Oh damn, it's been a hot second since I've talked to you guys on here. I really didn't intend to take a month off but it was needed. I wanted to review both the AJR and Justin Bieber album but, eh. This blog isn't my main priority and school started ramping up a little bit so why waste time and energy on both of them. Just avoid them if you can and if you can't, I am very sorry for both you and your ears.
But enough about both of them, I'm not here to talk to you about Bieber and AJR, I'm here to talk to you guys about the latest album from "the best boyband since One Direction," at least, according to frontman Kevin Abstract. BROCKHAMPTON has been around for about 5 years already which is crazy to think because it still feels like yesterday that the Saturation trilogy dropped. The group boasts 13(!) members even though only 6 of them sing or rap prominently. Those six being Kevin Abstract, Dom McLennon, Joba, Merlyn Wood, Bearface, and Matt Champion. The other 5 members have roles producing songs, creating merch, or just trying to make a great creative direction. The group absolutely exploded onto the scene in 2017 with the aforementioned Saturation I, II, and III, projects that still sound insanely fresh to this day. The goal of the three albums was for the group to be impossible to ignore and it worked out well. They weren't just dropping a lot of music, they were dropping a lot of great music. Whether it was groovy but high-energy songs like ZIPPER and GOLD, the latter of which never fails to get stuck in my head. The chorus is just so catchy. There are also some great slower and vibier songs like BLEACH and SUMMER. But if there's one thing the group excels at, it's making some all-out ragers. The song BOOGIE off of SAT. III can take me from being tired to making me want to fight your grandma before Kevin even starts singing. There's also the song QUEER which has been one of my favorite BROCKHAMPTON songs for a long time with a banging beat, super infectious "DONT GO RUNNIN YOUR MOUTH" hook, Merlyn's verse is super fun and charismatic, and when it slows down in the middle, it's heaven. All of this to say, the group blew up in the best way possible. Then, they started falling apart a little bit.
|11 of the groups 13 members photographed for NME.
In December 2017, Abstract announced the group's next album would be titled Team Effort and would be dropping sometime in 2018 but in March, the album got scrapped and it was announced that an album named Puppy would be dropping sometime in mid-2018. The group also signed a huge deal with RCA Records the week after this and everything was looking up for the guys...then, now former member Ameer Vann was kicked out of the group after an ex-girlfriend accused him of being both emotionally and verbally abusive and also accused him of sexual misconduct. Puppy was delayed once again and the group put all touring on pause. This left the group in a weird position. On one hand, they did the right thing kicking out someone who admitted to being an abuser, but on the other, this same guy is prominently featured on the cover of all 3 of the SATURATION albums. So after a month off, the group kept pushing forward, appearing on Jimmy Fallon and dropping 3 singles in July of that year. In August they announced iridescence and yes, this one actually came out. It's not my favorite album they've ever released but it's still solid and it's a good listen, I just don't return to it very often. Then in 2019, we got GINGER which I actually reviewed on here when it first dropped (God I've improved so much as a writer since then). And while I think this album is better than iridescence, it still doesn't hold a candle to anything they released on the Sat Trilogy.
So that brings us here today. Over the lockdown, the group remained active with their Technical Difficulties series and one of the songs from the project even landed on this album, the song chain on/hold me featuring jpegmafia. The song isn't presented exactly the same though. The "hold me" portion is gone, Peggy actually gets a verse, and there's an entirely different beat on the song too. The rollout for this album actually happened pretty quickly. The day after my birthday, Kevin Abstract announced that a new song and video were coming at midnight and that the album was coming out two weeks later. They dropped another single on April 1st, and then the album was here and after a few listens, I'm still extremely happy with it. It's definitely the bounce-back that the group needed after iridescence and GINGER. The music here is a lot more energetic but it also manages to be just as introspective and dare I say "deep" as they were on those previous two albums. The production on here is fantastic which should be no surprise for a BROCKHAMPTON album and there's also a bunch of features which is uncharted territory for a BROCKHAMPTON album. There's guest appearances from A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg, Danny Brown, Charlie Wilson, even Shawn Mendes is credited for singing the chorus on COUNT ON ME.
