The Year of BROCKHAMPTON


Mackenzie
  • The hyperactive Texan group, who single-handedly resurrected the boyband era of music in the past 8 months.

BROCKHAMPTON are the self-proclaimed “Internet’s First Boy Band”. If you follow any of the more popular music outlets, you've probably heard of them by now. They are a bubbly bunch of people of various origins and sexualities, which has basically become one of their trademarks. They are arguably the King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard of Hip-Hop – their output this year includes two full-length studio albums, several music videos from both of the albums and yet another studio album slated to be released before the end of the year. They also have a feature length movie in the works and have performed through a sold out North American tour, with a follow-up tour beginning right after the turn of the year. The boys have certainly asserted being capable of pulling off superhuman feats, when it comes to their activity and productivity.

These boys include, but are not limited to, the hook guy Kevin Abstract, the usually-melodic delivery guy JOBA, the slick and self-confident Ameer Vann, the highly technical Dom, the over-the-top Merlyn and the well-balanced Matt. Aside from the front figure vocalists, there's a ton of other members out there as well, including three producers, a semi-inactive singer, a web designer, a video editor and several others.

Of course, when it comes to the ridiculous amount of media they have released, you might think they just favour quantity over quality. Mo’ money?

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I'm not saying the boys like money, but...

I was quite skeptical at first, too. It took me a while to check the first album, SATURATION, out. By that time the follow-up, SATURATION II, was already announced.

SATURATION was originally introduced to me as Pop Rap – I was anything but excited. In a while I was told the album featured acoustic ballads, hard-hitting bangers and softer hip-hop. For a moment I thought it could have been a bag of nuts too mixed up, but it started sounding at least partially up my alley. Not too long after that, I finally decided to go for it.

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Right off the bat, I regretted everything I had delayed checking out the album for, as I hit the play button on HEAT. The beat punches you in the face with no mercy, with Ameer on a verse that is still one of my favourites. The song is a gritty take on the darker side of the artists’ lives. Ameer clearly doesn’t want his stash to be fucked with, Merlyn cleverly expresses his hatred towards police brutality with his highly energetic signature style and Dom makes his introduction with a really technical, dark but nicely flowing verse about anxiety and other mental issues. After the first verses are done, JOBA ends up delivering a violent bridge, that features almost industrial sounding, noisy, screeching synths that are sure to pierce your skull if you happen to listen to it on repeat. HEAT bites hard.

I was sure about GOLD being one of the best hip-hop songs of the year after two listens – my opinion on it has yet to have changed a single bit. The beat is incredibly catchy. The hook is possibly even catchier and I hear it stuck in my head every once in a while. I mean, one reason might just be that I can’t stop listening to the song. The song is a boastful, materialistic, feel good song for a nice change after HEAT. Every single rapper on this song deliver intensely tight verses, with especially Dom’s verse again showcasing his talent not only in rapping, but songwriting as well. Love the Mean Girls reference, too. That must be the first one I’ve ever heard in a song. Merlyn’s verse is a bit jarring in its repetitive nature and slowness – the only thing that keeps this song from being a perfect ten. I love his voice, he has potential, but he feels the laziest when it comes to writing.

When STAR started I was ready to be disappointed. The beat is sedative and bland, but Dom comes through and saves whatever could have been a boring song with his sick delivery. If Dom’s references on GOLD were genius, well, here his and others’ verses are nothing but those. Feels like the shortest song on the album, and almost is, standing at the length of only 2:41. Could have been longer, no matter how small a fan I was of the background production at first.

Next up is BOYS. The theme is assuring again that BROCKHAMPTON is, in fact, not a rap group, but a boyband. The song only really gets great with Merlyn’s “They say that they want me, they forgot about me” bridges – ironically the most noteworthy sections of the song – and, once again, Dom’s skillful verse. I love the bouncy vocal effect on Merlyn’s parts. The hook on BOYS is one of the more boring ones on the entire record and even the verses are some of the most repetitive ones by these boys, ever. The background is not catchy – it’s mellow, but way too bland. The lyrics are boring and, for me, unrelatable, having no past with boybands or true suburban lifestyle whatsoever. It’s pretty forgettable all around, which is a shame.

