Kevin Abstract raps about his problems, big and small. On his first album, American Boyfriend, Abstract sings: “I hate my yearbook photo/I hate my passport/I hate my last name/I hate everything it stands for.”
While his songs are filled with self-loathing and on-and-off disgust with pretty much everyone and everything around him, they also possess a yearning for answers to life’s big questions and a desire to connect with others. They evoke the ups and downs that high-schoolers face — and that is, in part, Abstract’s goal.
The twenty-year-old Texas native has been writing music for roughly a decade, since he was in the fourth grade and became obsessed with Will Smith and his Lost and Found album. Abstract admired Smith as both a rapper and an entertainer, and crafted songs similar to his.
“Through that, I learned how to actually write songs,” Abstract says. “I learned about song structure.”
Raised on social media, he found that it was easier to express himself to people as a songwriter rather than face to face, person to person. He started writing about his shifting identity, his struggle with being open to his mother about his sexual orientation and bad relationships with significant others.
Abstract moved out of his mother’s house at seventeen. “I finished high school. I didn’t walk the stage or anything. I didn’t go to prom or any of that stuff. I went on a little tour with some of my friends around the Midwest of America, and I made my way [back] to Texas.”
There he met a group of guys online, and together they formed a boy band, Brockhampton. Abstract eventually left Texas with the band and moved to South Central Los Angeles, where he shares a space with, give or take, a dozen friends and fellow artists. He writes films, produces digital-media art and performs with Brockhampton and solo.
He says South Central fuels his artistic process. “I’m always around creative people,” he explains, “and I’m trying to work on something constantly at all times.”
Even though Abstract is on a solo tour, his bandmembers and housemates have come along for the ride, helping him with stage design, hawking merch and managing day-to-day business.
On this jaunt, he has been playing for roughly 200 people a night, most of them young and thrilled to check out an artist who lives his life with authenticity, sharing his experiences through songs and social media. “They’re just stoked to be in the same room with someone they can actually identify with, who has some sort of status — even though it’s not a lot,” Abstract says. “I think it gives them some sort of hope.”
While Abstract raps in many of his songs, he rejects the idea that he’s just a rapper. He’s inspired by artists like Frank Ocean and Kanye West, who bring lyrical dexterity often associated with hip-hop to a highly produced pop sound, opening up doors for new fans who might turn their noses at pure rap.
Yet it was the grassroots hip-hop scene that first started taking him seriously as an artist, around three years ago, followed by the music magazine Pigeons and Planes. Only later, when he went on a tour with the Neighborhood, did he start reaching a wider, teenage fan base that might not listen to much beyond FM radio.
Now his goal is to be a pop star who reaches even more high-school-age students that remind him of himself at that age: lost yet ambitious, hoping for something to help them get through their day.
“A lot of my music is about self-discovery, because I focus on my teenage years,” says Abstract. “A lot of my teenage years were spent with me just trying to figure shit out, like most teenagers. I think the most important part of the teenage years is wondering.
“I don’t think I’ll ever know who I am 110 percent — fully know — but it’s this ongoing thing,” he continues. “At the same time, I like to believe that I can be whoever I want whenever I want.”
8 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $15-$18, 303-291-1007, 16+.