A Retrospective on Brockhampton
The Hip-hop “boy band” “BROCKHAMPTON” out of Texas has seen an explosion of success as of late. Without any outside promotion through radio play or even physical releases, they saturated 2017 with the sequential release of three albums aptly named “The SATURATION trilogy”. The release of this trilogy was the first time the group saw commercial success as their album preceding the SATURATION trilogy was more a pop album with hip-hop influences. Like a senior in high school, Brockhampton was let loose on to the world and had to find themselves.
SAT, from as early as the first track, shows the evolution that they have made in such a short timespan and that this is first and foremost a hip-hop album attempting to reinvent what pop music is. This sense of reinvention follows them throughout the entire trilogy. The first three songs do a great job of establishing the presence of a majority of the seven members, and help you understand their styles and flows. Ameer Vann, on the intro track “HEAT”, builds the aggression felt throughout the entire song with the “gangster” style lyrics and the interrogative chorus “Who done called the cops on my niggas?”
Merlyn Wood follows after Ameer, giving a passionate verse showing off his love of ebonics to both stay on beat with the song and deliver a unique flow. Lyrically, Dom McLennon offers the most clever wordplay, which he continues to deliver throughout the trilogy. Joba shows his talent as a bridge to connect the two members Dom and Matt Champion together, but comes more into his own as a rapper as the trilogy progresses. Matt delivers a smooth flow talking about his personal life and how that has changed him as a person. Kevin Abstract, who is the most popular standalone member of Brockhampton, is absent on the first two tracks other then the hook, gives the other members a chance to showcase their talents. Bearface is also missing from a majority of the albums, and is mostly reserved for more melodic ballads than rapping. This album is the least cohesive of the three, understandable as it is the first entry to the trilogy. The intro tracks are much more energetic than the later half of the album, with “BUMP” being the exception to this. The second half of the album the group is much more introspective and raps about struggles that they have had growing up such as Ameer’s past criminal activities and Merlyn’s struggles with dropping out of college.
This Introspective nature follows them to their second SATURATION II. With this album, the group builds off of what worked in SAT I, while working on cohesion between the tracks. The tonal shift in SAT II is very natural, starting high with “GUMMY”, “QUEER” and “JELLO”, then ramping down through “TEETH”. Brockhampton likes to use pitched up vocals in a variety of their songs, often used to change the mood of a song like in “TEETH”, where the beat was relatively soft. The pitched up vocals added aggression to Ameer’s powerful lyrics serving as retaliation to the issues he faced as a youth such as poverty and racism. The album keeps this much softer vibe until about the midpoint, where the song “CHICK” uses the pitched up vocals again over a more aggressive beat switch to lead into the most passionate song on the album. “JUNKY” shows the balance that Brockhampton has learned through SAT I and SAT II. The passion in this song comes from Kevin’s intro verse, in which he raps about rejection from his mom and his issues as an openly gay rap artist. Matt Champion then also goes off on “JUNKY” as he calls out people on problematic behavior and sexual assault. His verse on “JUNKY” serves as a reassurance of the bands respectful and progressive nature. “JUNKY” serves as the climax to the album, with “FIGHT” following with some of the energy, but eventually diffusing as the album closes. SAT II is where Brockhampton hits their stride as a collection of artists and it only builds from here.
SATURATION 3 starts off with the most energetic intro track of all 3 albums. “BOOGIE” acts as a celebration of the groups achievements, with multiple call backs to previous songs, such as Joba calling himself “The Chiropractor” after his bridge in “HEAT”: “I’ll break your neck so you can watch your back!”. If SAT II was a cheeseburger with all the ingredients stacked up to deliver a stellar meal, SAT III is a soup with all the ingredients mixing together and complementing each other. SAT III is digested as a whole, as it’s so interconnected not just with itself, but with the other two albums in the trilogy. Every member gets a moment to shine. SAT III really emphasizes how, while your past may have gotten you to where you are now, it doesn't define who you are as a person. This album overall has higher production values then the first two, and doesn’t confine itself to having songs that are”bangers” and songs that are more thoughtful and slow. Most songs on SAT III blend together high energy with deep meaning and slower parts. “SISTER/NATION” is a good representation of this goal to blend together their two main styles of music as it is literally two songs bound together with the dynamic “SISTER” leading smoothly into the mellow “NATION”. This album is production wise their most intricate album and showcases what happens when every member is on their A game.
With the success of this trilogy and the group finally coming into their own things seemed to on the upswing for the group. Controversy then hit as prominent member, and literal face of the last three albums, Ameer Vann was accused of sexual and emotional abuse by an ex-girlfriend. Due to this, and other information not made public, Ameer was removed from the group.The future of Brockhampton seemed very uncertain after losing the second most used rapper on their successful Trilogy. But after a hiatus and 10 days at the Abbey Road Studios, Brockhampton came back with the start of a new trilogy “The Best Years of Our Lives” starting with the album iridescence. This album is a very large departure from the SATURATION trilogy. The beats are no longer the pop like tracks that were seen with the SATURATION trilogy. With electronic influences and much more experimentation in with beat progression and bass usage, the album seems to regress from the cohesion established in SAT II and SAT III . It is more similar to SAT II in that it is the start of a trilogy and has clear lines between the songs meant to be more emotional and the “bangers”. This album isn’t a complete step backwards, however, as it does make progress in that Joba and Bearface, the most underutilized members in the SAT trilogy carry more of their own weight. The song “WEIGHT” also shows that they haven’t completely lost what they had learned in the SAT III, as it has a beautiful piano intro leading into a much more aggressive beat later in the song, while continuing the self reflection of the SAT trilogy with Dom lamenting the pressures that come with being public spotlight.
In conclusion, Brockhampton has seen immense success as a group with audiences able to see them grow live. The SAT trilogy will ring true with young adults who graduated at the time of its release, as it really encompassed coming into one's own and evolving as a person. With the release of iridescence, the group is entering another stage of their lives. But like the themes of many of their songs, the past may have gotten them here, but the controversies do not define who they are, and they still have so much room to grow.