2PAC is a short Pop Rap interlude. That's all it is. I feel like it could have worked really damn well as a full song, but the way it is left on the album just makes me wish it was removed altogether.

FAKE is a clever jab at the music industry. It starts again with a catchy hook by Kevin. The beat is a bit better on this, but still really nothing special. Every single vocal recorded on this song is pitch shifted on Melodyne to remove everything natural from the entire song. Dom is ironically auto-tuned on his own verse to “fake” his verse even further. I like everything about the song. It’s youthful and playful. It very much tells the mainstream corporations and labels to go fuck themselves. BROCKHAMPTON makes it clear – no matter what they make themselves sound like, they are real and straight to the point.

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...and they certainly don't follow the mainstream when it comes to the fashion.

BANK is certainly my least favourite track on the album. The hook is really annoying for a change, but sadly it’s also still pretty catchy. The lyrics do nothing for me – thematically it just feels like a lame version of HEAT. The beat is also one of the more nondescript ones.

Kevin has nailed the hook once again on TRIP. Even though it’s not super melodic, it’s still catchy. The beat is the right kind of chill, the vocals are about self-acceptance and generally pretty down to earth. Although Dom’s verse is about his mental issues again, the verse is brought to a fitting closure by a single word, ‘cause, which flows right into the “today I’mma be whoever I wanna be” hook. It’s tough to recognize who is rapping from underneath the layers of distortion, autotune and I believe there’s even a little bit of vocoding on there. Every single verse is so beautifully put together it’s fun to just focus on the song for the entirety of it.

SWIM is happy and light with its mood, but ultimately falls into its demise because of its slow paced and super repetitive flow. The background does not change a single time during the entire run time in any properly noticeable way. It’s not terrible, just pretty much flies into your other ear and comes right out of the other one.

BUMP is a hard banger for a change, something I gotta admit I have been missing ever since HEAT ended. The song talks about the guys’ rather unfavourable lifestyle again. Kevin’s calm hook gives a nice change in the middle, right before returning to Ameer’s and Dom’s lethal verses. They’re brutal, they’re fucking great and most importantly, deadly as hell. Well written and even more well produced.

CASH has technically no hook, just a single repeated sentence with the modulated vocal effects once again. I’m liking the guitar on the background. Oh wait, now it’s on the foreground. Where did my beat go? The verses are slow and short. Another take that overall sounds super lazy. Dom appears and brings at least something positive to the song, though. I think it’s pretty obvious by now, that Dom is my favourite rapper of the group. No offense to the other ones, though. Liking JOBA’s outro chant, it’s the only even remotely catchy thing in the entire song.

MILK has a nice modulated guitar sample starting the song, with Ameer delivering a spoken word verse about real life. It’s quite deep, something unexpected from these guys. Merlyn’s verse continues on the same topic, real life struggling, no gold chains, food or home. Abstract’s verse is pitch shifted high up for some reason again, but continues on the topic of poverty in a nice way. Abstract’s hook, or more appropriately it’s more of a chorus on this song, anyway, is one of my favourites on the entire record. Dom’s spoken word outro puts a nail in the coffin and marks the song as one of the best songs on the album. The beat is nice, with the modulated guitar playing in the background for the whole song, the lyrics and vocal styles are right on point, top notch. Lovely, lovely tune, with some of the deepest lyricism on the record.

FACE is a true love song, based on a generic-bordering ballad beat, emanating slight, but distinct hip-hop elements. It's syrupy, sugary, disgustingly sweet. JOBA delivers a nearly mawkish chorus, with everyone else bringing in verses in unexpectedly saccharine ways. I'm convinced you could get a sixth of your daily calorie intake just by listening to this song once every night. Just like with a pack of double chocolate cookies, it's kind of a guilty pleasure, but I still love it.