The album gets off to a roaring start with the song BUZZCUT. Kevin comes out of the gate swinging on this song, there is just so much energy coming through on his verse, starting out the song with this almost yelled "WHO LET THE DOPE BOYS OUUUUUUT!?" line. It's such an energetic and fun way to kick off the album. Oh yeah, there's also a wild and funny verse from Danny Brown who starts it off by saying that he's the type of person who would doxx an incel, pull up to their house, and make a scene just to create content. There's also a great line where he says he's "a veteran with medicine pen." His flow all over the song is just fantastic and it has me excited for the next Danny Brown solo project. There's also a spacey outro with Merlyn screaming "WHAT IS GOD TO YOU N*****!?" CHAIN ON has a great beat and two awesome verses from jpegmafia and Dom. I love the clunky drums, the nice little synth lead, it's an all-around great vibe. Peggy's verse has a lot of funny punchlines saying that his melodies need Duolingo and saying "Wonder how Peggy be cakin' / I be easy bakin.'" Dom's verse is a little more heavy-handed and his performance and tone really reflect that. He raps about struggles with his mental health. There's also a smart line about how "word from Marvin couldn't save me from What's Going On." In a weird way, COUNT ON ME reminds me of Positions by Ariana Grande, I don't know. I think it's just a similar chord progression. A$AP Rocky and SoGoneSoFlexy both deliver solid verses on the song but it's Matt Champion who takes the cake on this song. His flow is infectious, I also love the effects on his voice, and his lyrics are fun and charismatic as well. The chorus is super catchy as well with that earworm "It'll be okay / No matter what they say about us" line, it's a solid tune.
BANKROLL is another song with an A$AP Rocky feature, this one also has A$AP Ferg on it. Ferg's energy on the song is great but the more I listen to it, the more it feels like he's doing a slowthai impression. Don't get me wrong, I love slowthai, and I love Ferg's verse here, but I can't really shake that comparison once I realized it. Another gripe I have is longtime BH producer Jabari Manwa's verse because it's so drowned in effects and pitched up and down and it's just a mess. It makes it hard to even understand what he's saying at times. Besides that though, A$AP Rocky's hook panning back and forth between channels and Merlyn's energy sort of makeup for that slack. This small lul is redeemed big-time with the song THE LIGHT which is without a doubt one of the best songs on this album. The blazing guitars, the super tight drums, production and instrumental alone, this song is fantastic, but then comes one of the most compelling verses that Joba has ever recorded. He raps about some extremely tough topics detailing his mental health and his dad's suicide which is presented in a really jarring way, even going as far as to saying that's he's still haunted by the image of the room where his dad took his life. It's really heavy. There's a little chorus before Kevin takes a verse. His verse isn't quite as heavy as Joba's but it still packs a punch rapping about his own mental health struggles and also his struggles with his sexuality which is strange since he's never really been shy about it. I don't say that to knock him, I say that as a way to show how vulnerable he is on the song. I do really like that clever line he raps though near the beginning where he says "Ain't no love in this game, mama, this is not tennis."
WINDOWS comes off like a posse cut with everyone in the group but Kevin getting a verse on the song. It just feels like they're all hanging out and freestyling. There's also a verse from SoGone SoFlexy who I thought was Freddie Gibbs at first, mainly with his voice and a similar subject matter but oh well, he still does a good job over this beat. Then Merlyn comes in with a fun verse, there's a solid stretch where he raps:
Respect my Tribe, I'm a dawg like Phife
You love me like a check but my name not Nike
B*tch, my number not a lottery
I'm like, don't even talk to me
Honestly, wouldn't fly a Melbourne chick to Sydney
There's also a hilarious line where he says that all of his bars bought chains like prison industries, but the icing on the cake is this chant that pops up in the background about halfway through his verse where all of the guys start saying "GO MERLYN! GO MERLYN!" It's a pretty fun moment that shows the energy these guys have when they're recording. They're not yelling at each other or smashing guitars over each others heads, they're just having fun with it. Matt's verse also has a bunch of fun one-liners opening his verse saying that he's sending a "f*ck you to you all, I'ma ship it laminated." I also like the line where he says he can see through bullsh*t "like your face was made of plexi.'" But somewhere around Dom's verse the song just starts to get almost tedious and it really starts to overstay it's welcome. There's nothing to crazy with the beat or the performances that keep the song super interesting through all 6 minutes of its runtime. The song I'LL TAKE YOU ON featuring Charlie Wilson stylistically feels like a GINGER B-side. There are some acoustic guitars that lead the song with some trap drums in double time and apparently, Joba is laying down some bass licks over the song. It's a twisted love song with Kevin's verse being about how he met someone who lifted him out of his struggles meanwhile Matt sings about how a drug dealer is gonna be a person to "heal her"? I don't really know what to make of it but I might just be dumb. What I do know though is that Bearface lays down a beautiful verse near the end of the song, pretty much telling this girl that they should run away because they have nothing to lose, his voice is perfect over this beat and it sets up the Charlie Wilson outro perfectly, which, the outro is awesome by the way.
