No, it's not just because Kevin hates Reddit. I really do mean it.
Brockhampton, as some of you may be aware if you’ve interacted with me or my music before, has been one of the most demonstrably impactful artists for me back in 2017/2018. Back then, I was very new to trying to interact with music on a broader sense, trying to expand my musical taste outside of the Alt-Rock I was used to at the time, and while I had heard Hip Hop music before (obviously) and loved it before listening to Brockhampton, hearing the ‘best boyband since One Direction’ made me actively interested in what I could add to the sound. Saturation I, II, and III will, I truly hope, become classics in terms of DIY Hip Hop releases, and after nearly every wrong step and member drama, came out swinging with what was probably the album I needed to hear at the perfect time: iridescence.
Saturation I blew my mind, and broadened my taste on what Hip Hop could be (specifically songs like HEAT, STAR, BUMP (yes BUMP fuck you), MILK and CASH), and they just continued with Saturation II and III, somehow making better, more chaotic, more in your face, more emotional, more honest and more triumphant music with each new release. They were honestly themselves, from being queer, to being black, to being poor, to being depressed, to being suicidal, to being in love, to being vunerable, and in a genre where that was largely frowned upon, and incorporating moments of Synth-Pop, Indie Rock, DnB, and heavier elements of Hip Hop, it just felt so uniquely them that I loved it. Right after, of course I had to follow them to the ends of the earth, and of course, I did.
And hey, it's the last Brockhampton album, if they're gonna overshare, why can't I? I’m not gonna sit here and say “BROCKHAMPTON SAVED MY LIFE, MADE ME GAY AND TURNED ME INTO A RAPPER :)”, because I would never want to put upon this music like that in order for emotional validation. What I can say is that following Brockhamptons artistic journey, through every verse they spit, through every beat they blow out, through every chorus that gets lodged within my brain, I felt like their journey was akin to my one as a growing teen. Iridescence was so chaotic, so experimental, so just not what anyone was expecting, taking cues from the Berlin electronic scene and even more experimental records like Kid A while still maintaining that honesty that made them so special in my eyes, it made me fall in love back to back, even after the only conversations I was hearing about the group was, sadly, about Ameer’s allegations and how the group was gonna go forward.
When I say ‘sadly’ there, I don’t mean in terms of how Brockhampton dealt with it. With the relationship they had to Ameer, of course having to distance yourself with one of your best friends over the idea that they did horrible things is a hard thing to go through, especially when he was essentially the Brockhampton poster child. But you know what? With everyone saying that the Ameer situation made them worse, I kept listening and found that Brockhampton could have survived without him. Iridescence, in my opinion, was their best album ever, and a full blown modern classic, and came at a time where I needed an album to hold me and say “don’t worry, i’m broken as well”. In a time where I didn’t want to be alive, hearing Iridesence live in New Zealand made me so emotional that it almost felt like a bond I had with the band to keep going.
And I did. I kept going, hearing Ginger, and seeing how the group was trying to move past their own trauma and heal was extremely helpful for my own journey. Sure, it wasn’t as abrasive, and definitely played into the Pop elements of the group, but they still pulled it off 100% with the honesty and emotion that I loved from them. Hell, Dom’s verse in ‘DEARLY DEPARTED’ alone convinced me to continue making Hip Hop music for myself, and I did (to some degree successfully). It was, like the cover implied, a sweet hug at the end of a very horrifyingly traumatic year, and while it didn’t quite stick to me like some other records of theirs, the beautiful thing I saw was that it became OTHER peoples favorite. People who weren’t interested in the chaos of Iridescence found solace in the pop quietness of Ginger, and seeing others get out of that record gave me such peace to know that the band still had the ability to reach different people. And hey, a bonafide pop hit ain't something to shake your finger at!
By the time Roadrunner: New Light New Machine came out, I had changed dramatically. I had a partner, I was struggling with school work, I was struggling to keep everyone happy post-High School and felt like I was dying all over again, for a completely different reason. And back again was that insane, chaotic sound, now with a deeply personal story of Jobas father passing. It felt like that group I heard back in High School was still killing it, and it made me so happy to hear them still pushing the envelope and pushing what they could do, experimenting with louder sounds, with more accessible sounds, with even groovier cuts, with something that just felt cool to me, and couldn’t wait to hear what would be happening next. And, to my surprise, it would be the end of the line for the group.