WASTE is the only song featuring Bearface on the entire record, and WASTE also only features Bearface. He was out of the city for the entirety of the time this album was made, so at some point he put this song together and sent it back home. He plays the guitar, aside from additional drum and vocal production from Rome Gomez, the only other instrument on the song. It’s a chill outro for the project, more of an indie ballad than a Rap song. Nothing wrong with that, though. It somehow manages not to sound out of place, after all.

Before, I go into talking about the second SATURATION, I will briefly address their debut “mixtape” ALL-AMERICAN TRASH, released in April 2016.

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It was the last project by them I ever checked out, although I did go through my first listen one week after SATURATION II was out.

The fanbase is a bit divided on it – in my eyes, or ears, it is less catchy, but more moody. It’s more variable in the genre spectrum, although the quality is still pretty constant, even more so than on SATURATION.

It has some worse songs on it, which are definitely balanced out by the better ones, surprisingly, considering it’s the debut project of a then-new group. It does lack some more noteworthy songs, the only song I regularly keep returning to being MICHIGAN – lyrically a very simple song, featuring nobody but Kevin – one of their most neatly produced songs to this date.

It only has a couple of harder songs, mostly relying on softer ballad-esque songs. The couple of bangers on it expose that they had yet to have mastered that style. I guess they had realized that even themselves. MICHIGAN, on the other hand, nailed down the golden ratio of sweet niceness and funkier beats, not directly falling into either of the categories.

Simply put, the better ones are not as good as on SATURATION, but the less good ones are also not as bad as SATURATION’s less good ones.

After I had ingested SATURATION and was properly into BH, it didn’t take long until SATURATION II was out. Of course, I went into this project with higher hopes, knowing better what to expect from these guys.

I was probably even more positively surprised this time.

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Looking at my face, you could tell I was.

The album boots up with two pretty solid bangers. The opener, GUMMY, starts off with a beautiful, orchestral intro, that abruptly cuts into a buzzing noise, soon starting the song. The video plays with this contrast as well, evolving from a chill Sunday walk into a bankrobbing scheme. Kevin shows some proper evolvement right from the start, with his most solid verse ever, as of the current. Lyrically his verse mostly revolves around hate talk he has received, pretty tough subject to adapt into a poetic verse, but it does work. Dom and Ameer’s verses are more straight-forward self-assuring messages, that they are new and alone in this game, but already ahead everyone else’s games.

The second banger, QUEER, is a hard-hitting one, when it comes to the beat and the lyrics. Merlyn is just generally aggressive towards Dolce & Gabbana’s rather recent and racist campaign, featuring “slave sandals”, while the others talk about deeper stuff. Dom is making it more clear than ever that his verses are a good way for himself to express his real feelings.

JELLO is a light, daily life-centric song. As expected, it features a modulated hook, soon kicking in with a cool, twisting beat. There’s not much depth to it, but it’s fun to listen to.

In TEETH, Ameer talks about racism and poverty from his first-hand experience while growing up. The production features nothing on the background but a choir and a grim bell synth, which go well with the dark theme of the lyrics. For an interlude, surprisingly good and thought provoking.

SWAMP is a pretty mixed variety of lyrical themes. Ameer is talking about his crime past, Merlyn refers to several things in just eight lines and Dom’s verse is pretty ambiguous. Could be more constant, but it’s one of the catchiest songs on the entire record. SWEET features the first rapped verse by JOBA, which works surprisingly well. JOBA’s style is melodic, unlike what we previously heard from him on HEAT.

Luckily, it’s not the last of its kind, as JOBA chops right into the next track, TOKYO, with a machine gun paced, melodic verse. Story-wise, it’s mostly revolving around the boys worrying about both their past and their future, both as individuals as well as a collective. The hook is catchy and the synthwork is the more melodic than on any other song off the album.

JESUS is a short, bittersweet love ballad, reminiscent of the material on ALL-AMERICAN TRASH, about a past relationship. A single verse rapped by Kevin, with a sung part by Bearface for the outro – the first time we hear him after his only feature on SATURATION. Overall, very beautiful, with the lyrics bringing some good, nicely fitting contrast to it.

