Kevin Abstract has been mostly quiet on the solo music front as of late, with his last full solo project being American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story in 2016. Yet ARIZONA baby, a three–track EP released April 12, marks a return for the R&B singer in a significant way. ARIZONA baby is a brief glimpse in a new direction for the 22–year–old Texan artist, and his new sounds within the three songs are fresh and captivating.
As one of the lead artists in rap collective Brockhampton, Abstract is no stranger to creative and unique production. Yet, as a solo artist, American Boyfriend took much fewer sonic risks than the bold and brash production on Brockhampton’s Saturation album series.
ARIZONA baby changes that in a major way, indicating that not only is Abstract pursuing a new musical direction, but that he’s likely going to do it successfully.
The opening track, “Big Wheels,” was released days before the EP under the title “The 1-9-9-9 is Coming,” and could not be a more honest opener to the attitude of ARIZONA baby. Abstract raps, “Got a lot of guilt inside of me / My n****s back home ain’t proud of me / They think I’m a bitch, just queerbaiting / Quit being a bitch and quit hating / Y’all pump fakin’ / I’m a power bottom like a Free Mason,” addressing issues of public response towards his open gay identity.
Dismissing people hating his identity or claiming he’s "queerbaiting," a term used to describe people who market their LGBTQ identity to appeal to the LGBTQ community and beyond, Kevin Abstract comes out firing on all cylinders against his haters. In just a minute and forty seconds, Abstract unabashedly reaffirms himself and his attitude, reminding people that he is who he is and won’t let his detractors define him.
“Joy Ride,” the subsequent track on the EP, is a literal joy ride of a song—an upbeat, swaggering instrumental that juxtaposes Abstract’s lyrics regarding suicidal thoughts and hopelessness. Abstract uses layered vocals reminiscent of Outkast’s in “Bombs Over Baghdad,” but the breezy tone of the song is undoubtedly somewhat dampened by Abstract’s lyrics containing raw emotion and anxiety. He raps, “How do you cope without a rope / Me and my boyfriend, we lookin’ for hope,” offering a window to uncertainty and worries felt by Abstract in times of late.
Upon first listen, it’s easy to think “Joy Ride” is an optimistic song—between the upbeat instrumentals and the title of the track itself—but Kevin Abstract doesn’t want to reflect an inaccurate portrayal of his struggles, particularly despite enjoying recent success as an artist.
The final song on the EP, “Georgia,” is a slow–burner reflection on rough childhood days and memories combined with rough newfound days as a musician in Los Angeles. As put by Micah Peters of The Ringer, “he references his old troubled home in Houston, Texas, where teachers had weapons, and his newer troubled home, in Hollywood, where he’s trying to figure out what to do after gaining near–universal acclaim.”
Abstract has never fully embraced the spotlight or the lifestyle of stardom, and while he offers glimpses of fulfillment and happiness, ARIZONA baby reminds us that fame and success does not breed contentedness or peace of mind.
Kevin Abstract’s musical shift on ARIZONA baby is confident, to be certain—he has a sound and lyrical content he aims to deliver, and he does so in an impactful way—but musical confidence doesn’t reflect personal confidence. ARIZONA baby is great because in just three songs, Abstract delivers a kind of emotional rawness that many artists can’t give in a full–length album. So while Kevin Abstract may be pursuing a new direction in these solo EPs, it certainly hasn’t come at the cost of his honesty or openness.