Kevin Abstract is not an Internet rapper, despite any evidence to the contrary. The MacBook motifs scattered throughout most of the visuals for his debut album could be mistaken for one of the many ploys emerging rappers use to gain a foothold. Even his AliveSinceForever crew of filmmakers, producers, musicians, and graphic designers was formed through a thread on the KanyeToThe forum.
MTV1987, his first album to date, is part introspective and part cultural pastiche; on one song, “Drugs,” he sings a chorus about being lost in the world, before dropping into a few bars from the Cassie hit “Me & U.” The ease in his artistry and performance is the type that is more common in seasoned veterans, and not a fledgling rap talent. What few expect is such a thorough self-awareness as a person and an artist from a voice so young. He was born in the Woodlands, Texas, an affluent offshoot of Houston, but spent his childhood in Florida, Georgia, and Corpus Christi, Texas, before moving back to his birthplace. By the time he was 15, his projects were gaining traction in the rap blogosphere. And this year, his experimental freshness with videos for “Ian Mad” and “Drugs” have led him to a summer tour, and looks from most of your favorite music sites.
At 18, with all eyes on him, his creative exploits are finally coming to fruition, and tonight we've got the exclusive premiere of his short film for "Hell/Heroina," directed by Tyler Mitchell, of "Ian Simpson" performing Abstract's song.
"MTV1987 is a product of the Internet," Abstract says. "I am addicted, I’m lost, I’m frustrated, I feel alone when I’m not, and sometimes I’m happy. I’m happy when I get notifications. Why? ’Cause it makes me feel important for a moment. Just for that moment. How fucking sad is my life that I need a notification to make me feel important? Then everything’s back to normal. I’m not saying this is good or bad. I don't know, maybe I’m just stuck in hell."
Stream the video above, and read our interview with him below:
What’s an Internet rapper?
He only exists online. I don’t want to be that guy. Someone called me a Tumblr rapper, and I was really hurt. Because I don’t have the anime stuff in my videos or anything. I don’t get it.
What was the first song that ever really made you want to be an artist, or do something similar?
I only started doing music because I got into Will Smith. I was into film and shit at first, and he was just like my favorite. So I looked into Will Smith and I saw that he was a rapper before an actor, so I wanted to be like him. But the first rap I ever learned was “Slow Jamz,” Kanye’s verse. I was hella young. Like first grade. But yeah, Will Smith, his whole career, is what inspired me to be a rapper. I can’t really pinpoint a song.
What are some topics that excite you that you want to explore in your music?
I’ll go back to MTV1987. Coming from the suburbs, when I moved from Corpus [Christie, Texas,] to the Woodlands [Texas], that’s when I started to see that kids experimented with drugs other than weed. They had the money to buy heroin, and shoot up and stuff like that. And that’s kind of when I was like, man, no one in rap really talks about this. At least the rap music I listen to. No one talks about their friend overdosing on heroin or something like that. It’s not that it excited me, but it was something fresh to talk about. It was how I felt so it worked.
Shia LaBeouf’s performance art, that excited me. "Noah" the short film excited me, just because it showed how people interact in our day and age and how people react to certain emotions. I saw it like a year ago. The whole perspective is really cool because it’s this kid, and his girlfriend breaks up with him, or she’s hinting that she wants to breakup. He signs in to her Facebook page, and messages this guy that she’s talking to, and it’s all on a MacBook so you feel like you’re a part of this guys life. You see everything he’s going through and all the emotions he’s feeling, and it’s all done through a MacBook. Our generation, in a sense. People have these heavy arguments or something, all through Skype or iMessage or Facebook or Twitter DMs.
What’s one thing that you completely regret doing musically and would change?
I bought a feature from Vic Mensa. I wish I never did that.
Because that’s when I realized I bought his name. I was paying for his name. I wasn’t paying him to make music with me. I gave him money, it got on a few blogs, and he never talked to me again.
Do you think that people in our generation don’t really communicate as honestly or effectively through the Internet?
They definitely don’t. Because you can hide behind those things. That’s what people do. But there are honest people. Some people are just straight up. But it’s just so easy to create someone else, using this new platform.
But isn’t that what you’re doing with Kevin Abstract?
To an extent. Ian Simpson—that’s me. Kevin Abstract is this thing I’m making. Yes, that’s exactly what it is. It’s something behind the Internet, but I want it to be bigger than the Internet, I don’t want it to be stuck there. It kind of gets lost with all the other bullshit online.
So Internet rap.
