Picture the group that might utter a line like “best boy band since One Direction.” Do they look like One Direction, or the biggest boy bands before them? Young men with features sculpted by the gods themselves, seemingly placed on this earth to make teen girls cry and record labels rich? Or do you imagine a ragtag group of young and largely black music nerds that met on the internet and crash in the same house?
If you guessed the second option, you’d probably be lying to yourself. You’d also be right. The group is L.A.-based BROCKHAMPTON. They make rap music, but sidestep titles like “hip-hop collective.” In their eyes, they are a boy band for a whole new crowd.
BROCKHAMPTON’s origin story is a strange one. All of its members met via Kanye West fan forum Kanyetothe. They talked about their favorite music and shared their own creations online until, in a risky decision, deciding to relocate to a single house in L.A. Although they’re young, poor and a little crazy, the move paid off. Last year alone, while remaining an independent group, they released three full-length records as a part of the “SATURATION” trilogy. With stunning vision and immense talent, they emerged from the underground to gain millions of plays and amass an avid fan base, not unlike those of more stereotypical boy bands.
One of the most refreshing elements of BROCKHAMPTON is its inclusiveness and general lack of ego. Sure, you have to be confident to churn out three releases in a year, but unlike most collectives, this is not a group of wannabe solo stars vying for attention. In fact, not only are all the vocalists under the BROCKHAMPTON umbrella, but so are the producers, designers, video editors and whoever else contributes to the overall brand. Hell, even the web developer is a staple in the music videos. The group’s name connotes more than the voices you’ll hear; it encompasses all the creative minds needed to keep their mission of saturation alive.
Among the vocalists, there’s fantastic variety and energy. Kevin Abstract is, in some ways, the face of the group — as an openly gay rapper/singer, his ability to craft instantly catchy hooks as well as fiery, unapologetic verses makes him invaluable to the group. Ameer is the Cool One, touting his street cred and all-around bad-assery with a distinct baritone that alternates from sultry to aggressive. Matt Champion is sort of the Smooth One, with a appealing drawl to match. Dom, with his speedy raps and witty, culturally literate references, comes off as the Smart One. Merlyn is the Wild One, with an unmistakable vocal delivery and idiosyncratic presence. And Joba utilizes his sweet, yet strange falsetto and crazy personality to convey a twisted version of the classic boy band member. Producer and occasional vocalist bearface is the odd duck, wielding a guitar and belting out each album’s closer like an indie rocker.
Taken alone, some of the more problematic elements of these individual singers — Kevin’s propensity to electronically manipulate very sweet melodies, Ameer’s dedication to a specific flow, Joba’s insistence upon pulling out that falsetto — might not hold their own. However, the whole of BROCKHAMPTON is truly better than the sum of its parts. Each member complements and builds upon the others. Their egos seem to dissipate, and it feels like one cohesive mission (hence the title of their upcoming fourth album, “TEAM EFFORT”). When every member takes the mic on a posse cut like “GOLD” or “SWEET,” it’s electrifying.
Every good performer needs a dynamite producer. Luckily, BROCKHAMPTON has three. The primary beatmaker, Romil, is the group’s secret weapon. He writes brilliant, textured tunes that combine Eastern instrumentals, droning G-Funk synths and incredible percussion. The sheer amount of tracks he crafted this past year is worthy of praise. The other two, Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley, write together as Q3 and provide undeniably important contributions to the catalogue.
Most impressive about BROCKHAMPTON’s past year is how consistently high-quality their releases were. These aren’t hastily thrown-together mixtapes; they are chock full of fantastic songs ranging from blistering bangers to tender ballads. “SATURATION I” might be the most inconsistent in terms of songwriting, and “SATURATION III” will satisfy fans looking more for experimental hip-hop. It’s the second release that is the real star. It features some of the group’s greatest tracks, like “JUNKY,” in which the members discuss sexuality, drug addiction, education, rape culture and suicide with refreshing frankness.
Energetic, creative, talented and motivated, BROCKHAMPTON blew up in the underground and made quick strides toward becoming a cultural mainstay. Their redefining of “boy band” is refreshing enough to remove some stigma surrounding the term, bolstered by an invigorating blend of classic group aesthetics and, most importantly, brilliantly catchy hip-hop.