Kevin Abstract Makes Sensitive Rap Music For The ~Internet Generation~
"I was just trying to make a bedroom, teenage version of 'Future Sex/Love Sounds' by Justin Timberlake."
Kevin Abstract (aka Ian Simpson) is only 20 years old and he's already made it. How do we know, you ask? The guy's got himself his very own Wikipedia page! Impressive. He's also the founder of rap boy band Brockhampton and recently released an excellent sophomore album called American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story. We called up the young legend to chat about his musical heroes, the importance of finding your people and making an album inspired by JT's iconic Future Sex/Love Sounds.
Madeleine Woon: Hey Kevin, how are you doing? What are you up to today?
Kevin Abstract: I'm doing well! Just hanging out with my managers.
Could you tell us a bit about your childhood and what it was like growing up in Texas?
Texas was kind of boring, but boring in the best way. It was safe, or at least the area I was in was pretty safe and the people were kind of all the same, which really inspired me to leave Texas and that's why I now live in California.
What was the move to LA like?
Amazing. I've always wanted to live in Southern California, at least since elementary school… watching MTV and being obsessed with American culture and things like that, just the idealistic American things. And California is perfect for that, palm trees and all that stuff.
What made you want to make music initially?
Just being obsessed with Will Smith. I was obsessed with him as an actor initially, and after digging deeper I realised he was a rapper first, and the first rapper to win a Grammy! And it just inspired me to make music and then I got into Kanye West, Tyler, the Creator and Odd Future.
I read that you created Brockhampton, because you didn't think there were any good boy bands out at the moment…
Well I guess what I meant by that was that there's no boy bands with a collective of people who came together because they wanted to, and not because someone put them together. I just wanted to make something that gave kids a new hero. I think there's no good boy bands because of that, there's no… I feel like boy bands aren't doing it because they want to do it… I'm sorry I just saw Tyler, The Creator walk by me and I got all messed up [laughs].
Don't be sorry! [Laughs] All good — whereabouts are you hanging?
I'm in my manager's office…
And Tyler just walked past? That's cool. You've said that he inspired you to run away from home. What was it about him that influenced that decision?
Yeah, totally, 110%. Tyler, Kid Cudi and Frank [Ocean]. Kid Cudi because he moved to Brooklyn to live with an uncle he didn't know at all, and he kind of just figured it out, which is cool, and that's kind of what I did. I moved to LA with a bunch of my friends, none of us had really been here before and we'd all met online. We kind of all just made that big step to throw ourselves into the world.
How important is it to you to have a supportive network of creative mates?
It's crucial, 'cause in Texas not a lot of people… I couldn't identify with them, so it's very crucial to have a group of like-minded people in my house to make me feel a little bit more at ease, like, "OK, I'm okay". Like, I'm not like everyone else but I identify with these people and on top of that we can make good stuff together and grow together.
You're also very open with your fans.
Yeah, I don't know what I'd do without Tyler or Frank — mainly those two. I don't know where I'd be. I kind of just like, I've learnt from them that it's okay to be real, and be open, and be honest and be "you". And also how to do it tastefully.
Is that something you set out to do for your fans?
It's not thought out or anything. Well I mean everything is thought out to a degree, but it's not like I'm sitting here, like, 'how can I open up to the people listening in the same way that I talk to the people I live with?'
If you got the call up to write a poem in Frank Ocean's next zine, what would you write it about?
[Laughs]. Um, it depends on… I'd honestly probably write it on him calling me up… actually no, sorry, that's terrible, I don't know what I would write it about! It depends on how I'm feeling that day and I'd probably spend a few weeks thinkin' about it before I wrote it.
Who are some of your influences outside of music?
A lot of your music centres around coming-of-age tales. What are some of your favourite films that deal with that?
I'd say Palo Alto by Gia Coppola, that's probably my favourite. A lot of people don't like it, but I like it a lot.
The response has been pretty split in two.
Right, which is cool. I like art like that.
Can you see yourself utilising any other mediums?
Totally. I just directed something… just writing that story I learned a lot about storytelling, and I'm going to apply that to my music now, which is cool. So yeah, totally.
You live on the internet a lot, what's your favourite thing about it?
Surfing, getting lost and just finding random things to learn about. [I also love] observing stuff I come across online.
What's your most hated thing aspect of the internet?
Whatever you say is there forever, for the most part. Everything comes to an end but the internet doesn't really come to an end. I don't know, but anyways, it's there forever so… it's weird.
I feel your album MTV1987 finds that balance between being experimental and accessible/catchy. Is that something you're consciously trying to do?
Truthfully, I was just trying to make a bedroom, teenage version of Future Sex/Love Sounds by Justin Timberlake. I wrote it at 17, so all of that stuff just kind of stuck [laughs]. It kind of just happened. I wasn't trying to make like this experimental thing, I was just trying to copy something that I really loved and it ended up being that.
Is that kind of the setting you envision people listening to your music in?
Yeah I envision a kid, and he or she just being very confused and dealing with high school and dealing with growing up and dealing with parents; just being in their room listening to the album, you know? Lights off, on the MacBook, just scrolling endlessly. That's how I envision someone coming across the album and it just resonating with them. I feel like they'd be in a situation like that, like most teenagers.
Is that something we can expect from the forthcoming album?
No, it's a little bit… I don't know. It's just different. I don't want to say too much, sorry, it's just different.
That's all good, we can hang out until you drop it. Will you be working with Romil again?
Yep, I'll be working with Romil, Michael Yuzuru, Jeff X and other guys of Brockhampton — they're excellent.
What do you look for in a collaboration? What draws you to work with certain people?
A good friendship, you know? If it's a good friendship then it's a lot easier to make music. You're not going into the studio just like upset at each other, making uninspired music.
'Cassie Me & U' is one of my favourite songs ever, it has such nostalgic value. You did the original so much justice covering it on 'Drugs', were you nervous at all?
Thank you! Was I nervous?... Yeah I was kind of nervous, just because I grew up listening to that song so much, and it's really hard to sing something that you consider great. So yeah, and I was 17 at the time, and my voice wasn't too great, so yeah I was pretty nervous. People seem to like it though, so that's cool I guess.
What would you ultimately like to be remembered for?
[Long pause] I guess just making the best possible stuff, whatever that is; whatever I choose to make. And also, I just really want to give black kids a new superhero. That's something I really want to do.
Photography: Tyler Mitchell