Formed in Texas in 2015, Brockhampton has quickly become in a few years the favorite Hip Hop group of the listeners, while yet the format "group" in the genre occupies a small place nowadays. It is necessary to realize that apart from a few duo (or even trio) collaborations or a few "collectives", the Brockhampton formula is the almost only mainstream example that manages to defy convention. At the same time, it's not that surprising, Brockhampton is a band formed spontaneously and based on singular personalities in the air of time who succeeded in the crazy bet to assert their differences and their lifestyles, thus breaking the stereotype of the "Boys Band" to give it a whole new meaning. This is typically the kind of band that could not have existed a few years ago. Fortunately, the mentality evolved in a good way at the end of the 2000s with the impact of Odd Future (the collective of Tyler The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt or Frank Ocean). Just like his predecessors, Brockhampton went to the end of their ideas, developing their art to the point of making it famous, not stopping only at music. For those who still don't know who Brockhampton are and I invite you to visit their best references without further delay, the group offers a hybrid content combining Hip Hop, R&B and Pop by exploring dozens of musical sub-styles, without hesitating to introduce experiments. More specifically, Brockhampton exudes a fusion of Pop Rap, Alternative R&B and Hardcore Hip Hop. It is in 2017 that the group triggers a real tidal wave on the Hip Hop by releasing a trilogy of excellent albums called "Saturation". A phenomenal achievement, marked by the strength of individualities that Brockhampton offers. Despite a very complicated year 2018, because of the legal problems of Ameer Van who is forced to leave the group, Brockhampton redoubled its efforts to go up the slope and thus erase the troubles around them. This is what they will succeed with brilliance with the album Iridescence, which can be considered as the work of Brockhampton at its peak, supported by a cohesion and an impressive mutual chemistry. In 2019, Brockhamton shows in my opinion for the first time a loss of momentum with their 5th album. In itself Ginger is a good album, but it shows some limits, especially because it is less brilliant and creative than the previous ones and the band proposes a concise and not evolved version of what they already knew how to do.
That's why Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine was a deep questioning about the future of Brockhampton. Will they surprise us or will they "fail" again? First of all, it is important to specify that on Ginger, Brockhampton was already not concerned enough with its subject, not because they were complacent but rather because they didn't really care about making an "extra" Brockhampton type album. Let me explain. Everyone noticed the maturity of the band members on Ginger. It is in fact this factor that led the band to shed some of their early soul. All this ended up being amplified afterwards because of the pandemic and the context of confinement where each of them ended up asking new questions, questioning themselves, seeing things differently. After a very complicated period, as much humanly as personally, Kevin Abstract and the others ended up admitting themselves in a recent interview (for Guardian in March 2021) that their "Boys Band" delirium didn't really make sense anymore. And for this reason, Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine offers first of all a different vision of the past, as if Brockhampton had moved on to a new period, and frankly it was time. The whole band went back to work, with fresh and common ideas, knowing full well that they had no right to look back, but rather to the future. As the only goal according to the authors was to propose a more personal, more introspective, more sophisticated content than mainstream hits or what marked the Saturation era. Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine is therefore an album mainly thought and worked since last year, in a careful way since they made 3 potential versions of the project to choose only one and thus finalized it (so most of them had already been teaser since spring 2020).
