After a year of unapologetic experimentation, BROCKHAMPTON crafts a work much larger than aesthetic of self-expression, but a soundtrack for a generation of millennials trying to carve out a place in an unforgiving world.
A little more than six months ago, a cohort of creative misfits known as BROCKHAMPTON exploded onto the music scene with the first installment of their Saturation series. Composed of black and white, queer and straight members, the group has branded themselves as an “All-American Boy Band” touting an all-caps ethos of unapologetic experimentation, self-love, and DIY creativity. Realizing that philosophy has been a process of trial and error – they’ve struggled to piece together their individual styles into a working piece of collaborative art. But with the release of their third and final album in the trilogy, Saturation III, the group has truly gelled together to form a unit that feeds off each other’s individual strengths without sacrificing the unconventionality that has garnered them such a loyal following.
Listen: ‘Saturation III’ – BROCKHAMPTON
Their year of development is obvious from the get-go with the opening track “BOOGIE,” a booming party thumper where each member seamlessly trades aggressive opening lyrics. Set on top of jagged saxophones, squawking police sirens, the song oozes urgency and bravado that has propelled them out of the gate at break-neck speed.
That momentum carries onto “ZIPPER,” a zany blend of piano and horn samples where JOBA – one of the group’s more unorthodox vocalists – is layered in auto-tune before blending into bouncy verses from Dom McLennon, Matt Champion, and the eccentric Merlyn Wood. On “JOHNNY,” The lyrical battery of Kevin Abstract, McLennon, Ameer Vann, and Champion is on full display as they delve into anecdotes about growing up and the angst that lingers. Abstract, who continues to be open about his homosexuality, spits one of his most deft verses on the subject to date:
I could’ve got a job at McDonald’s, but I like curly fries
That’s a metaphor for my life, and I like taller guys
Could’ve got a deal if I wanted, but I like owning shit
And I like making shit, and I like selling it
As with their previous Saturation albums, III abides by a similar seventeen-track structure. Their fourth track, ““LIQUID,” which is similar to their previous tracks “2PAC” and “TEETH,” is a one-minute shot of forlorn lyricism where members flawlessly piggyback off of each other’s verses. The album continues to be flecked with a series of poetic interludes – each titled “CINEMA” – where the mystic Roberto Ontenient breaks up the tracks with spoken word poems in Spanish about displacement, destruction, and divine guidance. And, of course, keeping with their spirit of creative independence their album continues to a homegrown production – being entirely recorded in their collective home in South Central, Los Angeles, California known colloquially as the “BROCKHAMPTON Factory.”
As with their forerunners Odd Future, BROCKHAMPTON’s brand is nonconformity. They outright reject the idea of falling in line with any sort of norm – celebrating every race, sexuality, and music genre in a way that is unapologetic, and perhaps more importantly, unironic. Their determination on being labeled as the “best boy band since One Direction” is a testament to pushing these boundaries. On “STAINS,” they even poke fun at their criticism for this moniker:
Y’all motherfuckers made three albums
Still talking about the same shit
The one gay, the one selling drugs
The one that’s tryna act like Lil Wayne
What the fuck is this shit man?
And like every boy band, their individual growth has propelled the group forward. Abstract, who is undoubtedly the lead visionary for the troop, has more direction as a rapper, a spellbinding hook-maker, and as a leader by defining how the group’s players can mesh more cohesively. (With the recently released Saturation documentary, one can see how he is ever the more conscious of this.) The rest of the lineup has followed suit. Dom McLennon, one of the group’s more versatile rappers with his ability to switch between rap and more melodic lyricism, has refined his protracted semantics for concision. Ameer Vann’s heavy flow continues to impress with almost biblical platitudes about personal turmoil and the process of rising from the ashes. On “ALASKA” especially, he hits with both barrels:
I used to work for people, I made a couple hundred dollars
Wasn’t worth it even, I’m worth a hundred thousand
Not dollars but diamonds, I am mud out the bayou
Rip a page out the Bible, come and crucify me
In tandem with Vann’s dark and biting verses, Matt Champion’s sticky lyricism is a haunting contrast that continues to tug at the heartstrings:
Now them boys hooked on heroin
Parents always asking like, “Where y’all get it from?”
Rehab poppin’ like when Amy had the single out
Single out the reasons how I quit before I fell down
I used to pick Ameer up
Talk about what’s got us fucked up
We vent ’til the sun up, ay
Hopefully get our funds up, ay
And if I didn’t know y’all
Maybe y’all would have a desk job
Ticking ’til I off myself…
Thankfully, despite criticism, the incomparable JOBA and Merlyn Wood continue to retain their wild, almost psychotic, vocals. However, the two but do not feel as left field as they did previously. This is thanks to beat-wunderkinds Jabari Manwa and Romil Hemnani who continue to conjure jaw-dropping sounds with more conscious transitions. In fact, although previous beat changeovers have been some of the largest points of criticism from the first two installations of the Saturation project, the duo do not rollback their ambition and come-out with more grandiose switch-ups than ever before. For the most part, they succeed in doing so.
There are some more distinguishing features worth noting. Most outstandingly, “BLEACH,” an ingenious blend of angelic distortion and monster verses buttressed by an especially poignant hook from Dom McLennon:
They said, do you make mistakes or do you make a change?
Or do you draw the line for when it’s better days?
You taste the wind for when it’s cold and not to kill our flame
I wonder who’s to blame
By far their most ambitious track was “HOTTIE,” which was not as much as rap track, but more of a teen-pop and electronica crossover laced with (un)traditional BROCKHAMPTON flavor. Furthermore, Saturation III featured two tracks that consisted of two different songs spliced together. “SISTER/NATION,” a nod to the dashed format pioneered by Tyler, The Creator, made up of fast-paced punchy flow juxtaposed to dreamy synthesizers. The track features a notable verse from JOBA about his history of mental illness:
I’ve got [censored] but she would never know
I like to hide them, so much I lose myself
That’s why I’m pure to some, a psychopath to others
And grew up in counseling, flipping off my counselors
They gave me mood stabilizers but when I came off ’em, I was violent
Took the drugs that I wanted which didn’t help with the voices
They just grew louder and louder
They called the people who’d just chatter and chatter
I juggle all my personalities
Then there is “TEAM:” the albums final track. The first half opens with the song “EVANIE” featuring the reverberating falsettos of bearface, closing with “TEAM” which features an unexpected array of rap verses – a victory lap for an enormously successful Saturation project.
From meeting on KanyeToThe, an online forum for Kanye West fans, to moving into a share house in South Central, LA, BROCKHAMPTON had only one goal in mind: to create regardless of the outcome. When they dropped their first installation of the Saturation trilogy in June, their effortlessly magnetic style established themselves as one of the promising rap groups (or boy bands) to watch. Realizing themselves has been a process, but with Saturation III they ironed out the creases and crafted a work that is much greater than an aesthetic of self-expression, but a soundtrack for a generation of millennials trying to carve out a place in an unforgiving world. “We’re not a political group, we are a real group,” said Kevin Abstract, and that authenticity has jettisoned them into the stratosphere with no sign of stopping.
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photo © 2018