ARIZONA BABY serves as a powerful reawakening for Kevin Abstract, and its release marks a sweet spot for both his artistic career and style. Hardened and deadset rapping focuses on societal and existential crises while ultra-sweet, careening, sung melodies bring an unbridled sense of tranquility to many of the tracks. Abstract capitalizes on both his harder and softer signature energies from his home at rap collective Brockhampton and distinguishes his individualized prospects through these fresh stories and forms.
“Big Wheels” and “Joy Ride” send the album off initially, starting listeners right into its thick energy. Horns accompany both tracks, and the latter boasts a tight flurry of bars and percussion. These were released as a trio preemptively alongside “Georgia,” which stands to contrast the pair greatly. While his diction and voice remain familiar, the beat is chilled out quite a bit, and it’s about reflecting now that “everything is alright.” Various nostalgic focal points are belted out beautifully like school days, smoking and young love.
Memories don’t die in “Corpus Christi,” either, with talk of day-one homies and how Kevin Abstract thinks about doing his best to not let them down. He mentions his sister airing out his personal issues, fellow Brockhampton rapper Dom McLennon and even ousted ex-bandmate Ameer briefly.
Guest feature Ryan Beatty seals the deal on “Baby Boy,” Abstract and Beatty alternating the role of belting out a serene and hopeful ode to love. There isn’t a single moment in which Beatty’s punchy falsetto conflicts with Abstract’s bright-eyed and hopeful memoirs throughout his extended tenure on the album. The song’s dreamlike vocals and instrumental stay consistent with its imagery of a lover’s personage being so deeply ingrained in the mind that closing his eyes only makes him see that person.
High-pitched, energized and vocally distorted bars come back around on “Mississippi,” where Abstract warns of his nightlong battles with depression. He simultaneously calls out for a lover that’s willing to be his “Mississippi sunshine” that might understand and assist in these feelings unconditionally, instead of getting him twisted up in something less than that.
A wintery and percussive march allows for the enthusiastic yet hardened transition of “Use Me” to distance listeners from the light with a heavy disdain for discomfort and an unwillingness to accept despair.
However, “Peach” may be the most outstanding song on the entirety of ARIZONA BABY. With features on the single ranging from Brockhampton’s bearface and Joba to the rising Dominic Fike, Abstract maps out exactly how much his developing feelings have changed between him and his prospective “baby.” The beachy tune goes from imagery of sex in the shower and writing messages in the condensation on the mirror to the days where they were just friends, before swinging back to the chorus’ promises of protection and everlasting love.
Pianos and chimes make an appearance on “American Problem,” an anthem to facing unfortunate yet very real concerns. Drinking and smoking are his main routes to bypass these and they’re exalted in each chorus, but Abstract figures that his problems in love are going to catch up to him similarly to how those same substances would. He separately cites being unable to fall out of love, always wanting to do big things for his parents and feeling the silent tension of homophobia in his childhood principal’s office from many years ago.
“Crumble” ft. Fike, Beatty and Jack Antonoff flows into the listening space with soft guitar strings and synths. It’s an easy-going break that feels like floating through the clouds, but the lyrical focus contrastingly falls upon crumbling under the weight of life.
The epilogue-like “Boyer” splits off from the lighter instrumental vibes of the previous two tracks in a bouncy and sort of alien call to facing problems head-on since they won’t go away on their own. Though the closing songs of the album can’t necessarily be too upbeat once their lyrics are learned, they do all play well to the theme of enduring crises within it and act as an excellent conclusive note.
Cumulatively, ARIZONA BABY might just be my personal favorite album of the year. It’s incredibly innovative and feels jam-packed emotionally from start to finish. There’s a journeying sort of feeling to the release as a whole, and it begs to be traversed in its entirety.
Cory Koehler is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]