The band called it quits, said their Coachella shows would be the last shows and that would be it. After the Coachella show, there was that teaser of ‘one more album’, but I was in shock. Honestly, it scared me a little. How would I have to keep going with this world without Brockhampton to help center me, particularly because last year and subsequently this year has been the most traumatic, life changing, personality changing years of my life, for the absolute worse in a way that I would never want to change? And how would they be able to close the chapter in ONE ALBUM?
And the more I looked around to see similar excitement, the more the landscape of online discourse surrounding the group and surrounding music in general scared and saddened me. Fans had turned into the media, speculating on the inner workings of the group, saying some of the most harsh shit specifically hyper-analyzing every post the group made, every story that went up, every tweet, the subreddit filled with ‘he said she said’ high school bile, and absolutely nothing about the work. People screaming “if this is a solo Kevin album, i’ll be pissed”, “kevin is just using this for attention”, “I know what’s best for the group”.
With that amount of discourse and pressure, I’m honestly surprised BH put out a record at all. And when I stayed up at 2am, despite having work in the morning, I felt that magic again. I felt what it was like staying up all night for Iridescence, staying up all night for Ginger, staying up all night for Roadrunner. Just the fact a new BH album was out made me just feel something special in my soul.
So yes. I am biased. I am being ‘too charitable’. I am looking ‘too much into things’. And I’m being too emotional, because if the music of Brockhampton taught me anything, it was that it is OK to be emotional, to be vulnerable, and it’s also OK to step away from something because it is hurting you. With all that being said…
…The Family is one of the most hauntingly honest and beautiful records the band has put out, in sometimes an uncomfortable degree.
Lets get a couple things out of the way first:
1. Yes, it’s just a Kevin album, but that is in no way a bad thing. All I was hearing with the prospect that this was just a solo Kevin album was negativity and even denial, and while I was interested in having the whole group be present for the record, once the day came and ™ (which i’ll try talk about at some point too, don’t worry!) also dropped, I had no option but not to worry. If anything, Kevin’s finally shedding his skin and being as honest with his fan base with members of Brockhampton helping with production, becoming a martyr for their fans enjoyment to be as transparent as humanly possible was a concept that made me widen my eyes and pay even more attention to what was happening. (“Yeah, I lovе my fans, but they'd kill me if they can”)
2. Like @Toasterqueen12 pointed out (go check her review out it’s great and she's great), Brockhampton have always been a little too open for their own good at times, particularly with the ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ trilogy (iridescence, Ginger and Roadrunner) so of course being as transparent as ever is going to open a Nathan Fielder ‘The Rehearsal'-esq conversation about what we did actually need to hear and what we didn’t. I’m not one to actively say what is wrong and what is right for Brockhampton to release and what to say for their own emotions, I'm just stating that there is an element of oversharing that may rub some people the wrong way. I, for one, am a nosey bitch, so I was fine with this.
3. Yeah, there is a whole ass OTHER album taken from the Roadrunner sessions with everyone on it vocally that, while I don’t find it as compelling, is a great almost afterparty to what is on display here. And while I probably won’t fully REVIEW the damn thing (maybe I will, either may check it out if you love Brockhampton, you will not be disappointed, favorite jams are ANIMAL, KEEP IT SOUTHERN and CRUCIFY ME), it’s important that a big reason why i’m not sad that the group isn’t here vocally is that, in the house next door, they are having a party and sounding great!
4. The album is short but…goddamn, it kinda needs to be.
5. This is ALL speculation. This is just the version of events Kevin wants to show us, and that’s FINE. I don’t know Kevin, Dom, Joba, Matt, Cieren, Jabari, Meryln, Ameer, Ashlen, Romil, Kiko, Jon, HK, Roberto, Kevin Doan, boylife, Ryan or ANYONE ELSE personally, and will never pretend I do (although from the interactions I have had with some members, cool dudes!) so this is all just my opinion on facts delivered to me through THIS album. Nothing more, nothing less. Just what is public knowledge. Frankly, i’m not even that curious as to the behind the scenes, as what has been put on the table here is a LOT to talk about.
With that out of the way…oh my god.
This album is an EXPLOSION of the concept of Brockhampton as the ‘alternative boyband’. It’s like what RZA says during this album; “I think the thing that y'all got that's special that people don't have Is the ability, I guess, when you guys coined the "boyband" of it all? That element there, nobody got that!”. And, typically with boybands, the end signals a bat signal call for tabloid speculation, constant press hounding and the boys in the band trying to make a name for themselves without the noise of their past achievements, so how do you go about that process while you are in the midst of it. It’s by exploding, in gloriously dramatic fashion, what the group is. It isn’t just one person, nor is it an entire group.