OLD NEWS features Jabari more prominently than he was on BANKROLL, handling the chorus all by himself. There's a lot more pop and R&B influence on this song than most of the songs before it and I love it. The way this song slides from the verses to the chorus is smooth as hell too. Lyrically the song is about that one lover who got away. Matt's verse sees him looking back in regret. There's lines here where he talks about how he didn't notice this lover stopped loving him a long time ago and how "solitude is becomin' so unusual." Merlyn on the other hand takes shots at himself saying that even though he can buy this girl earrings and hair and nails, it still doesn't equal love in their relationship. There's also a verse from Baird who I wish I could tell you more about but I can't find too much info about him, just that he's an indie singer-songwriter from Baltimore. His verse is the acceptance phase of this breakup, realizing that this relationship was meant to fail because he and this girl weren't that alike. And once again, it's Joba who really shines on the song with a verse at the end pretty much telling this person, "did you really know what I meant when I said I love you?" It's a fantastic end to the song. Then there's WHAT'S THE OCCASION which another song like THE LIGHT with angry energy behind it, guitars that pop up in the chorus that gets more and more distorted as the chorus progresses, and a really great drum beat too. Joba's chorus on the song is great and Matt's verse on here matches the instrumental so well. It's angry, it's pissed off, and it's good. He comes in super hot rapping:
I know my sweat like cologne, see this house ain't like home
If I could swallow my pride, would you admit when you wrong?
There's also a great line later in the verse where he says he "feel like Boobie Miles under these Friday lights." Around the 2:30 mark, the instrumental gives way to some piano chords and Joba singing the chorus again before a distorted guitar starts wailing away on top of some super heavy drumming, I feel bad for whatever crash cymbal was in the studio because it's just getting beat to death on this outro.
The album ends on an really high note, even though the last four songs are all over the place stylistically. WHEN I BALL shows Dom and Matt rapping about their family and the impact their families have had on their lives backed by some piano chords and some cool synth strings. Dom's verse focuses on his relationship with his mom, opening up his verse rapping:
My momma said I didn't come into this world with tears
Instead I welcomed her with open eyes and open ears
Became the glue to a few things that couldn't be repaired
We saw a future in each other, blending hope and fear
Some things you don't get to decide, it's just the fate you share
There's also a great line a few seconds later where Dom raps about how when he was little he would see his uncles go on vacation "for a couple years" only for them to return asking for clothes and with no souvenirs, obviously his mom hiding the truth of his uncles being in jail from him. Matt's verse doesn't quite have family values as explicit as that but he does still have some solid lines here like one where he says, "Valentine's with a X up on the calendar, they knew / I would be a f*ckin' baller like them posters on the wall." There's also an insane line at the end of his verse where he says "Stickin' to you like moss, you my Kate, you my rock," because you know, Randy Moss had sticky gloves and would catch footballs one-handed every now and then, but he's also comparing this subject, be it his mom or a lover, to supermodel Kate Moss, and moss is an organism that grows and sticks to rocks. It's such a simple but super complex bar and I'm glad that Matt snuck it in here. There's also a super sweet chorus with Joba, Kevin, and Rex Orange County all coming together for a super innocent, childlike chorus singing "you always used to tellll meeeeeeeee / I could beee anythinggggg I wanna be." Then right after this sweet, family-based song, we got one of the darkest and most politically charged songs on the album, DON'T SHOOT UP THE PARTY which is Kevin, Matt, and Joba all rapping about different social issues but mainly, as the title suggests, gun violence. Kevin's verse deals a lot with homophobia and racism in our country, there's a great line where he raps, "Colonized minds by masters and slaves / They both hate n****s that like n****s the same." There's also another line before this where he says that people think he has these homosexual thoughts on purpose, coming for those who think being gay is a choice, but afterward drops a line saying he knew NSYNC before he knew Wu-Tang Clan. He also shouts out Brockhampton St. in Corpus Christ, Tx where Kevin grew up and where the group got its name from, and there's something about the end of his verse that reminds me of Janelle Monaé, I can't pin it down but it sounds a lot like either Janelle or Childish Gambino. Matt's verse comes off a lot more paranoid rapping about how journalists are "always dead inside like they in catacombs" and how they can "kiss my ass, treat my balls like it's mistletoe." And if you didn't think Joba was on fire already, his verse here is perfect. It works as a double entendre in a sad way as Joba is pleading with a subject asking them "What the issue? Why you gotta grab that pistol? Think about who gon' miss you." While it does fit in the theme of the song, it could also be Joba pleading with his dad which hurts to think but Joba really didn't hold back on that situation earlier so I wouldn't be too surprised. The song ends on a sour note however as once the chorus fires up again at the end of Joba's verse, it's cut off...by a gunshot.
