At 2018’s Coachella festival, Kevin Abstract (performing as a member of BROCKHAMPTON) wore a bulletproof vest with the word “f*ggot” emblazoned across the front. The same word appears frequently on ARIZONA BABY, the rapper’s third proper solo project; according to Abstract, who frequently raps about being gay, the word was leveled at him often growing up in Texas. He lays bare some of that backstory on the ultra-confessional “Corpus Christi,” while also addressing the stresses of life as a burgeoning rap/pop star. “None of my boys know how to cope with this shit,” he raps over the soft guitar plucks that open the song. “We was on tour in Europe, I tried coke with this kid/See, I need anything that make me feel less lonely/I get called a snake, a liar, a f*ggot, and a phony.”
But Abstract gets the last laugh on his bullies: The main thing he'll surely be called after ARIZONA BABY is a truly gifted rapper. Former BROCKHAMPTON member Ameer Vann (who gets a shout-out on the aforementioned “Corpus Christi”) was often touted by fans and critics as the group's strongest MC, but here Abstract bests much of his bandmates' previous work—as well as his own—in detailing what it’s like growing up young, gifted, Black, and gay. Rapper, however, is maybe too confining a title for Abstract, whose vocal inspirations leapfrog from ATLiens-era André 3000 (“Big Wheels”) to Prince (“Baby Boy”) to Frank Ocean (“Crumble”). Acclaimed songwriter and arranger Jack Antonoff produced ARIZONA BABY, and his influence is most apparent in the wealth of live instrumentation. The one clearly audible sample (New Jersey Mass Choir’s “The Harvest Is Ripe”) comes by way of “Use Me,” a song in which Abstract gives testimony about his life and “generational trauma” before assuring himself that “everything gon’ be OK.” With ARIZONA BABY as a testament to how far he's come, it’s hard not to believe him.