BROCKHAMPTON, the 13-person rap collective/boyband, exploded onto the music scene in 2018. The band captured the hearts of mostly queer and “artsy” teenagers with their SATURATION trilogy and unique personalities. The band met and formed on an online Kanye West forum, and moved into a house together in San Marcos, Texas. After the release of their second album SATURATION I, the band moved to Los Angeles, California, where they are still based.
What makes the band so attractive to teenagers is the way they defy typical notions of a what a boyband should be; they are a ragtag group of young people, mostly from lower class backgrounds, with a vocal gay black man at the forefront who made it big without prescribing to the music industry’s clear-cut labels. BROCKHAMPTON is the ultimate inspirational success story- they went from living in South Central, Los Angeles and barely being able to afford necessities to signing to RCA for $15 million and touring the world.
It’s hard to pin down BROCKHAMPTON’s “sound”, and that’s what makes them so captivating. Some tracks are aggressively auto-tuned and pitched up, some are intense and hardcore, some are chill and slow, and some are stripped back and emotional. Part of it is the fact that there are 13 members, each bringing their different experiences and talents to the table to create art. At the forefront of the band are Matt Champion, JOBA, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, bearface, and Kevin Abstract (this lineup also previously included Ameer Vann), who are the members who actually rap and sing on the tracks.
A key component of the band’s SATURATION trilogy was the dark, grisly edge previous member Vann brought to the group. Vann’s verses would often be about his checkered past, whether it be dealing with drugs, police, violence, and pain. On Vann’s verse on JUNKY, he raps: “I ain’t under control, I’m losin’ motor function/I need an intervention, I need an exorcism/I need a therapist, paranoia and drug addiction/It’s very scary, my momma don’t even recognize me”. Vocally, he is deep and edgy, a sharp contrast to the lighter voices of most of the members. Vann was a fan favorite; many thought BROCKHAMPTON couldn’t be BROCKHAMPTON without his distinct voice and harsh lyrics. Unfortunately, Vann’s dark past caught up with him.
In May 2018, multiple women came forward to talk about their shared experiences of psychological abuse from Vann. Singer Rhett Rowan, model Taylor Allard, and an anonymous woman all shared their experiences dating Vann over Twitter and livestreams on Periscope. They described how he was emotionally manipulative and psychologically abusive, causing them trauma that they are still healing from after breaking up with him. He was also accused of having sexual relations with a minor when he was 18/19 by Rowan.
After the news of Vann’s scandal broke, BROCKHAMPTON initially kept quiet, with their reps telling media outlets that the band was standing with Vann. A few days later, Abstract went on Instagram live to apologize for being quiet: “I don’t agree with anything Ameer has admitted to. I shouldn’t have been quiet for so long,” he said. Three days after Abstract’s live, the band performed at Boston Calling, without Vann. They stayed silent in the parts of the songs where Vann’s verses would be, and various members embraced each other while crying. The next day, a statement was posted on the BROCKHAMPTON Twitter account, saying, “Ameer is no longer in BROCKHAMPTON. We want to sincerely apologize to the victims affected by Ameer’s actions. We were lied to, and we’re sorry for not speaking up sooner”. They cancelled the rest of their tour, and went to Hawaii together to regroup.
In late June 2018, BROCKHAMPTON announced their upcoming performance on the June 20th episode of The Tonight Show. They premiered the new song “TONYA” on a green-carpeted stage, with projections of the band on the beach behind them. The song is touching, sad, and moving. With lyrics like “and I’ve been feelin’ like I don’t matter how I used to”, or “I feel like brothers lie just so my feelings don’t get hurt”, it’s clear the band is feeling immense pain over Vann’s departure. “TONYA” was never released as a single after the show, but was featured on the band’s fifth studio album Iridescence.
Following the performance of “TONYA”, BROCKHAMPTON released the single “1999 WILDFIRE” on July 7. The track features Atlanta-based producer Jazze Pha delivering a smooth intro, followed by stellar, rapid-fire verses from each member and a smooth chorus by Abstract. This song marked a new era for BROCKHAMPTON; each verse is full of word play and rhythm that wasn’t present in the albums with Vann. The video for the track included close-ups of each band member on their respective verses, all clad in white t-shirts, contrasting against a dark color scheme. The video is a change from the saturated, colorful videos that the band released with Vann. BROCKHAMTON was making their comeback, and they make it clear that they’ve matured both musically and visually.
On July 19, BROCKHAMPTON released the new single “1998 TRUMAN”. The track is an energetic powerhouse; it begins with a sample of Jim Jones, notorious cult leader, preaching an anti-government message. The song then explodes into a celebration of BROCKHAMPTON’s progress. The video for the song is a colorful, intense collection of shots of the band hanging around a car and dancing outside, with shots of each individual member for their verses. However, when bearface comes in, the song shifts; the tempo slows, and bearface and Abstract sing over an orchestral beat while Abstract maneuvers around a boxing ring. While “TONYA” was BROCKHAMPTON showing the pain they were in, “1998 TRUMAN” was BROCKHAMPTON declaring that they’re back and better than ever.
The last single BROCKHAMPTON dropped was the rhythmic “1997 DIANA” on July 26. The song begins with children counting down, and then turns into a wild combination of an intricate beat and verses from Champion, Abstract, and McLennon. The video consists of the entire band going crazy in a locker room and basketball court, surrounded by muscular men in towels. The video is exciting, and captures BROCKHAMPTON at their best: a family, hanging out and having fun with each other, which is a far cry from the melancholic “TONYA”.
In early September, BROCKHAMPTON announced their new album Iridescence, which was released September 21. The album was made within ten days at the famous Abbey Road Studios. The album was “therapy” for the band; the day of the album’s release, Abstract tweeted: “THANKS TO EVERYBODY STREAMING THE ALBUM NO LEAD SINGLE NOT MANY HOOKS JUST WHAT WE WERE FEELIN THANK YOU”. The album itself is experimental, original, and full of feeling. It’s a testament to the fact that BROCKHAMPTON has been through a lot this year, but will continue to come out on top.