The next rapper to write an underdog soundtrack.

Cardigan ELDER STATESMAN, T-shirt VIRTUE, trousers STUSSY, socks GOLF, shoes KEVIN’S OWN

Cardigan ELDER STATESMAN, T-shirt VIRTUE, trousers STUSSY, socks GOLF, shoes KEVIN’S OWN

For Los Angeles-based musician Kevin Abstract, growing up is something that has happened on the internet as much as it has in the real world.

The pseudonym Ian Simpson chose for himself on MySpace when he was 12, Kevin Abstract now commands a cyber presence of over 36,000 Twitter followers. Abstract was once known as the kid who knew how to use the internet better than anyone else in his hometown near Houston, Texas. Sticking to what he knew, in 2014 his debut release MTV1987 took his digital presence as a central focus.

Abstract’s sound breaks with the unmistakable punch of hip hop but masters unconventional instrumentation. He growls through narratives translating them into melodies with bangs from a brass band, keyed chords and skittish electric guitar riffs. Unsurprisingly, his inspirations are a club of contemporary greats: Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator.

The newest release from Abstract tells the story of his “other identity”, as the person outside of his dark bedroom endlessly on his laptop. American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story is a vulnerable project that opens up about his own queerness. Setting his coming of age to music, Abstract’s lyrical style is honest, reflective and deeply personal. “I wave the American flag around my identity,” he says. “I think that says a lot for other kids of colour who are going through a tonne of shit that they can’t really explain.” Despite his bleached hair that didn’t necessarily “look the part” in Texas, Abstract asserts his work as quintessentially and non-ironically American, a sincere response to the cookie cutter crowd who wouldn’t include him in their vision of the country.

This acceptance and ascension has resonated with many: Abstract has parlayed his cyber celebrity into a spot on the Bonnaroo lineup in Tennessee. In November, he performed at Odd Future’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival in Los Angeles. In December he sang backing vocals on Jaden Smith’s single, “Fallen”. By the time of his own solo headline show that month, kids were queuing for six hours on the chance they’d get entry to Abstract’s free “prom”, his own imagining of the high school rite of passage he never attended, complete with balloon arches, a disco ball and slow jams.



But the kind of fame he wants is even bigger than that — he wants to be on the cover of teenage pop culture magazines without compromising himself as an artist. “Now everyone is famous to an extent. If you have a thousand followers and you do something, you have a fan base,” says Abstract, who recently became obsessed with Chasing Cameron, a reality show about Instagram fame on Netflix. “Everybody can build that on their own.”

There’s no doubt Abstract has the foundations in place. The cinematographer for his “Empty” music video was Luis Chavez, a regular collaborator with Tyler, The Creator. His managers are Christian and Kelly Clancy, who represent members of Odd Future, Mac Miller and more. Michael Uzowuru, who was a producer on Frank Ocean’s Blonde, was also the executive producer of American Boyfriend. Finally, Abstract also opened for alternative pop band, The Neighbourhood on their UK tour. “It was crazy to see all those people respond to this black kid from America,” he grins. “They were extremely into it.”

With hopes to transcend his “internet celebrity” status, Abstract is currently working on a screenplay about high school. He’s been particularly impressed with the multifaceted success of Donald Glover’s crossover from Childish Gambino to celebrated screenwriter. For American Boyfriend, Abstract wanted to create a sound for people of colour, queer kids and those like him who the mainstream media fails to represent. He says he gets tweeted at by a new fan every day to let him know that his music and his videos have helped save their life.

“It’s mainly for people in the suburbs who feel like they don’t have a voice,” says Abstract. “I wanted to do the same thing that they did for me, for someone else.”

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