DEAR LORD serves as an interlude in between DON'T SHOOT UP THE PARTY and the closing track THE LIGHT PT. II. It's a Bearface solo song and it's him asking God to come watch over Joba, asking him to heal him with his light, help him out, and to show Joba his light. THE LIGHT PT. II ends the album with verses from Kevin and Joba. There's a cool vocal sample, a distant guitar, and some sub-bass that drive the song but the instrumental isn't supposed to be crazy, Kevin and Joba really needed to shine on this song. About a minute in, some electronic drums come in and that's the only instrumental change throughout the song. Kevin's verse shows him looking back on his childhood and his upbringing. There's lines in his verse about how the bruises he got would give him confidence and how he hates hearing false info these days because he grew up watching "MTV, Boondocks, and Chappelle's Show." The second half of his verse shifts to the modern-day and he once again raps about his sexuality and the rift that it's created in his relationship with his mom. He raps at the end of his verse:
My momma from the ghetto
Her vote go to any n***a that keep Jesus in the convo'
Me and her just got on good terms
Thank God for them unexpected turns
Breaks her heart when she see my city burn
Thank God for teaching me how to learn
Have empathy, even when it burns
But I hate that she got me in this box, expectin' me to see the light
Then Joba has the final verse on this album which is just...sheesh. It's just a crushing blow to end the album on and I can't believe that he had the strength to record this verse. He's once again rapping about his father's suicide but it also leads to questions about mortality and what he could've done differently to still have his dad with him today. He opens up his verse rapping:
When that hammer pulled back, did you think of me?
You were the one that taught me how to be
Look at me now in all my glory
Overcame a lot, that's a different story
Abandoned by the life-giver, lookin' back at my life different
There's also lines on here were he says that all he wanted to do was make his dad proud and was always finding "a way around the frown." There's also another crushing line near the end of the verse where he says:
Even though I'm mad, even though you're gone
You live on, and the day I have kids
And tell 'em 'bout Grandpa and how great he is
And the grandkids' grandkids
You'll never meet if it weren't for you
I wouldn't be, neither would they
Reading back through these lyrics and having to listen to this song multiple times honestly got harder and harder each time just knowing the weight of what Joba was rapping about and even writing this, I still teared up a little bit reading and hearing another line at the end of this verse, "The way you left ma hit me the hardest." I think I can easily say that this is one of the most emotionally devastating songs the group has ever released.
|(From L to R) Matt Champion, Merlyn Wood, and Bearface on stage at the Hulu Theater in New York, New York.
So overall, I think this is BROCKHAMPTON's best showing since the Saturation Trilogy ended. I'm glad the group didn't try to stick to one sound here and I'm also super happy that they're also getting features on their albums now. It's something that I hope the group will benefit from but, if Kevin is telling the truth, it might not be something they benefit from much longer as he said on Twitter that after one more album, the group is done. So if there's only one more album left in the tank, I hope it's half as good as this one. Also, if we're gonna name an MVP for this album, Joba is the unanimous winner. He consistently shined on this album and I don't think he turned in a bad performance or verse across this whole album. Whether he was just having fun with a beat or if he was stabbing my heart, he didn't miss one time. And um, if you see him either in passing or after a show, give him a big hug, I know I will be.
I would rate
ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE