturally, everything in Abstract’s world is subject to change; ARIZONA Baby demonstrates his chameleon-like talent for creating everything from the most infectious beats to the gentlest verses. He defines the modern position of hip-hop, which is unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.