Owen reviews Texas-born collective BROCKHAMPTON's latest offering and tells us why it marks the beginning of a new era for the group.
It feels strange now to say Texas-originating rap group/boyband BROCKHAMPTON have only existed as a culture force since 2017. Although prior to that the group had an enjoyable mix-tape and a healthy, if a little spotty, collection of loose singles under their belts, it wasn’t until the release of SATURATION in June 2017 that BROCKHAMPTON as we know it came into being. Since the release of that record the band have continued to evolve and expand their sound with a further 2 SATURATION records, rounding out 2017 with a full trilogy. In effect, they completely dominated the music landscape of the year and suggested a brave new frontier of acts forged from online spaces who acquire the relevant skills needed to survive in the industry from YouTube guides and pirated tutorials, rather than internships and careful mentoring. The hype surrounding their follow-up record, iridescence, was unprecedented and BROCKHAMPTON became a prominent name in the hip-hop landscape. Most importantly however, the band produced fantastic tracks, whether it be their initial hype accruing singles HEAT and GOLD from SATURATION I or last year’s chilly iridescence teaser J’VOUVERT.
Last year’s iridescence was the band’s first major label record after signing a $15 million contract to RCA Records, and was an anxious, deeply neurotic record in both a thematic and stylistic sense. The beats had a volatile edge to them, and it seemed like the band’s surroundings while recording at Abbey Road studio in London had imbued their music with a sense of frustration and darkness that hadn’t been seen in the SATURATION trilogy. GINGER is a very different record, but simultaneously it’s a logical thematic successor to iridescence and addresses the same struggles each band member has had coming to terms with fame and losing bandmate Ameer, who was kicked out of the group after sexual misconduct allegations arose around him in 2018; this announcement was made in a statement which said they “were lied too”.
Stunning opener NO HALO introduces this new era of BROCKHAMPTON with stunningly glossy, gorgeous acoustic guitar arpeggios and angelic pitched vocals, which break into easily the group’s smoothest instrumental and most sentimental set of verses to date. Each member impresses: introspective, mission statement verses from Matt Champion; a standout semi-sung verse from Merlyn; a typically lyrical Dom verse where he promises “we all can find a way”; and a gorgeously emotive verse from Joba drawing up imagery of their home in midwestern Texas and the band’s search for a clean slate.
'Stunning opener NO HALO introduces this new era of BROCKHAMPTON with stunningly glossy, gorgeous acoustic guitar arpeggios and angelic pitched vocals.'
The album’s opening three tracks constitute a perfect one-two-three punch as follow up banger SUGAR features a sugary Ryan Beatty hook and a standout verse on self-belief from Dom, followed by one of Matt Champion’s smoothest verses on the record, recalling youthful relationships and nostalgic memories of his youth. Kevin Abstract and Bearface end the song with some gorgeously sung refrains. BOY BYE is the album’s straight banger. It has the group’s signature g-funk influenced beat imbued with colourful instrumentation and a hard banging sub-bass augmented with a jaunty piano sample. Matt Champion really shines on this track with one of the most fun, swaggering verses on this “summer” album; he flows effortlessly through creative boasts and goofy similes – a personal favourite being “Goofy ass boy, look like Elmer Fudd cousin”. He also provides a stunningly catchy hook with an effortless air of cool, along with Merlyn.
'The beat is a crawling quirky trap-inspired mixture of bumping bass and persistent synth chords, and slowthai provides a suitably abstract and melodic verse over the top.'
This track is followed up by HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU, the group’s first collaboration with British rapper slowthai. The beat is a crawling quirky trap-inspired mixture of bumping bass and persistent synth chords, and slowthai provides a suitably abstract and melodic verse over the top, which features him speaking on mental health, some entertaining flows and email-related wordplay.
ST. PERCY and IF YOU PRAY RIGHT are both complex multi-phrased bangers in BROCKHAMPTON’s usual wheelhouse of fun and idiosyncratic mixtures of different blends of underground hip-hop and west coast influences. The former features a high attack bass line that grooves through a hard-hitting beat as each member on the track supplies a distinctive and high-energy verse – the standouts again being Matt Champion and Merlyn with his bizarre outro. The latter is classic BROCKHAMPTON with its fun marching brass beat and funky drum sequencing, and each verse lands perfectly, creating standout moments for Dom and Joba.
DEARLY DEPARTED might just be one of the group’s best songs so far. It’s smoky, swooning vintage soul beat acts as a bedrock for Kevin Abstract and Matt Champion to provide motivational and stunningly detailed verses about their experiences over the last couple of years in the group. It also includes one of Joba’s most powerful vocal performances, showing off a rich and soulful falsetto for an impassioned plea to a departed person of importance. Dom cleans up with a surprisingly clear-eyed and direct verse in which he address his personal struggles with fame and the actions of his friend and bandmate Ameer Vann, who he alleges set up one of his friends to be robbed while he himself was present.
I BEEN BORN AGAIN marks the unfortunate point the latter half of the album where it becomes a bit spotty. It’s not a bad track; it’s just markedly less developed or distinctive than anything else we’ve seen up to this point on the album, featuring stunted verses from Merlyn and Dom that fizzle out relatively content-free and one of Joba’s verses that comes off a little too self-indulgent. The title track that follows does little to assuage fears that the album’s turned on a downwards trajectory, with its cluttered, slightly corny instrumental and washed out production. In addition, it features some saccharine verses that stray too far from good taste to have emotional impact – not helped by the obnoxious focus on vocal effects and pitching.
BIG BOY and LOVE ME FOR LIFE present a more coherent idea of a low-key mature BROCKHAMPTON ballad that I BEEN BORN AGAIN and GINGER hinted at. The pianos that flood in on Joba’s raw BIG BOY verse are a nice moment and the beat switch on LOVE ME FOR LIFE is one of the album’s hardest hitting. Closer VICTOR ROBERTS introduces a new rapper into the group’s fold with a long, seemingly one-take narrative verse analysing a personal history laced with family difficulties and loss. Although the take used might be a bit off the cuff and sometimes seem to disregard the beat entirely, it matches the song’s painfully exposed and honest tone and closes the album off on a relatively powerful note.
'It’s confident, mature and presents a number of new and intriguing musical directions for the band to head in future whilst both adding further variation to their sound as well as a new high-class production sheen.'
Altogether, GINGER is the album that iridescence was destined to be, had Vann’s departure not shaken the group in 2018. It’s confident, mature and presents a number of new and intriguing musical directions for the band to head in future whilst both adding further variation to their sound as well as a new high-class production sheen. The majority of the tracks are strong and the album is held together by a thematic cohesion as the group seeks solace in personal strength and introspection and airs its demons over some of the airiest, smoothest instrumentals of their entire career. Standouts such as SUGAR, BOY BYE, ST PERCY, IF YOU PRAY RIGHT and DEARLY DEPARTED are carefully constructed pieces of pop-rap with a sense of adventurousness and scope unseen since the heyday of OutKast, and they more than make up for a couple of weaker moments in the album’s final few tracks. Onwards and upwards.