The Breakdown, Saturation by Brockhampton

Micah: What began as an online collective of like-minded musicians has turned into one of the most innovative and interesting rap groups in the game right now. Brockhampton was born on the Kanye West fansite KanyeToThe, and is fronted by rapper/singer/songwriter Kevin Abstract, who is joined by a hard-to-determine number of affiliates, including a host of vocalists, producers, designers, and managers.

It’s almost impossible to avoid the comparisons to the early days of Odd Future, from the style of the movement, to the do-it yourself spirit of the collective, to the sound of the music itself. There are a lot of parallels without mentioning that both groups are managed by Christian and Kelly Clancy. Despite wearing their Kanye and Odd Future influences on their sleeves, Brockhampton has been able to make a name for themselves and develop their own style. I only discovered their debut mixtape a month before their first commercial album was released and as a result I’ve been neck-deep in their music for quite awhile, and I’m loving it.

  1. HEAT

Produced by Romil Hamnani

Micah: For a group that calls themselves an American Boy Band, this is a very heavy handed, adrenaline-fueled way to open up an album that shakes up the expectations of what “a boy band” sounds like. The growling bassline drives the posse cut forward as Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Don McLennon and Matt Champion deliver defiant expletives and provocative lines like “If she’s sucking on the barrel / You can’t hear her scream” and “My old friend fucked my girlfriend / I should’ve shot him”. On top of the impactful, gritty verses, there is a next-level insane bridge where Joba repeats “I’ll break your neck so you can watch you back” with the kind of primal shrieking you’d expect to hear from an edgy screamo band. This kind of stuff usually isn’t my thing, but it works really well here. I love the reckless abandon and emotional  rawness that kicks off this album.

  1. GOLD

Produced by Kiko Merley & Jabari Manwarring

 

Micah: I like the way “Heat” kicks off the album, but as a standalone song “Gold” is much more my speed. The smooth and driving instrumental with the insanely catchy braggadocious chorus from Kevin Abstract put this track into rotation for me right away. The verses are pretty good, but nothing to write home about lyrically. They’re mostly held up by strong delivery and the way the group passes the mic from emcee to emcee, keeping the voice and swagger of the song fresh. Brockhampton makes it sound easy to bring together very different vocal tones and styles, but there is a chemistry in this group that is hard to replicate, and that might be the best part about their sound.

  1. STAR

Produced by Jabari Manwarring

Micah: While there weren’t a lot of memorable lines on “Gold”, “Star” is full of them. Dom McLennon, Ameer Vann and Kevin Abstract take turns comparing themselves to celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Jason Statham, Anthony Hopkins. Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt, but the best line by far comes from Kevin Abstract. Being one of the only out gay rappers puts Kevin Abstract in the unique place to deliver one of the hardest bars of 2017: “Heath Ledger with some dreads / I just gave my nigga head”. The reference to Ledger’s role in Brokeback Mountain is one of the best way to make an impression right away and seize the listeners attention. Incredible.

  1. BOYS

Produced by Jabari Manwarring

Micah: “Boys” is really enjoyable for the first few listens, but after a few times going through the album, I start to dread the “Hella boys say” chorus, which really is too bad because I really like the verses on this one. The references to other, more traditional boy bands on the very charismatic first verse and the dry delivery from Matt Champion on the second verse act as a nice counterbalance for the song, but that terrible chorus just ruins it.

  1. 2PAC

Produced by Kiko Merley

Micah: This song is frustratingly short. I love the effected vocals, delicate melodies and dreamy piano. They really packed a lot into sixty nine seconds that could have easily been fleshed out to make the best song on the album. This is my new “Comme de Garcons”.

  1. SKIT 1

Produced by Romil Hamnani

Micah: It’s hard for me to say what is going on with these skits. I know from the Viceland documentary that the members of Brockhampton live together so when Robert Ontenient says (in spanish) that he destroyed the house, I assume that’s what he’s talking about.

Henry: It seems to me like a reference to the video for “FACE”, which opens with Roberto saying “vamos a destruir nuestra casa,” (we’re going to destroy our house), and proceeds to show the Brockhampton crew smashing things in their house and yard. I’ll get into this more later on.

  1. FAKE

Produced by Jabari Manwarring & Kiko Merley

Micah: This one misses the mark for me. The “Yippie-yai” chorus and effected vocals just don’t work for me, but I do love the way Dom McLennon starts his verse, “Uhh / I feel like Master P”. Otherwise, the risks the group took on this one just don’t do it for me.

  1. BANK

Produced by The Alchemist

Micah: Sonically “BANK” fits in on Saturation. I like the bold and colorful production and the part where Kevin Abstract and Dom McLennon sing together works really well, but ultimately the track doesn’t stand out on the album. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but there are much stronger tracks that I will always seek out first.

  1. SKIT 2

Produced by Romil Hemnani

Micah: The idea of self-sabotage from “Skit 1” is reinforced here in “Skit 2” when Robert says he plans to kill himself.

Henry: The important thing here is that he says nobody will remember him after he does the deed, which is the feeling that Kevin Abstract and Brockhampton are trying to challenge with their music. In the Viceland documentary, and on a lot of his songs, Kevin talks about how his art is meant for people who don’t feel as though they fit in, and about how Brockhampton is his attempt to bring together a group of like-minded individuals to create something that will outlast all of them.

