As a gay, black teenager growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, Kevin Abstract struggled to find his place. Then he started posting music online, connected with some like-minded kids, formed a collective, and moved to LA. Now aged 25, he’s released 3 studio albums under his own steam and 6 with Brockhampton, the alternative boy band that’s been described as “gay, black, white, DIY, ambitious, all-inclusive, and would-be pop stars” by the press and the next One Direction by Abstract. Find out more with these 10 things you didn’t know about Kevin Abstract.
1. He’s got a wide range of influences
Considering that Abstract sees himself as a hybrid between a rapper and a pop star, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn just how diverse his influences are. As well as citing Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, Odd Future, Kid Cuti, Kanye West, and Outcast as influences, he’s also said that Justin Timberlake, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and Lana Del Rey have all inspired his musical direction.
2. He wants to give his fans a voice
Abstract came out as gay in 2016, and frequently mentions his sexuality on his records. Speaking to The Guardian, he explained how he’ll carry on rapping about being gay for as long as he believes his fans need a voice. “Me telling that story [of coming out, in the song Miserable America] helps another kid. No one has ever said that in a song, and I resonated with that,” he says. “And for me to be on stage in front of that many kids and for them to be like, I identify with this person – now they have a new hero that looks like them.”
3. Will Smith inspired him to rap
Growing up, Abstract didn’t know his father. He did, however, have a father figure – Will Smith. “Hancock” was (and remains) his favorite movie, and Smith’s status as the first-ever rapper to win a Grammy gave him something to aspire to. But it was having someone to fill the void left by his dad’s absence that made the biggest difference. “I think that’s me trying to like fill a void of not having a dad in my household so I look at someone who’s kinda similar to me – someone I look up to,” he’s told USA Today. “And that was Will Smith at the time. So since he rapped I was like, I should rap too.”
4. He ran away from home when he was 15
Abstract grew up as part of a deeply religious Mormon family in Corpus Christi, Texas. He wasn’t religious himself, never knew his father, and wasn’t close to his mother. After he began to realize he was gay, his feelings of isolation grew. At the age of 15, he ran away from home, living with a friend’s family for a year before moving in with his older sister in Georgia. After finding a crew of like-minded musicians over the internet, he eventually moved back to Texas to live with them.
5. He’s been making music since he was 12
At the age of 12, Clifford Ian Simpson became Kevin Abstract after he took the first name of a kid at school he thought was cool and asked someone to describe his music, to which they answered “abstract.”. He pieced the two together and began posting recordings of himself rapping over instrumentals to MySpace. By the time he ran away to Georgia at 15, he’d built up enough of a fanbase for the other kids at school to stop calling his music “super weird ” in the way they had in Corpus Christi and start giving him kudos for getting so far.
6. He’s part of a collective
When Abstract was living in Georgia, he began making connections with other music nerds over the internet. They eventually banded together, moved into a house in Texas, and formed a collective known as Alive Since Forever. They released three records (ForeverMondays! (2011), AliveSinceForever: The Compilation (2012), and The ASF EP (2013)) before trimming down to a 12 piece, relocating to South Central, Los Angeles, and rebranding themselves as Brockhampton. The group, which Abstract describes as an ‘alternative boy band’ has now released 6 albums. Their latest, Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine, dropped in April 2021 to positive reviews. The band has already hinted that another album will be following later this year but has also confirmed it will be their last.
7. He wants the best of both worlds
The music press might try to pigeonhole his music as hip-hop, but Abstract sees himself as more of a hybrid between a pop star and a rapper. “When you mention Bieber, Lorde, One Direction: I want to be on that list. But at the same time, when you say Lil Uzi Vert, I want my name to pop up too,” he’s said. “I’m kinda in between both. I wanna bring them together and exist. Whatever that thing will become? That’s what I want my art to be.”
8. He’s dating Jaden Walker
Abstract is officially off the market. Since 2017, he’s been dating Jaden Walker, a photographer, designer, and influencer from LA who’s created the clothing brand Tarragona USA.
9. He organizes therapy sessions with Shia LaBeouf
Since moving to LA, Abstract has had the opportunity to meet some famous names. One of them – Shia LaBeouf – now regularly attends Abstract’s “Friday Therapy.” The sessions, which he holds in his kitchen, are attended by a group of up to 40 artists. Each week, they all describe what their week’s been like and any struggles they might be having. Speaking to GQ, Abstract explained, “A lot of people’s issues are just rooted in living alone in Los Angeles because everybody goes to that place chasing a dream. As corny as it sounds, it’s so true, and everyone hits the same wall. To sit there and talk with people around the same age, it’s just inspiring. Shia guides the sessions. He’s 10 years older than me, so the advice he has is crazy. He was born in L.A, grew up on TV. He (messed) up a lot—the most. It’s really healthy to have someone like that in my life.”
10. He’s into performance art
Brockhampton don’t just make music, they make art, and in Abstract’s case, he’s all about the performance angle. Back in 2019, he tweeted a message saying “I’m going to be running on a treadmill for the next 10 hours in front of my childhood home on Brockhampton Street in Corpus Christi, TX.” Whether he did it to reflect on how far he’d come, to exorcise some demons, or simply to create a talking point, he didn’t really explain. Either way, he did it, live streaming himself for the full 10 hours as proof.