Kevin Abstract thrives in chaos, or so it appears. Listen to any BROCKHAMPTON — of which Abstract is a key member — album and this statement could not be more clear; with fourteen members each contributing to the production, lyrics, melodies, and vocals (and god knows what else), how could things not be a little hectic? So in the announcement of the singer/rapper’s second record, ARIZONA BABY, one could be forgiven if they assumed his output would be a calmer affair. In spite of this train of thought, Abstract’s project feels like a companion work to BROCKHAMPTON’s iridescence in terms of production, while also firmly rooted in the former’s individual artistry in lyricism.
ARIZONA BABY rolls out at a frantic pace, with “Big Wheels” finding Abstract rapping in a stream of consciousness about his rise to fame, accusations of queerbaiting from his critics, and growing up in a Mormon family as a gay black man. Just when you think he’s about to throw something else at the wall, the track jumps seamlessly into “Joyride,” a brass fanfare that continues the theme of playing by the singer/rapper’s own rules. The record slows down for the next few songs, with Abstract singing alongside members of BROCKHAMPTON and other frequent collaborator Ryan Beatty; it’s this section that makes clear just how collaborative the process is for Abstract.
Despite his desire to work alongside his friends, the tracks here work best with minimal outside voices. “Mississippi” is a thoughtful ballad about the push and pull that comes with entering new relationships, the singer/rapper conflates drug use and the lifestyle he now lives in “Use Me” before acknowledging that it will destroy him in “American Problem,” and closer “Boyer” ruminates on the need to face your problems before they catch up to you. As he plays with his vocals by pitching them or employing different flows, Abstract is shaping his legacy in real time; through these experiments, ARIZONA BABY evolves from a passion project into a successful second record, proving he has longevity in an industry that goes to great lengths to push out important marginalized voices like his.
Standout tracks: “Big Wheels,” “Joyride,” “Mississippi,” “American Problem”