For the version that Kevin is providing us with on this record, Kevin’s idea of Brockhampton, the street, the group, the legacy, the trauma, is one and the same, and in being as honest as he can about the situation no thanks to immaculate production by Ciarán McDonald and Boylife, bringing the classic Kanye sound of ‘chipmunk soul’ to the production for Kevin to just vent over. In a lot of ways, it comes full circle of Kevin making a better Kanye record then Kanye!
For real, this production is just gorgeous! It still has that bounce, that energy, that fearless combination of Indie Rock, Hardcore Hip Hop, Soul, Pop and even Dilla-esq experiments that Brockhampton as a group are known for without putting the album in a box, with the "classic Brockhampton sound" recontextualized as this almost pained explosion of reckless money spending (mostly to get out of their label I assume) and emotional catharsis. Samples left and right, random sound effects, RZA, Rick Rubin, Cait Harris and Bearface all making appearances vocally, and probably the best sounding vocal takes that Kevin has ever done (PERIOD.), this album sounds like a grand gesture of “yeah, let's burn all of the money RCA gave us to create our final goodbye”, and you can tell. For how dense these instrumentals are at times, the mixing is fantastic.
Take the best song title of all time for example, 'Big Pussy'. This is, by far, the most chaotically produced song on the album, with wild Jazz samples, a intro by the lead singer of the Germs, and super quick fire beat changes, all with different samples, bass tones and vocal inflections, yet everything feels balanced and pristine, without the added headache of some of the Technical Difficulties era buried mixes (I love those songs but GUYS turn the bass down PLEASE). It's got that accessible groove to it despite the fact that its Big Pussy, with Kevin's feet planted both in emotionally driven pop and aggressive, boundary pushing experimental Hip Hop, and while some might think these songs don't develop into something more substantial, I suppose you are right that if given more time to flesh itself out each individual song, the songs by themselves might improve, but I love how as a whole, the quick paced dash through soul samples, club beats, acoustic guitars, autotuned choirs, voice memos, therapeutic verses and that weird ass moaning noise that happens every 5 seconds (classic BH!) creates this uniquely cohesive project that I felt like was lacking from the groups last two records!
And even with the familiarity, there is still enough surprises to keep things interesting, helping the album be both new and classic. 'My American Life', an acoustic number that feels like the end of a folk punk album less then it does a Brockhampton record, is such a left turn in terms of the production and songwriting that it honestly caught me off guard, '37th' sounds so much more moody than anything we've heard from the group ever (which given the lyrics, GOOD), 'Southside' is so blown out and bass heavy it legitimately reminded me that something that would've come out by Spider Gang (that's a compliment I swear), and 'Gold Teeth' might actually be the most blatant Kanye-Esq track Kevin has ever done to the point where I almost thought he produced the song.
I'm saying all of this because, to be honest, the lyrics have such an emotional attachment to me that I want to make sure the actual music, the thing you are here to hear, is represented and recommended. This is by far, some of the bands best production, even if Kevin is the only one of the record. It sounds great, and the lyrics, no matter how deep, emotional or beautifully awkward it is, are just the icing of the cake. Hell, from a sonic standpoint, Kevin himself? My god, he brings so much personality and performance to these tracks! His flows are beautifully performed, with a lot of emotion in his voice and that raspy tone I've always loved him for in full display here.
Tracks like 'Take It Back', '37th', 'The Ending', 'Basement' (hehe the way he says fire is funny), and 'Brockhampton', have these fiery, explosive verses that I just feel every word he's rapping here, with such beautiful catharsis in his voice that it just convinced me that Kevin Abstract will live with a legacy of truly amazing music behind him, even while he's still here. His legacy is brought out, analyzed and certified through this album, and that's something truly beautiful. And when he's not rapping, he's even better! Listen to him hit those hooks on 'RZA', '(Back From the) Road', 'Good Time', the whole of 'Any Way You Want Me' and 'My American Life'! He's fucking CLAWING at his own vocals getting these notes, the passion is right there! It's almost inspiring how good he is on this album; 7 albums in and still rapping like he has something to prove.
And quite frankly, he does have a lot to prove, at least to himself. This album is littered with self doubt, self reflection, self realization, self disassociation, self abuse, self awareness, self adjusting, self esteem boosting, self protecting and self describing. In of itself is Kevin's feelings, on the table, ready to be taken for what it is, in order to give closure to fans, himself and to those he loves. Kevin consistently talks as if the audience is his therapist, talking about his feelings towards signing to his label, continuing his friendship with Ameer, how that friendship affected the group dynamics, wondering how he could have made things better and then ultimately deciding just to let the world, and himself, burn in the process.