The wonderful Buzzcut sets the tone, starting the album in a shattering way with a collaboration mainly Kevin Abstract-Danny Brown that sounds like a meteor shower. Buzzcut combines the aggressiveness of hardcore hip-hop to give a higher dimension to the committed and very introspective lyrics that the performers propose, with a psychedelic aesthetic making the context absolutely confusing. Personally, it's been a long time since I heard such an excellent song from Brockhampton, I think we have to go back to 2017, but on top of that I think Kevin Abstract delivers one of his best performances. The instrumental and the production is truly formidable and brilliant, the construction of the song is perfectly mastered, showing the urgency of its first part and supporting the surrealism in a second time to allow it to breathe and take all the more amplitude. As for the performance of Danny Brown, worthy of a surgical demonstration, clean and without burrs, we can only congratulate this divine introduction. The album then follows in a rather logical way on Chain On, a committed song that we had discovered last spring but that fits very well. At the same time it must be said that this percussive loop is absolutely divine (without forgetting the tribute to CREAM of Wu Tang). We begin to see some concordance in the writing and the thematic linked to this violent feeling of an unstable and revolting environment, notably with the police brutality of last year that Dom McLennon and Jpegmafia try to express with talent. On the other hand, it is true that at the first impressions, Count On Me can show not only a certain frustration, but also its limits, but in reality it is a good song. Certainly, the instrumental Pop Rap, articulated on a bouncy and minimalist trap clearly reminds us of what Taz Taylor and his collective Internet Money can propose, that is to say a joyful, warm and mainstream content, but for the blow Brockhampton and the collaborators of the day have done everything to make it take a more sophisticated dimension. The problem is that despite the efforts, it's not enough to make Count On Me a high level song either, but just a catchy and formidable song like a well thought out hit. What frustrates me the most is that Brockhampton has a hard time breaking away from their "mainstream" or "easy" content, even though this was the promise they made to themselves. That's not to say that they have to abandon Pop Rap or their R&B soul to do it, but it's not by reproducing a Trap formula that works very well for other artists that it will sound different. Although the theme, articulated around money, bragging and lifestyle is not the highlight, Bankroll is a really interesting banger, both because the chemistry takes well between Asap Ferg/Rocky and Brockhampton, but also because I find it singular, relatively different from what we are used to hear. This last point has always been one of the characteristics of the band and it's not missing on this new album RoadRunner, as if they always managed to put their personal signature, without revolutionizing anything.
The Light is one of the best moment of this album, as much in the writing, its content as in the interpretation. Joba and Kevin Abstract each deliver an instropectif verse, very personal and absolutely touching, specifically when Joba talks about his father's suicide. There is a very down to earth intensity that comes out of this song, as if the 2 companions were crossing the abyss, articulated around an angry guitar and a diabolic organ. A beauty that scrolls at full speed. Windows continues on the same way as the beginning of the album, that is to say a rather raw and conscious content. We find again SoGoneSoFlexy, who has just integrated VIDEO STORE, but for the time for a more conventional verse. From its construction and its thematic, Windows is a rather ambitious song but successful, especially when compared to a very concise beginning of album, marked by prestigious guests. Windows succeeds especially in offering a beautiful and important transition in the direction that RoadRunner takes afterwards, as if there was a first part more down to earth and a second one more clear-sighted. It all starts with I'll Take You On, an R&B song that stands out from the rest, accessing feelings before moving on to Old News and What's The Occasion, a very hybrid content combining Pop Rap/Contemporary R&B with some Pop Rock touches. We quickly understand that the writing and the themes proposed by Brockhampton are oriented towards constant interrogations like a malaise to be solved, while the instrumentation plays perfectly the counterpart with precisely this clairvoyance that I supported a little above. Although When I Ball, produced by Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, differs by its Pop Rap/Neo Soul aesthetic which reminds a lot of what Tyler The Creator offers, the members of Brockhamton continue to deliver a very personal and introspective performance which is the real main engine of RoadRunner. Moreover I must specify that even if this part of the album is not really the one that I prefer on the purely musical level, the writing always remains one of the qualities that solidifies the defects and the limits. The album takes a new turn towards the end, first with the excellent and electric Don't Shoot Up The Party, a terribly effective and thematically very interesting West Coast Hip Hop anthem. After a gospel interlude by Bearface, the RoadRunner album concludes with The Light Pt. II, a delightful connection by Joba and Kevin Abstract again, which concludes and counterbalances the oppressive density of the first part. It is again a beautiful human lesson and introspection that the duo offers us.
Obviously RoadRunner is not as good as the trilogy, but personally I didn't think much of it either. On the contrary, this new album is a better success in my opinion than Ginger. Actually it's a bit of a caricature but RoadRunner is a more elaborate Ginger, like a 2.0 version. That is to say a kind of concise and efficient Brockhampton. This does not mean that it is not an evolution. We feel very well the slight new musical direction, the attempts and the experimentations, but what we feel the most is the writing and this maturity that the whole band took. I have to admit that I would have expected a little more from them, especially by depriving themselves of an important number of featurings that I find despite their excellent performances, overshadow the singularity and the personality that Brockhampton put throughout the album, which remains the heart of the project. I really like the construction of RoadRunner as well, everything flows well, it's versatile but coherent. It's a beautiful adventure as well, but I think the interest is mostly in some individual songs more than in the whole.