Who is Brockhampton?
In the hip-hop sphere, it was near impossible to escape them last year. The rap group rose to eminence through releasing three fantastic albums (the SATURATION trilogy) in one year, a feat that garnered them massive critical-acclaim and a dedicated fanbase.
Brockhampton embodies the mentality of the digital age and participatory culture: the group’s leader, Kevin Abstract, under the pseudonym “harry styles” made a post titled “Anybody wanna make a band?” on the online forum KanyeToThe in 2013; the rest is history.
The group is unique for a number of reasons.
First, they consist of fifteen members - an amalgamation of vocalists, producers, directors and designers. They’ve dubbed themselves a “boy band,” which is an interesting attempt to reclaim the derogatory term and instead use it to connote a group of friendly, lovable dudes.
They’re also unique in that they feel like a breath of fresh air in respect to modern rap’s gravitation towards bleak, ghettocentric themes and misogynistic subject matter.
Instead, Brockhampton albums mix in elements of everything: idyllic pop jaunts, groovy club bangers, majestic R&B ballads and more. And their music is a lyrical safe space, one where Abstract raps about “being gay” and others demand that listeners must respect women.
Both aspects have especially helped them develop a solid fanbase. They draw a crowd of music connoisseurs and LGBTQ-tumblr users, the former respecting their experimentalism and the latter loving their progressive idiosyncrasies.
Brockhampton’s first test came in May this year, when the band’s number-two rapper Ameer Vann was accused of sexual assault. The situation was especially nauseating considering the band’s progressive pretensions. They did the right thing, though, and removed Vann from the group. All eyes became set on how they would bounce back.
They’ve arrived with their best work yet, iridescence, a truly iridescent 15-track LP that is Brockhampton at their most enjoyably confident, meaningfully vulnerable and sonically pleasant, ever.
What makes Brockhampton distinct is that everything is done in-house, meaning they don’t outsource any manpower: they produce the beats, they direct the videos, they come up with and execute the concepts and they don’t have many features on tracks. It’s all Brockhampton, all the time, which gives the band its own sound. When Brockhampton comes on, you know it’s Brockhampton.
And while they’ve had problems in the past with their albums sounding all over the place, iridescence is coherent and consistent. They take their own sound and elevate it, balancing chunky basslines, elegant strings and penetrating vocal performances together to make what feels like one long, yet succinct, statement about musical progression and the process of becoming a star. Brockhampton has experienced the rise to stardom in barely a year, and they’re still climbing; this album is their immediate response.
Iridescence further expands on their previous efforts to remodel the idea of the rap song, as practically every track snubs structure in favor of a more theatrical feel. The beat switches are as multitudinous as a play would have acts and there are as many vocalists in each song as a Broadway show would have cast members.
That sort of blueprint leads to some pretty crazy tracks.
My favorite is “WEIGHT” which feels like an entire album packed into four minutes. It begins with the most sobering verse on the entire LP with Abstract confessing fears that he’s “the worst in the boyband” and then telling us how he felt when he first knew he was gay: “I thought I had a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming.” The track then breaks down into a magnificent drum n’ bass section. After, we get fantastic verses by Dom McLennon and Joba, and the beat chills into a mellow, nostalgia-tinged slow burn that makes you think wow, what was that?
Brockhampton’s seamless tone switches are especially prevalent as well on “TONYA,” a track that makes use of seven vocalists and contains four different beats/moods. The song is based on the film I, Tonya that dramatized the life of Tonya Harding, the famous ice skater who became embroiled in a career-destroying controversy. “TONYA” is at once haunting and beautiful: Abstract delivers one of his best faux-hooks, “My ghosts still haunt ya, my life is I, Tonya” that describes his fears of Brockhampton’s fame spiraling out of control, and the woe of one of his best friends lying to him, vis-à-vis Vann’s scandal.
Everything on iridescence is rooted in vulnerability, but Brockhampton keeps it interesting by varying the energy levels. “WEIGHT,” “TONYA,” and other tracks like “THUG LIFE,” “SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,” “TAPE” and “SAN MARCOS” are soft, smile-and-cry appeals to the soul.
But there are also more violent cuts, too, in a sort of releasing-through-unleashing fashion. One of these is “J’OUVERT,” perhaps Brockhampton’s hardest-hitting song to date. The bassline sounds deranged, like a pulsing computer that’s overloaded and spilling its guts out, sputtering a stream of synthetic blood with an unearthly, mechanic rigidity. My favorite bit of the beat is the distorted, bird-like siren motif that gives the track a disturbing, unnerving texture. All the vocalists rap with cutthroat moxie, especially Joba, who’s practically screaming into the microphone.
“NEW ORLEANS” is another killer. The track has 7 rappers and it sounds dangerously claustrophobic, like they’re all bouncing around in one room and the walls are twisting and stretching in time with the synthline. By the end, you’ll need some fresh air.
Iridescence represents a lot more than just “Brockhampton’s fourth album.”
It’s the realization that they weren’t just a one-off trend, and it proves to us, and them, that they had what it took to overcome Vann’s controversy.
Brockhampton has mastered their sound; beats, boy band spontaneity and all.
TOP: "WEIGHT", "LOOPHOLE", "J'OUVERT", "VIVID", "SAN MARCOS", "TONYA", "FABRIC"
BOTTOM: "THUG LIFE", "BERLIN", "SOMETHING ABOUT HIM"