Courtesy of Tribune News Service

Review: 'Arizona Baby,' 'Ghettobaby' by Kevin Abstract

Albums: “Arizona Baby” and "Ghettobaby" EPs

Artist: Kevin Abstract

Release Date: April 25, 2019

Duration: 18 minutes

Grade: B

After leading hip hop group Brockhampton on its monster run of the past few years, Kevin Abstract released his first solo work since 2016's "American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story" this month.

Ever musically active, Abstract released two EPs, "Arizona Baby" and "Ghettobaby," in the last two weeks with an album on the horizon. With some help from longtime Brockhampton producer and DJ  Romil Hemnani and highly renowned pop producer Jack Antonoff, these two releases see Abstract experimenting outside of his vocal comfort zone.

Abstract opens the first EP, “Arizona Baby,” with the song “Big Wheels,” featuring the artist rapping through what seems to be a new vocal processor, switching between his natural voice and a more artificial sound.

With warped and pitched vocals that make Abstract sound almost robotic, he tackles the duality of his fame and success with regard to the place he grew up. Dirty sine synths create a chaotic orchestra towards the end, shifting us into a happier setting on the next song. Although it ends brilliantly, opening the EP with something this jarring doesn't allow the songs to flow very well together.

The next track, “Joy Ride,” features an anthemic horn section spliced throughout. Continuing with the pitched and warped vocals, Abstract performs an almost indecipherable chorus, leading into one of his strongest verses ever. As the song continues, Abstract builds on his vocal inflections with undulating refrains that seem to swing around your head. Capturing the massive energy of the instrumental, Abstract creates an atmosphere that sounds as though it's in motion as soon as it begins.

The “Arizona Baby” EP closes with “Georgia," catching the listener by the ear with a melody that’s difficult to escape. The song has a rollercoaster feeling with the refrain, “and everything’s gonna be alright” rounding out the chorus. It’s a delicate song that reflects on Abstract's memories of touring in Georgia and where he is now.

On “Ghettobaby,” Abstract continues experimenting with vocal distortion, but the three new songs carry a bleaker energy. Despite the sadness this second EP confronts, Hemnani and Antonoff's production offsets it with a musically uplifting series of tracks.

The EP opens with “Corpus Christi," a track with subtle layers brought in one by one. On this song, Abstract goes through memories of how things used to be, following his struggle as his life changes before his eyes. The chorus brings in emotionally charged, compelling lyrics the listener can really feel, tying in themes of loss that continue throughout the EP.

"Ghettobaby" closes with “Mississippi," a somber song that captures a chaotic mindset. With high-pitched rapping over a crunchy drum loop, Abstract lulls us with a sense of calm as he switches tones and vocal processes. Although relatively low-energy compared to the rest of the songs on the EP, “Mississippi” captures the record's pervasive melancholy perfectly.

Despite the brevity of the two EPs, Abstract shows his experimental range with every song delivering a unique vocal process we haven’t heard before.

Although the heavy experimentation and deeper dive into Abstract's own life are interesting, the tracks fall short of cohesion. It feels as if the nostalgia is being put out through vocal processing, shifting vocals like shifts in time.

With powerful musical forces Antonoff and Hemnani carrying the bulk of production, it’s difficult to see how the EPs could fail. These singular, experimental EPs are exciting steps for Abstract, and fans should wonder: Do these big moves indicate similar shifts in sound in Brockhampton's future?


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