Rapper, singer, song-writer, poet, motorcycle rider Kevin Abstract returns with his long awaited sophomore effort American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story.
This album serves as the follow-up to his beloved MTV1987, which came out in 2014. MTV earned Abstract an intense cult following for his dreamy flows and ability to dip into pop elements without cheapening his music. A blend of indie, grunge, hip-hop, R&B, and a splash of pop, American Boyfriend solidifies Abstract as a genre mystic. Tracks range from sunny days spent in love to noisey cuts meant to disorient the listener just as Abstract is lost in his own angst. More than a display of Kevin Abstract’s musical ability, American Boyfriend is a demonstration of the force a strong narrative can give an album. The project is a coming-of-age-novel turned hip-hop album. In the interest of art alone, it’s time to stop sleeping and drift back to high school days with American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story.
The album opens with orchestral flourishes, giving way to a stripped piano tune, giving way to Abstract’s syncopated flow. The bars feel young, centering around the bemoaning of a teenager. However, the seemingly immature content doesn’t devalue Abstract’s songwriting, as later on in the project Abstract flexes his poetic side. Initially, he brings us into the mindset of a young man, desperately as in love as a seventeen year old can be. Abstract manages to characterize his younger self with a touching youthful passion. The hook “And I’ll be/ Right outside your front door on my 12 speed/ I got your emotions tattooed on my sleeve/ I think about you all the time/ I’ve waited for you all my life/ I need you right here by my side,” is a heartfelt kick back to when love felt grandiose.
The love story continues with “Seventeen,” which is a near-ballad cushioned by a lax acoustic guitar and backing synths. The synths work to add to the mystic quality of first love, giving the feel of a fairy-tale as Abstract turns to rapping in the second verse. Other acoustic standout “Yellow” boasts an overt indie influence. Isolated from the album, it would be hard to believe a hip-hop artist arranged this track. The voice pitching in the hook comes off as a direct reference to Frank Ocean. Despite wearing his influences on his sleeve, Kevin Abstract still manages to make an album all his own, based on his ability to innovate upon a blend of styles.
The album does not drown in its own sentimentality. American Boyfriend features several menacing moments, which leave the listener worried for young Kevin Abstract. “Blink” features wailing guitars tucked behind a morose piano line and pops of spaced out synths. With this track, Abstract attempts to tackle all of the fear that comes with young love, and how those fears intersect with the ones he has as a result of own homophobic family. Abstract’s slurred delivery only amplifies the bender of emotions. In a daze of uncertainty, Abstract raps “Feet glued to the floor baby I need more of you… I need a friend, I need you to hate me /I need you to tell me I’m better than Drake/ I need attention, I need a flannel that’s not bloody/ I wish my mommy would try loving.”
Kevin Abstract takes the time to craft a strong narrative across the album, but each song also has a punchy story and progression as well. Notably, “Runner” features a dark drama, which crescendos into a cinematic chorus sung by Roy Mabie. The brief tracks scattered about the album help move the narrative along without taking up space from the climaxes of full length songs. These almost-interludes also add a polish-removing charm to the album.
The high point of the American Boyfriend is rooted in Abstract’s unapologetic discussion of growing up black and gay. “Suburbian Love” is a succinct example of how little fear today’s Kevin Abstract has, rapping directly about sharing a physically intimate moment with the American Boyfriend. The track is short and the lyrics don’t cut corners: there’s the TV in the background and the roaming hands, and we all know what happens next. Kevin Abstract has grown out of his fear on this track. He’s no longer plagued by shame.
Emotionally wrought “Papercut” has Abstract delivering the most potent lines about the homophobia he experienced: “The harshest of all times can’t tell my family I’m bi/ Can’t tell my mother I’m gay/ The hardest part of my day is wishing I was fucking straight/ Life could be so fucking easy man.” Followed up by “Miserable America,” which brings the anxieties of race and interracial relationships into play. Abstract does not hold back in terms of outting people’s prejudices. The second verse centers around the American Boyfriend and his parents who “love gays but they hate niggas,” and amplifies all the layers of inequality Abstract is subjected to. Acceptance on one front does not necessarily mean acceptance on all fronts.
American Boyfriend is an album that has no problems coming to grips with reality in an imperfect America. It delivers a timely and necessary narrative. This album is important. The fear of a young Kevin Abstract echoes throughout the album, but it is also a part of the daily lives of many LGBT youth. In putting together such an honest and unapologetic project, Abstract is giving a voice to kids that may be in his past position “stuck in the closet, [and] so claustrophobic.” This project has the ability to act as a comfort and hope for his LGBT listeners.
Between the genre experimentation, the narrative, and the various vocal styles, Abstract’s second album is a buffet to the ear. While the project is a little purple in some places, and has definite moments where it sounds derivative, at its core this is an album only Kevin Abstract could have made. After hearing MTV for the first time in 2014, I was eager to see where Kevin Abstract would take his sound. American Boyfriend is no different, which is why you should stop sleeping and catch up on your Kevin Abstract so we can all kick back and say we knew him when.