by Peter Keough ’20 A&E Staff
When dreaming of making it big, it would be normal to assume that achieving fame would solve all of one’s problems. For rapper and pioneering member of the BROCKHAMPTON collective Kevin Abstract, born Clifford Ian Simpson, this was certainly a mindset he maintained during his early career. He thought that if he was able to gain a following and make a name for himself, everything would be okay. On his new solo album, ARIZONA BABY, he wants to make it clear that, unfortunately, this was not the case for him.
His first solo work since 2016’s American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, ARIZONA BABY strips back much of the upbeat and brash energy that Abstract has brought to a lot of BROCKHAMPTON’s output in recent years. In a tweet from April 16, Abstract claimed he was releasing his own individual work because “some s**t is too personal / self indulgent to put on a group album.” Instead of feeling as if the listener is meant to be on a dance floor or jumping around in a mosh pit, the songs on this album make one feel as if they are sitting alongside Abstract, listening to him tell his own story.
While this puts Abstract at the forefront of each and every song on the work, it certainly does not leave him working on his own on ARIZONA BABY. Produced by himself, Jack Antonoff, and BROCKHAMPTON’s Romil Hemnani and Jabari Manwa, much of the album was conceived and carried out in the company of familiar friends. It also boasts features from BROCKHAMPTON members Joba and bearface, as well as Antonoff, Ryan Beatty, and up-and-coming artist Dominic Fike. With this collection of producers, performers, and friends, Abstract was able to piece together a truly individualistic and distinct work.
The manner in which this work was released was also of great interest to fans of Abstract’s work. Instead of releasing the complete 11-track-long work all at once, Abstract decided to release it in smaller EPs over the course of a three week period between April 11 and April 25. These EPs, entitled ARIZONA baby and Ghettobaby, were each accompanied by a music video as well as the promise of more music in the near future. Following the release of the full album on April 25, Abstract staged what could be called a performance art piece as well. Entitled “#THE1999,” he livestreamed himself walking on a treadmill outside of his childhood home in Corpus Christi, Texas for 10 straight hours while fans and supporters came to interact with him.
Each of these EPs, art pieces, and the album as a whole contain one continuous theme that runs as a thread throughout. This is the choice of Kevin Abstract to bare his psyche and thoughts to the world through the release of ARIZONA BABY. With this project, he was able to create something extremely intimate, and provided the world with the luxury of being able to listen to it and hear what he has to say. Fame has not provided Kevin Abstract with a solution to all of his problems, but it has given him a following with which he can share himself.