To create art consistently from pain, from trauma and from personal drama, as decided by Kevin on the album multiple times (specifically 'All That', 'Good Time', 'Any Way You Want Me', and 'The Family') is toxic. Art that is honest, as he's proven on nearly every record, is powerful, but there comes a point where you need to let some of that honesty go. Sometimes, it's better to protect yourself rather then destroy the man you want to become, and he tells this in a beautiful way here.
Of course the band is breaking up, they NEED to step away and do some self reflecting, something they couldn't do while signed to RCA, and somehow they are able to tell that hyper specific story of Fame in a way that feels universal. It's a story of someone who worked his ass off to change the culture, and in doing so forgot to look after himself, his drinking habits, and his personal connections, yet somehow I was the one that felt seen. I lost a lot of friends over the last couple of years, mostly due to my own mistakes and their judgment, and it broke me into million different versions of myself, all fighting to see which one was right. Everyday, I felt within myself a walking contradiction, and that paradoxical process of fixing yourself is shown in a way that I can only imagine Kevin Abstract can, because his experience is so personal to him.
Constantly, I find Kevin disgustingly demonized online due to his miscommunication on Twitter (puppy coming soon y'all!) and it must very draining to feel. I won't try to put myself in his shoes and speak directly to him, but I this album is to tell my anything, it's my hearts desire that I truly hope that he is doing well and is feeling the love radiating from this records release, no matter how minor it is. It truly is a magnificent record in my opinion.
Honestly, I think that just going in, track by track to describe what happens in each song just robs what power this record welds, so if this sounded remotely interesting to you, do the Brockhampton binge. Trust me, it's worth it, just for the context of what this album offers: a fitting end note on a collection of some of the most forward thinking Hip Hop, Pop and RnB in the last 10 years. Hell, 'Prayer' an autotuned ballad to love, made me fucking CRY when I heard it. To have a cheesy end to a cheesy review, I just want to say: to those who participated in Brockhamptons creation, to prove that anyone can make a name for themselves based off of hard work alone, to show that with each hindsight you can create beautiful and profitable pieces of honest art (no matter the cost), to tour, to film, to record with no budget and to make Hollywood productions in your backyard, I say: thank you Brockhampton. Thanks for the show. It changed my life.
The final verse of the project, and subsequently of the Brockhampton era, says it better then I could This is a verse where Kevin is giving props to those who he has fought alongside, and basically is telling everyone else to go home, stop hyper analyzing their life, stop ‘filming’ and saying “our trauma for your entertainment isn’t gonna fly anymore, we are all entering our solo endeavors, and if you can’t handle that, that is completely on you”:
“Joba, you the most musical motherfucker.
Matt, I know you a perfectionist but now you free.
Dom, ain't nobody fucking with you lyrically.
Merlyn, can't nobody match this nigga's energy.
Bari, the world 'bout to see who you finna be.
Ciarán, you brought the truth out of me.
I was living in a fantasy.
The next chapter is everything that we said it would be.
This next chapter is everything that we want it to be.
The show's over,
get out your seats.”
The show is over. Pick up your popcorn, and move on. That goes for me too. I love this music, I love this group, but I need to move on. So…i’m gonna move on. I’m gonna keep going, making the music I love, making friends, making movies I love, making clothes, making books, whatever I want to do. I’m gonna do it because I love life, and I love what art can give. And most importantly, i’m gonna do it because their show is over, and my show begins…
Favorite Jams: Basement, Brockhampton, 37th
Lest Favorite: (Back From The) Road
Also hi! Quick update, my debut short film BAD HABITS is screening at MTG in Napier for free this Monday, so if you are in the area, come say hi! I'm still working hard on art, you'll definitely be able to see some of the fruits next year, but for now, thanks for reading there when they come out, appreciate ya!
|1||Take It Back / 90|
|2||RZA / 91|
|3||Gold Teeth / 89|
|4||Big Pussy / 92|
|5||All That / 92|
|6||(Back From The) Road / 75|
|7||Basement / 95|
|8||Southside / 80|
|9||Good Time / 88|
|10||37th / 97|
|11||Boyband / 89|
|12||Any Way You Want Me / 88|
|13||The Family / 93|
|14||Prayer / 90|
|15||My American Life / 80|
|16||The Ending / 96|
|17||Brockhampton / 98|