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Fast-rising rap crew Brockhampton assembled on a Kanye West fan forum and have since torn to next-big-thing status as the self-anointed first “internet boy band.” Their energy, aesthetic and expanding army of teenage fans have won them comparisons to Odd Future, but on Saturation II, their second album of 2017, Al Horner finds a collective working from a blueprint of their own.
Brockhampton are an all-American boy band, with emphasis on all. Founded by Kevin Abstract, a 20-year-old Texan who dreams of obliterating homophobia in hip-hop (see: his 2016 solo album American Boyfriend) and building a Def Jam-sized media empire, the group is a powerhouse cast of mixed race, queer and straight rappers, producers and creatives whose music boasts a spirit of inclusion. That spirit pulses quietly beneath the surface of their latest album, Saturation II, which snarls and shouts (and sweetly serenades) for those with little voice in an America where POC and LGBTQ rights are increasingly being trampled on.
Released two months after their first Saturation release (with a third on the way soon), the album’s politics are mainly inherent – a sense of rebellion achieved by simply letting the 15-member group co-exist and thrive on tracks that crackle with energy and ideas. Across songs spanning huge Outkast-like choruses (‘Tokyo’), fierce West Coast siren synths (‘Gummy’) and gauzy guitar campfire sing-alongs (‘Sunny’, this generation’s ‘Kumbyaya’; do not @ me), their collective chemistry fizzes, with each member given equal footing or thereabouts. Though Abstract is the group’s de facto leader and spokesperson, he happily slinks into the background for long stretches.
There are glimpses of rage at injustices endured: on the stark, hard ‘Junky’, Abstract imagines being brutally dismembered in a homophobic attack, while on ‘Queer’, Ghana descendent rapper Merlyn Wood drags “racist mothersuckers” Dolce and Gabbana over coals, presumably for last year’s launch of $2000 designer footwear sold as “slave sandals.”
Most powerful is ‘Fight’, on which Houston native Ameer Vann raps: “my male role models were drug dealers and thugs / My father learned how to solve problems with guns.” Over eerie sitar rattles, he contemplates the difference between the neutered American history lessons taught in school versus racism’s cold reality: “And like my teachers would say/’Little black boys have a place in the world’/Like hanging from trees/Or dead in the street like I seen on TV.”
Saturation II does let Brockhampton’s members, all barely out of their teens, act their age and cut loose, though: deliriously fun opener ‘Gummy’ – featuring an M.I.A-sounding hook – details a limo heist and, musically, delivers a similar endorphin rush to a joy ride in a stolen stretch. It’s tracks like ‘Gummy’ and the Frank Ocean–like, introspective crooning on Belfast-born Brockhampton singer Bearface’s tender ‘Jesus’ that explain why the comparisons to Odd Future have come thick and fast. It’s true that Abstract’s group share a similar playfulness and sense of world-building to those of Tyler, Earl and co. when they were on their ascent.
Like Odd Future, perhaps even more so, there’s an aesthetic and narrative to Brockhampton that stretches across mediums, in particular their joyfully DIY videos and a Viceland TV show that has heralded an exploding teenage fan base. But Brockhampton work from their own blueprint. The challenges Tyler began posing to portrayals of masculinity in rap on recent album Flower Boy, a whole six years after emerging with ‘Yonkers’? Brockhampton have been doing from the start. And though they may play down their internet origin story, reducing a complex creative spiderweb of talented collaborators spanning multiple disciplines to a mere boy band in interviews, it’s worth remembering how novel that is. Where Odd Future shared a physical space, Brockhampton have risen from a digital one.
Before Saturation III drops later this year, there’s a suspicion that Brockhampton could do with reviewing their balance of quality versus quantity – like the first Saturation, between moments of Neptunes-inspired excellence (‘Swamp’) and autotuned romance (‘Gamba’), there are moments on Saturation II that reduce its pace to a drag like the sluggish ‘Chick’. But the overall impression here is of a crew coming into their own, who aren’t content to merely stake out a place in today’s rap landscape: on the adventurous, quietly subversive Saturation II, they dare to imagine a better hip-hop world to blaze trails in.
Al Horner is on Twitter.