“The best boy band since One Direction.” An artistic collective. The internet’s first boy band. Kevin Abstract’s newest group venture.
Brockhampton (stylized as BROCKHAMPTON) is all this and more. I’d describe them as the newest, hottest group in alternative rap, but I feel that’s too restrictive to their sound and group identity.
So who is Brockhampton? Originally from Texas, they’re now living and working in Los Angeles. Membership wise, the group consists of six rapper vocalists: Kevin Abstract, Merlyn Wood, Ameer Vann, Dom Mclennan, Matt Champion, and JOBA. But Brockhampton is more than this; just as integral to the group’s identity and success are the producers, videographers, and other affiliates who handle everything from PR to audio production to graphic design. These folks: Romil Hemnani, Henock Sileshi, Bearface, Ashlan Grey, production duo Q3 ( and more) are less outside affiliates and more integral contributors, vital to the collective’s identity and output.
The group isn’t lacking those outside affiliates though, so Brockhampton’s group numbers can range upwards of 20, depending on who you include. This helps their group identity remains a little ethereal — a group of at least 14 is necessarily hard to pin down into a single entity, especially given that a few of them (Kevin Abstract, Dom McLennon) have had solo careers.
Kevin Abstract serves as a kind of creative helm of Brockhampton, a frontman if you will, and he embraces this sort of group ambiguity. There’s interesting layers here — Brockhampton clearly defines themselves as a boy band, and wants to be labeled as such, but they’re also much more than that and don’t want to confine themselves to boundaries. Speaking to Nazuk Kochhar at the Fader in July, Abstract says
I just wanted to have my own dynasty. I wanted my own Cash Money or Roc-A-Fella. Outside of that, I also wanted my own media company. I always used to say, at the end of the day, I want Brockhampton to be like Paramount or something, and you don’t really know who’s behind it. You just think about Brockhampton and all the types of content we provide.
I think what we’re doing hasn’t really ever been done before because on one end, we’re a boy band and on the other end, we’re like this media company/ad agency. Also, we want to be record label. So I’ve never really seen anything truly like it. I don’t really have a blueprint to follow besides watching interviews. Well, I guess the blueprint I do follow is Def Jam, in a way, just because it started in a small space, which is so similar to how we started. There’s also Apple, it started in a small room and it becomes this huge corporation. Basically how I wanna be. (Get To Know The Members of Brockhampton — The Fader).
He also later describes them as family. Brockhampton seems to be a combination of all these things. They’re a family who lives together in the Brockhampton Factory (their house that doubles as a recording studio), a boy band, an artistic collective, and an association with limitless room for growth of the brand.
Too much ambiguity can be harmful for a group, but Brockhampton has been remarkably successful in carving a niche for themselves and forging a mystical cohesive identity, complete with a impressive level of content output. Through a combination of talent and sheer force of will they’ve managed to take 2017 and make it the Year of Brockhampton, releasing three (3 — yes three) full studio albums within the last 6 months. Unlike the deluge of mixtapes that many trap stars put out, these three SATURATION albums are all high-quality and have to solidified Brockhampton’s identity in a few short months. Their sound is dynamic across the SATURATION series, but it’s most definitely alternative rap, with heavy emphasis on lyrical authenticity and diverse vocals and flow. By releasing three full studio albums in roughly six months, they’ve saturated the scene with their music, as the name implies. But more than that — they’ve built their backbone and solidly established both their musical and group identities in the process.
Brockhampton is ambitious, unique, and redefining what group hip-hop looks like in the current moment. In a year when trap dominated both hip hop and radio waves, Brockhampton offered a different sound. The dominant groups in the current trap moment — Migos and Rae Sremmurd — are partially characterized by their intrinsic familial connection. Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy of Rae Sremmurd are brothers, and all three members of Migos are related. Brockhampton, on the other hand, met over a Kanye West chat forum, hence the moniker “the internet’s first boy band”. Now, living and working together, they offer us a new sound, a new group identity, and a new direction for hip-hop.
Brockhampton is pivotal in this moment. There’s nothing specific I’ve mentioned up until this point to indicate this — what’s the big deal with a new hip-hop group? But they’re a different kind of hip-hop group, which they’re acutely aware of. It’s why I think they like to call themselves a boy band instead, to avoid the traditional expectations that come across with the label of hip-hop group.
In the past year, trap music has dominated. And along with trap music’s domination of 2017 comes the influence of trap lyrics — extreme heteronormativity, machismo, misogyny, and occasionally blatant homophobia. Brockhampton offers an alternative to this. Generally, their lyrics are internally reflective, and while there’s some braggadocio, it’s drenched in self-awareness and often followed by some acknowledgement of insecurity.
For example, this is Ameer Vann on “JOHNNY”, off of SATURATION III:
I’ll let you know I’m a dog — I ate the cat alive / But really though, I’m alone / cause I don’t stick around / I know it’s my fault so keep your finger down.
Brockhampton, in short, is striving to be unapologetically true to themselves on their songs. More or less, they’re succeeding, and this style has given. Kevin Abstract is gay, and frequently raps about his relationships and attraction to guys in the same way that other rappers rap about women (albeit without sexism and with far less objectification). On JUNKY, he raps:
Is it homophobic to only hook up with straight niggas? / You know like closet niggas, masc-type / Why don’t you take that mask off? That’s the thought I had last night /“Why you always rap about bein’ gay?” / ‘Cause not enough niggas rap and be gay.
While 2017 might have seen trap burst onto the spotlight, it’s also simultaneously seen the promotion of alternative rap and a return to lyricism — I’m thinking of Tyler the Creator’s introspective Flower Boy, and Amine’s considerations of mental health, positivity, and personal evolution on Good For You. Brockhampton accompanies this trend.
I enjoy Brockhampton, and I enjoy the way they’re redefining traditional representations of masculinity, artistry, and lyrical content in hip-hop. Importantly, though, they’re doing it in a way that feels real and authentic — they’re not just rejecting the standard tropes of hip-hop to reject them, they’re embracing a different style that’s true to who they are both as individual artists and as a unit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Brockhampton’s social media presence has also been influential in their rise to prominence. Most of their members are active on Twitter (Kevin Abstract especially, and his individual following has helped grow the influence of the group). They also frequently respond to one another on Twitter, which naturally creates a large Twitter presence given the number of people affiliated with Brockhampton.
Apparently, they’re also meme-able, and we all know that this sort of virality can be incredible for a group’s name recognition.
yall not bout to tell me this aint brockhampton https://t.co/aGBPOGTLVt
— ㅤㅤ (@SadderDre) December 26, 2017
this is what a brockhampton concert looks like pic.twitter.com/W61k7kY4NK
— jade (@808vv) December 28, 2017
Brockhampton is not a traditional hip hop group. They’re hard to define, but the artist collective/boy band/hip hop group/record label/roommate dynamic is a positively productive one. The year 2017 is better off for their productive turnout and rise to prominence. There will be more to come — Brockhampton’s refusal to confine themselves to expectations, whether of group labels or lyrical content, is proof that their ambiguity is a potentially powerful tool rather than a hindrance. I’m excited to see what’s next, and how they will continue to shift our understanding of what it means to be a successful artist in the current age.