Kevin Abstract Bends Time and Space With His Party Playlist

The up-and-coming rapper and singer-songwriter spins a time-hopping soundtrack featuring songs by Sunny Day Real Estate, Donell Jones and more.

(Photo Credit: Izzy Commers)

Ian Simpson, better known by his stage name Kevin Abstract, is a Texas native who won a diehard following online with a series of confessional hip-hop mixtapes. His new album “American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story” moves in a more pop direction, and sees him both rapping and singing about never quite fitting in. He heads out on a national tour later this month. Here’s Kevin with a playlist that’ll keep your party moving… through time itself.


Kevin Abstract: I love to use my imagination. So for my dinner party soundtrack, I’m gonna take you to a few different places. A few different scenes. So let’s hop in this time machine and go.

Sunny Day Real Estate – “In Circles”

Kevin Abstract: The year is 1999. So we get to put all our cell phones away for a moment. I’m at my boyfriend’s crib. The ceiling looks nice. First song is “In Circles” by Sunny Day Real Estate.

Sunny Day Real Estate was this band signed to Sub Pop out of Seattle. And I was really inspired by the mood, and also the vocal performance — just certain things he would do with his voice. The way he would bend it at times, I was super into that.

I’m only 20, I was born in ’96. And the few memories I do have from 1999… I don’t know what it is about it that draws me back to it. I think my generation is extremely obsessed with nostalgia, because we have access to it, everything that was happening in pop culture. As artists, we can draw inspiration from like all these different things that our parents witnessed and stuff and… I don’t know, it’s cool, I actually like that.

Shawn Mendes – “Treat You Better”

So, we’re gonna go back in the time machine.  I’m in a cool car.  I don’t know cars well, so I don’t know what kind of car it is, but the top’s down and it’s 2016.

Someone has to be driving me, ’cause I can’t drive… actually no, I’m driving. I don’t have a driver’s license, but since this is, like, a world I created, I’m driving. And the song that we’re listening to is “Treat You Better” by Shawn Mendes.

He’s really attractive, and he’s this big pop artist from Canada with nice songs and nice hair.

My fame is due to the Internet, 110 percent. And Shawn Mendes also started from the Internet.  He was a social-media kid at first, and he found a way to, like, become an actual musician.

The sound of this song is extremely massive and you can imagine it in, like, a stadium. This is the type of music I wanna make.

Donell Jones – “U Know What’s Up”

For this next song, the year is 2002. It’s “U Know What’s Up” by Donell Jones.

I’m at a basketball game because my brother asked me to go with him. I don’t play basketball, I don’t watch basketball, I don’t like basketball… but when I think about the imagery, I hear this song being played. So yeah, if you hate where you are at the moment and you don’t like the party you’re at, you can play this song and your life will feel much better.

This song is R&B, Soul, has like a late ’90s feel… and it just makes me happy to be black. The message in the song has nothing to do with race. I think it’s just something about him existing and making something that’s great that makes me happy to be a black person.

Kevin Abstract – “Runner”

All right, this is the final song. We’re fully in the present, 2017. I’m at this surprise party that my friends threw for me, and I wanna play this song that I made called “Runner.”

Yeah, “Runner” is about me growing up in Texas and just dealing with relationships and stuff and not really knowing how to express myself to my family. I always felt like there was a wall or something that was holding me back from being who I really was… and finding freedom.