He is rapidly establishing himself as an ingenious wordsmith, emerging with a sound that is almost strange and perplexing as he is.
When an unknown rapper like Kevin Abstract releases music videos, and over 40,000 people flock to watch him, he’s got to be doing something right. As a lyricist, the Texas-born MC appears like a rap version of Mike Tyson, using witty punchlines with a showman’s sense of timing and delivery that will tear your ears up. On his new album, MTV 1987, he revels in the darker, more cosmic realm of hip-hop, blending songs of loss and redemption while still having fun and involuntarily getting people in the mood to move.
There’s also sad and angry elements but just don’t call them “depressing.” “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be happier and my music will be way more Katy Perry,” he says. His latest track ‘Drugs’ takes an unadorned approach; it demonstrates his ability to transform artistic disciplines into rich soundscapes. With plenty of surprises up his sleeve, we dug a little deeper under the surface and tackled important topics such as ‘Drugs,’ Justin Timberlake, honesty, and how his addictive personality is driving his artistic output.
Obvious questions first: Why do you rap?
I rap because of Will Smith. And it’s fun.
What makes you different from other rappers?
I don’t know. My favourite people aren’t rappers. My website is cool though.
How much of an understanding do your parents have about what you do?
My dad gets the internet a bit more than my mom. They both know what’s up for the most part though.
A lot of your music comes across as feeling sad. What do you think of your reputation as a rapper writing sad songs?
I don’t give a damn about my reputation. I’m 17 and I’m down on most days. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be happier and my music will be way more Katy Perry. I’m honest.
Where does the artist in you come from?
I used to want to be an actor or comedian. When I was younger I was obsessed with Mike Myers, Chris Tucker, Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence. Then I wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories about aliens and shit like that. I wouldn’t consider anyone in my family an ‘artist’.
Your rebellious antics where you perform and shoot your music videos inside supermarkets is often a matter of discussion. Does it ever get dangerous?
Dear god, the last thing I want to be labelled as is a rebel. The sky told me to dye my hair pink, shoot a music video in a supermarket, and put it on the internet.
What would you say are the primary sources of your rebellion?
Labels are so silly.
Which one of your songs, do you feel is the best articulation of your philosophy?
Probably ‘Save’ or ‘Hell.’
What’s the story behind ‘Drugs’?
Me and Romil [my producer] were stuck in his basement for like four days and we made a solid five songs. The beat helped set up the story in my head. Romil is really good at telling stories sonically. I just took it from there. On MTV, there are a few songs about being in love with an addict. I know a ton of people who go through that shit.
As far as the title goes— it can either be interpreted as really inappropriate or kind of dark and cynical. What sparked the idea for that concept?
I didn’t want to name it ‘Drugs’ at first. That was just a potential title, but it just stuck after some months.
What influences you, the songs that you write?
The people around me. The movies I watch. Shit I read on the web.
When you’re writing, do you ever worry about being offensive?
Nope. None of this matters if we’re keeping it one hundred.
MTV 1987 is a pretty bold title for your debut album. How did that happen?
I had a complete different concept for the project at first. One of my friends bashed the title and said it wouldn’t work because I was born in the late ‘90s and it wouldn’t make sense. He said it sounded like a title a kid came up with after spending too much time on YouTube and Tumblr. That sparked all of this. That gave me the idea for the rollout, the live show, the art direction, everything. He was exactly right. I spend too much time on the internet and a lot of kids do.
What was your biggest challenge in making it?
I sing on a lot of the songs. Justin Timberlake is the greatest in my eyes. Every time I would record myself singing and would play it back I would be pretty bummed out that I am nowhere near the greatest. I’ll get vocal training soon.
What sort of place were you in artistically at the time you wrote and recorded, and how do you feel different today?
I was lost. Still lost. I don’t know what’s next and that’s okay.
What is the hardest thing about what you do?
Everything is easy for now.
Words: Noel Phillips.
MTV 1987 is out now.