Brockhampton is Bold and iridescence is Gold



American musical collective Brockhampton released their fourth studio album on Sep. 21, 2018. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

By Kieran Press-Reynolds

Who is Brockhampton?

In the hip-hop sphere, it was near-impossible to escape the group last year. The rap group rose to eminence by 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 and the rest is history.

The group is unique for a number of reasons.

First, it consists of fifteen members – an amalgamation of vocalists, producers, directors and designers. They have dubbed themselves a “boy band,” which is an interesting attempt to reclaim the often diminutive term and instead use it to connote a group of friendly, lovable dudes.

They are also unique in that they feel like a breath of fresh air with respect to modern rap’s gravitation towards bleak, ghetto-centric 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. Their music is a lyrical safe space, one where Abstract raps about being gay and others demand that listeners must respect women.

These aspects have helped the group develop a solid fanbase. It draws a crowd of music connoisseurs and LGBTQ Tumblr users, the former respecting their experimentalism and the latter loving its  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. It did the right thing, though, and removed Vann from the group. All eyes focused on how Brockhampton would bounce back.

They have 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 do not outsource any manpower: they produce the beats, direct the videos, come up with and execute the concepts and do not have many features on tracks. It is all Brockhampton, all the time, which gives the band its own sound. When Brockhampton comes on, you know it is Brockhampton.

While they have 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 are still climbing; this album is their immediate response.

The album 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 track with Abstract confessing fears that he is “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 and 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 also especially prevalent on “TONYA,” a track that makes use of seven vocalists and contains four different beats and moods. The song is based on the film I, Tonya, which 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. The songs “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 the gourp’s hardest-hitting song to date. The bassline sounds deranged, like a pulsing computer that is 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 cut-throat moxie, especially Joba, who is practically screaming into the microphone.

“NEW ORLEANS” is another killer. The track has seven rappers and it sounds dangerously claustrophobic, like they are all bouncing around in one room and the walls are twisting and stretching in time with the synthline. By the end, you will need some fresh air.

But, iridescence represents a lot more than just “Brockhampton’s fourth album.”

It is the realization that they were not just a one-off trend, and it proves to us, and them, that they had what it took to overcome Vann’s controversy. If this album is an indication of anything, it is that Brockhampton has mastered their sound; beats, boy band spontaneity and all. I think the only thing that could top iridescence would be an album of One Direction covers. Now that would be interesting!

American musical collective Brockhampton released their fourth studio album on Sep. 21, 2018. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)