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.