For my money, there’s no one in music right now better exemplifying and representing the cultural zeitgeist of the 21st century than hip-hop collective, better known as a boyband, BROCKHAMPTON. Sonically, they’re a unique and infectious group, lyrically, they’re on a whole new level, individually, they’re inspiring.
Affectionately branded as “the internet’s first boyband”, the group, made up of rappers, producers, artistic directors and even a stylist, formed after meeting on a Kanye West fan forum (the influence of Yeezy always shines through in their work), moved in together in Texas to start up, before moving to California and beginning the SATURATION trilogy. When we look back on BROCKHAMPTON, it is this three album span from 2017 that we will mark as the moment that defined it all. From June to December, BROCKHAMPTON released SATURATION I, II and III, each of which came with their own marked identity, style and resonance, combining for one of the most ambitious musical achievements of the 21st century.
Within this music, we gain a better understanding of who BROCKHAMPTON are and what they stand for. Led by Ian “Kevin Abstract” Simpson, the group always were their heart on their sleeve, never refusing to censor the important issues they sing and rap about, nor do they conform to the expectations of hip-hop. In fact, BROCKHAMPTON are blazing a new trail for the genre, the most progressive act in the scene? You bet they are. The diversity within BROCKHAMPTON is something that the band pride themselves on and it is what has helped them to garner such a passionate fan base in the first place. Abstract is gay, a fact that he never tries to hide or cover up; the lyric “Heath Ledger with some dreads/I just gave my n**** head […] I don’t fuck with no white boys/’less the n**** Shawn Mendes”, from ‘STAR’ is a fan favourite, one that encapsulates the charisma of the rapper, but also the no holds barred approach in four simple lines. On ‘JUNKY’, Abstract responds to the question “Why you always rap about being gay?” by saying “‘Cos not enough n****’s rap and be gay”. Therein lies BROCKHAMPTON’s MO, speak for and to the underrepresented in the most direct and honest way possible.
But it’s not just homosexuality the band speak on, issues of race become increasingly pertinent to the band with each listen. Abstract’s verse on ‘CASH’ features the line “Confederate flag, neighbours call me “fag””, a reference to not only Abstract’s sexuality, but also to the group’s time living in Texas and the racist tendency’s of Southern USA, a matter that Abstract confronted in the band’s documentary series American Boyband as they passed through their old neighbourhood on tour. Rappers Ameer Vann and Dom McLennon frequently confront race in their lyrics; on ‘FIGHT’ Vann talks of the rhetoric in America that “Little black boys have a place in the world/like hanging from trees/or dead in the streets”, and on ‘SISTER/NATION’, McLennon ponders “Wonder how the world would be if I had no face/If I had no heart, if I had no skin” before summarising that “In the eyes of the law, I’m a problem”.
But for BROCKHAMPTON it doesn’t stop there. They sing about their own inadequacies (look to Joba‘s verse on ‘JOHNNY’), relationships (Bearface‘s solo pieces on ‘SUMMER’ and ‘TEAM’ are fan favourites) and the treatment of women (Matt Champion, if you’ll pardon the pun, champions this on ‘JUNKY’). BROCKHAMPTON are a band for anyone from any walk of life. They’re an all encompassing epic of a boyband, unafraid to rip the plasters off or hide who they are and what they stand for. And they do it all whilst retaining a sense of humour, just as Merlyn Wood calls out on ‘SWEET’ “Don’t call me stupid/That ain’t the way my name pronounced/Don’t call me Cupid/I got too many hoes right now”, despite the fact that he tweeted out around the time of SATURATION II‘s release “Why my tinder dry as hell”. A band for the misifts, the outcast, the marginalised, the underrepresented, BROCKHAMPTON are the champions of diversity and the best boyband on the planet.