Right. I don’t want my project to be that. But I kind of want it to represent the Internet culture in a way.
You had your concept with the MacBook, and you have a whole theme, but you’re still working within this project of Kevin Abstract. How are you going to change that? What’s going to be new?
Like what’s the next thing? I always want to take from stuff that’s not in rap and bring it to rap. That’s part of the Kevin Abstract project. Does that make sense? As far as the MacBook, everything I was doing, it wasn’t brand new. It was inspired by Shia LaBeouf or inspired by the short film "Noah." Things that weren’t popular in the rap world. So when people see it, it’s like, “This is kind of different.” They don’t really know what to call it because it seems brand new. But in my head, I’m just taking stuff that rappers aren’t talking about, or stuff that the rap culture isn’t talking about and just bringing it to rap music. And that’s kind of like the whole idea of Kevin Abstract, and that’s kind of what I want to continue to keep doing. As far as what’s next, I already know what I want to do, but I don’t really want to say it because I might change my mind.
What is scary to you?
Failing in general is scary to me. It’s not how someone sees me. It’s the things I see in my head, the goals I have in my head. I want to always go beyond everything I have in my head. I’m scared of failing. Or letting myself down. I’m also scared of frogs.
I’m scared of failing. Or letting myself down. I’m also scared of frogs.
There’s a feeling of loneliness and isolation in MTV1987...
I feel like this is a generation of loneliness, to an extent. A lot of kids aren’t necessarily alone, but everyone feels like that for some reason, at least the kids that I grew up with. I don’t know why it’s like that, but it is. And that’s how I felt. I definitely feel alone a lot. Moving out of my sister’s place and just kind of being on my own in life, I don’t really know what I’m doing. So there’s times where I just feel like I’m by myself.
Give me an example.
As soon as I left Atlanta, I was like, "OK, I’m on my own." That was one part. We went on tour it was like just me, our graphic designer HK, Frank our filmer, and Matt Champion. I felt alone because we were doing everything on our own in the sense of like, we had no tour manager with us. The guy who set everything up didn’t show up. And it was just this terrible feeling of like, “Damn, I got to make sure this happens.” There’s no parent. I feel like a manager on the road with you, that’s kind of like, the parent. You don’t got to worry about too much. But when it’s just you on your own, and you’re dealing with these big Chicago niggas that are kind of scary, you just feel alone and scared. There were times when I just wanted to leave.
So what keeps you going through that?
The fact that I’m working on this big project. I always keep the end goal in mind. I want to be done with this project, and when I’m done with that, I’m going to move on to my next project. So I want to finish this before I even start on the other thing that I want to do. Which I’m already kind of studying a little bit, just so I’m familiar with it. The same way I was with rap music. I studied it for years.
Who are some people that you genuinely want to work with?
I feel like my answers are so boring, I’m sorry, but nobody. Except, I like Allan Kingdom. I like Michael Christmas. I like Cousin Stizz. I love AliveSinceForever, obviously.
Do you ever feel like as a black artist people expect you to do certain things others wouldn't have to?
Yeah. As a black person.
Or as an American. People expect you to go to college. At least coming from like a suburban neighborhood or some shit. Being black, people definitely—I’m not going to say that. It’s changing. I don’t think everyone expects you to talk a certain way, being black, but there are a lot of people that see you and are like, “Oh, he’s probably going to sound like this." Or "He’s probably going to have these goals or no goals.” But as an artist? I hate saying I’m a rapper because of the connotation behind it. They say everyone’s a rapper. Which I get, but there’s so much bad rap out there. People just hear the term rapper. “Oh you’re an artist? What kind of music do you make?” and it’s like, “I rap.”
Is there a specific number or label situation that you’re waiting on to sign?
It’s never like a number situation. It’s always just about making sure the terms are right, and that I have creative control as far as a label situation. Because I want to sign. I want to sign with a major. I want radio play. I don’t want to be underground forever. And I don’t want to be a Twitter rapper, or an Internet rapper.
What about the projects motivates you? Is it the projects themselves? Or sharing it with people?
A mix of both. I like seeing how people react to something that I think of in my head. I really like that. Also, it’s fun making stuff. It’s fun making worlds, that's how I see it. It’s cool that I could make something, put it online, and all these people may see it differently, or everyone sees it the same way. That’s why I like the reaction. And that’s what motivates me. Making good stuff motivates me.
Ashley Reed is a S.U.C. soldier, woke individual, and formerly angry black woman. Follow her on Twitter @ashbestos.