BY EMILY ROLES-FOTSO ’21
Since their debut in 2015, BROCKHAMPTON has been redefining what it means to be a boy band. Founded by rapper Kevin Abstract in San Marcos, Texas, the group features 14 members who have various roles, each contributing something unique to the band and its sound. The mesh of styles and genres that comes with having such a big group with very diverse backgrounds is one of the many things that makes BROCKHAMPTON so unique; Kevin Abstract’s outspokenness about being a black gay rapper in particular has gained the band attention and praise. Their second major project, the “SATURATION” trilogy, consisted of three albums all released in 2017 and gained them a cult following which took them from near poverty and a tiny house in San Marcos to a $15 million record deal with RCA records.
They were set to release their next album, “PUPPY,” in the summer of 2018 when the band was hit with news they were not prepared for. On May 11, Ameer Vann, one of the group’s rappers, was accused of sexual abuse. After a period of silence, more evidence came to light, and on May 27, Ameer was removed from the band. Though their decision to remove Ameer from the band was a smart one (and reflective of their Generation Z reputation and fan base), the blow to BROCKHAMPTON was significant; Ameer was one of their most prominent rappers, with his face on the album covers of all three “SATURATION” albums. More than anything else, the band expressed that he had broken the trust of what they had considered a family, both with his unforgivable actions and his dishonesty.
The first BROCKHAMPTON show performed without Ameer was a bleak affair. According to Pitchfork, the group even went as far as “standing in silence during the sections where Vann’s verses would have been.” Members periodically broke into tears on stage, hugging each other for comfort. Soon after, the band went on hiatus and ceased touring.
For some time, it was unclear whether BROCKHAMPTON would ever return. Their fans remained hopeful, flooding social media with words of support and encouragement. Finally, on June 20, the band appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, announcing their comeback with a somber performance of “TONYA,” a new song from their upcoming album. Four months later, they released their highly anticipated fourth studio album “iridescence,” an album about growth, change and the difficulties that come with fame.
With 15 unique tracks and a widely circulated thermal imaging themed aesthetic, “iridescence” made waves with its release, prompting many fans to even change their social media profile pictures to match the band’s. Any expectations for the album to be a sheepish, tentative pity party are repudiated from the very first track. “Tell the world, I ain’t scared of nothing/Tell the world, I ain’t scared of jumping,” Abstract shouts in the chorus of “NEW ORLEANS,” the album’s catchy opening song. It transitions seamlessly into “THUG LIFE,” a slower-paced song about dealing with depression. This dichotomy sets the tone of the album; there is a sense of victory and resilience in getting through hard times, but there is also a sense of mourning that comes with ruined relationships and the inability to live a normal life.
“SOMETHING ABOUT HIM” is a sweet and soft love letter to Kevin Abstract’s boyfriend, followed by “WHERE THE CASH AT,” an upbeat song that gets listeners’ energy up again and references their song “CASH” from “SATURATION.” “J’OUVERT” is by far one of the strongest on the album, a raw and charged piece sampling a Grenadian soca song produced by BROCKHAMPTON’s Jabari Manwa. The highlight of this song is member Joba’s verse, his voice escalating in volume intensity until he is screaming. “I thought I knew better, wish I knew better/Should have known better, wish that I was better/At dealing with the fame and you fake motherf-----s/Guess I’m too real,” he shouts, passionately conveying the anger and hurt that comes with betrayal.
“WEIGHT” is another emotional piece, featuring Kevin Abstract and Joba describing the inner demons that weigh them down. The song starts slow, with a yearning synth beat underneath as Abstract recounts experiences of being young and closeted. Then the beat picks up, chaotic but measured, and Joba confesses “Pressure makes me lash back, wish I could get past that,” recognizing his difficulties dealing with the stress that can come with life in the spotlight.
The album closes with “FABRIC,” a grand finale of sorts that brings to head the main theme of the album: the pressure and pain that comes with losing your anonymity and stepping into fame. The chorus is something to be yelled in the crowded floor of a stadium: “You don’t understand why I can’t get up and shout/I keep tellin’ ya/You don’t understand why I can’t get up and shout.” The message is clear: BROCKHAMPTON is just as good, if not better, than ever, but they are still reeling from the difficult events of the past year.
“iridescence” shows listeners that the band’s ability to create something vulnerable and open, yet fun and liberating, has not changed. With the album debuting at number one on the Billboard 200, there is no doubt about it; BROCKHAMPTON is back, and they are here to stay.