  1. TRIP

Produced by Romil Hemnani

Henry: This song has been growing on me. I tend not to be a big fan of over-the-top autotune, but I think it actually works here, since it’s a song about facades and disguises and the weirdness of social interactions when everybody has these assumptions and prejudices. I love Ameer’s verse, when he says: “You came with black folks/hoe, your parents racist/you say they hate me/well I love them/we still roll up/we still best friends.”

  1. SWIM

Produced by Romil Hemnani

Henry: Sonically this song is a change of pace, but I think it works well here to break up the flow, and to introduce us to the guitar-centric production over the next few songs.

  1. BUMP

Produced by Romil Hemnani

Henry: I love the juxtaposition between the hook and the chorus on this track, with the super gritty beat set against the sing along chorus where Robert sings “When this ends, at least I have a reason to live” — I think this is the redemptive key to the album, and to the skits where he talks about killing himself. This song is about music as catharsis, and always has me humming along when the hook comes around.

  1. CASH

Produced by Romil Hemnani

Henry: Also a big fan of the way the verses work over this beat–there’s a nice tension between the simple arpeggio of the guitar and the hard-hitting verses meditating on money and capitalism. This is the type of track where Brockhampton sets themselves apart from Odd Future, I think, where they’re able to pull together and all deliver a cohesive set of verses that make up a song Henry: that at least attempts to tackle something as giant and mercurial as global capitalism, while also relating it back to their individual experiences.

  1. SKIT 3

Produced by Romil Hemnani

Henry: My read on these skits is that they’re here to provide a kind of self-conscious counterpoint to the music, because everybody who makes art in an earnest fashion has doubts and second thoughts about what it is they’re doing. Moreover, Brockhampton as a collective is about creating a place for these artists to be who they are, so when Roberto says here that it’s sometimes difficult to know your place in the world, and your place among your friends, he’s echoing the feelings that I think spurred the creation of this album, and that give Brockhampton their appeal.

  1. MILK

Produced by Romil Hemnani

Micah: The discomfort with identity in “Skit 3” flows nicely into “Milk”’s chorus of “I gotta get better at being me. While I wasn’t sold on this song initially, the angsty charm and uplifting instrumental have grown on me. While it can be a little preachy and corny at times, the message of self-improvement and determination resolve a lot of the discomfort and tension built up on the rest of the album.

16. FACE

Produced by Kiko Merley

Henry: I love this beat, and while I think it’s one of the less lyrically complex tracks here on the second half of the album, it’s one that I can keep nodding my head to. I also think the video adds a nice dimension to the song, and where it’s placed on the album. This is the one where they destroy the house, but the closing verse from Joba has them all lying together on the floor together, still, laid over one another, a shot that’s in stark contrast with the sped-up destruction in the rest of the video. Throughout, the only person who seems at peace in any shot is the current vocalist, which fits well with the album’s theme of raging against established spaces and finding/creating new spaces through music.

Micah: This is definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album and most resembles what I would imagine a modern boy band would sound like. Compared to some of the more aggressive and rap-oriented songs on the rest of the album the verses on “FACE” have a more laid back and melodic quality that works really well. Over the course of the album, the chemistry of the group proves to lend itself to almost any musical avenue they go down.

17. WASTE

Produced by Bear//Face

Henry: This track is an interesting outro, and something of an outlier, being the only track to feature Bear//Face, and the only track that wasn’t recorded in L.A. It’s also the only track whose title isn’t four letters long. It seems deliberately set apart from the rest of the album, and might be meant to foreshadow the release of Saturation II, which is slated for release in August.

 

Micah: It really bugged me out when I learned that this album was put together in less than four weeks. To be able to make this album happen that quickly and turn around and have another one ready a couple months later isn’t easy. Even if there are so many songwriters, producers, and creatives in the collective, the ability to get everybody on the same wavelength and create music with the kind of chemistry they captured on Saturation is an incredible feat.

I can see why they have attracted a hardcore following of misfits who relate to both the chaotic and uplifting sides of the band’s sound. If you dig back into Brockhampton’s earlier work and Kevin Abstract’s solo work it is clear that they are speaking directly to the outcasted, the queer, and the misunderstood kids who are still trying to figure themselves out.

The being said, I can’t end this review without making a point of saying that it is a crime that “Lamb” didn’t make this album. The band dropped it as a single with a music video days before the album and it’s so good and really perplexing that it didn’t wind up on the track list. If you like the more contemplative and melody-driven songs from Brockhampton, this is right up your alley.

Henry: Early speculation on the tracklisting of Saturation II has “Lamb” as the opener, and regardless of its placement, I’d be very surprised to see it not on the second album at all, but it is strange (but maybe smart) to drop it as a single before the release of the first part, as a teaser for the second. Regardless, I think Saturation is a really strong project, one that’s complex and layered enough to sustain a lot of listens and thoughts, and judging by the August release date for part II, it seems as though Brockhampton is hitting their stride in terms of both production quality and quantity. If they’re able to keep putting out this much music that’s this consistent, they’ve nowhere to go but up and out into the space they’ve made for themselves.


Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Micah Roehlkepartain