In CHICK the boys rap about self-confidence and hate issues, which could make for an interesting song, if the production was not so boring and characterless. What a shame, considering it's a subject rappers rarely want to touch. Has some definite potential, but falls flat, ending up as the least favourite pick for me on the record.

JUNKY is pretty interesting right from the beginning. Dark synths, dark lyrics, dark everything. Kevin addresses the received internet hatred and his homosexuality once again, Ameer vents about his past drug addiction, Merlyn delivers a verse about his self-disappointment, having done badly in school and Matt raps about him being ashamed of men not respecting women in a manner that they would deserve. One song that has definitely taken the longest to grow on me, but lately I’ve really started loving it. Let’s be fair here – both the beat and the lyrical themes in JUNKY are uncommercial, which makes it a brave choice for a single. But that’s what these boys do the best, not subjecting to any mold the bigger corporations try to fit every artist in. Not an easy one, but once you're properly into it, you're properly into it.

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Neck deep into it.

FIGHT is more or less a couple of verses talking about the racial issues Ameer and Dom have had to tolerate in their earlier years and a bunch of repetitive bridges for the latter half of the song. Doesn’t have a lot of catchy or memorable stuff, but stays true to its theme from the start till the end. Not bad.

SWEET was unbearable for me to listen to at first because of its annoying synth. Over time, I started tolerating it, more or less. Which is good, since the rest of SWEET is pretty sweet. Aside from his verse on HEAT, this is the peak of Merlyn, definitely. “Don't call me stupid, that ain't the way my name pronounced. Don't call me Cupid, I got too many hoes right now” is one of my favourite pair of lines on any HAMPTON song, ever. It’s stupidly smart, and Merlyn delivers it with an evolving style, starting aggressively and progressing into a smooth, slick, Kanye West-esque fly. True to its name, the song is pretty bubbly and positive. In the last couple of verses Ameer and JOBA are highlighting their boyband roots. There’s nothing better than that.

Following in the happier footsteps, GAMBA features verses by Dom, Kevin and, surprisingly, Bearface. It’s a self-assuring, feelgood anthem. Happy synths accompanied by a light beat, one that's still far from being weak. Like the recent non-album gem, LAMB, nothing complex, just a happy, friendly atmosphere.

SUNNY and SUMMER are going in further with the mellifluous tone, SUNNY talking about tougher matters in an upbeat way and SUMMER being another simple indie closer by Bearface. SUNNY is, simply put, pretty and bordering cheesy, when it comes to the production, but lyrically delves into deeper issues, such as loneliness and surviving on very little.

In general, the SATURATION trilogy has, so far, tampered both the happier and the darker matters; both of the current albums falling more into the latter category, with hopes of the last album being a bit lighter in tone. The second one was, arguably, at least a bit lighter in tone than the debut, after all.

BROCKHAMPTON have currently shown the ability to be the biggest hip-hop group of the present and the near future, if not the entire decade. While the styles of the members clash in a way that might be too big of a variety for some, it brings a good spectrum of different personalities into the mix, which seems to attract quite a bunch of people.

But take caution; don’t expect anything from these guys. They have guaranteed to be the most unpredictable, original and productive pack of dudes in all of their multi-talented skillfulness and activity.

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Calling their videos "original" is a bit of an underestimation, though.



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I feel that Saturation II was easier for me to get into than the first one, probably because HEAT was such an outstanding song that the rest kind of sort of felt kinda maybe flat to me? But i bit my tongue when i listened back to Saturation the First and discovered more wonderful joints. But yeah, WOW have these guys raised the bar. They define all of what hip hop is in 2017, and i can't be more hyped for Saturation III. But i have to say that Kevin's verse on JUNKY stays to me as one of the fucking best verses of the last decade, bar none.

Other than that, yeah, stellar article Mackenzie, you do them justice and your description of the songs are wonderful to listen to. Keep up the good work!

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