Words About Music
I’ve been somewhat hip to the music of California-via-Texas art collective BROCKHAMPTON for a while, specifically in the form of the group’s de facto leader/founder, Kevin Abstract, whose “MTV1987” and “American Boyfriend” projects are both extremely solid pop-rap releases. BROCKHAMPTON debuted last year with the “All-American Trash” project, which unfortunately slipped by me when it came out. It wasn’t until earlier this summer where I properly became acquainted with BROCKHAMPTON and its numerous members.
“SATURATION” is the second full-length project from BROCKHAMPTON, and is set to be followed up shortly by “SATURATION II” before summer’s end. With 17 songs and 51 minutes of material here, there is a lot of room for error, especially for such a loose affiliation of artists who all met each other on a Kanye West fan-forum.
The project kicks off with “HEAT,” the ultimate banger. This song features verses from Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, Joba, and Matt Champion, who all bring distinctly charged energies to the Romil Hemnani-produced cut. I love the song and the energy it establishes, kicking “SATURATION” off with a presence which cannot be ignored.
Just when you think you’ve pinned the group down, they hit you with “GOLD,” a radically different track with an excellently catchy hook provided by Kevin Abstract: “Keep a gold chain on my neck/Fly as a jet/Boy better treat me with respect.” The rest of the crew comes through with charismatic bars and unique voices, whether it’s Dom McLennon’s references to “Mean Girls” and Pee-Wee Herman or Merlyn Wood proclaiming “I just wanna feel up the booty!” I also love the way the backing vocals reinforce the hook throughout the song; it reminds me of something Pharrell might do in one of his productions.
The goodness keeps coming with “STAR,” a humorous song which is centered around references to film, television, sports, and pop culture. This track features excellent verses from Dom McLennon, Ameer Vann, and Kevin Abstract, with Abstract dropping the now-famous line: “Heath Ledger with some dreads/I just gave my n—a head.” His bisexuality is no secret to anyone who’s listened to his solo material, but it’s still refreshing to hear such openness from someone whose sexual orientation has little representation in mainstream culture, let alone hip-hop.
The boys bring the charisma again on “BOYS,” which I think has one of the weaker hooks on the album. It is a very catchy, memorable hook, but I just wish there was more to it. Thankfully, Ameer, Matt, Dom, and Merlyn come through with excellent contributions in the form of some great bars, comparing BROCKHAMPTON to One Direction being one of them, and the “They say that they want me, they forgot about me” hook, which is better than Kevin Abstract’s “Hella boys say, hella boys say, hella boys” hook.
After four tracks of straight-up heat (and the album’s main singles), things get a bit lo-fi with the 1-minute interlude “2PAC,” which features a brief, solemn verse from Ameer and some “808s and Heartbreak”-ian vocalizations from Kevin. This song does break up the album’s flow a bit and I feel like it could’ve been worked into a full song, but I also love Ameer’s verse and appreciate its inclusion in this album wherever it ends up.
“SATURATION” picks up the pace with “FAKE,” which has one of my favorite beat-hook combination knockouts on the whole album. Again, BROCKHAMPTON fills out their sound with numerous vocalists, enforcing and emboldening nearly every hook on this record. I can see people disliking this song for the numerous examples of pitch-shifting which take place throughout, but I actually enjoy this aspect of the group’s music. The energy of this song sort of reminds me of Das Racist, although BROCKHAMPTON’s genes can also be traced back to Odd Future, Lil B, and The Cool Kids. Merlyn’s verse is especially humorous on this track, with the ad-libs about how he shouldn’t be saying any of the things he’s saying. There’s a very homely, youthful quality to BROCKHAMPTON’s energy, and they make their art sound effortless as much as they make it sound carefully crafted.
“BANK” is yet another fantastic track with multiple good hooks. It combines feelings of innocence with feelings of experience, with Jabari Manwa’s beat sounding like something that wouldn’t be out of place on Lil Yachty’s “Lil Boat” mixtape. Then, Kevin and Dom come through with the “N—as on they word of mouth, till they see them boys come out” bridge, which is just as catchy and memorable as the much more playful “Still the only one I do that with/Ain’t that some shit?” hook that kicks the track off.
Just when you think there’s no way BROCKHAMPTON could possibly be catchier and more likable, the track “TRIP” comes in with its initially questionable but undeniably sticky hook. This is another song I can see people disliking for its pitch-shifting and somewhat incomprehensible hook, but “TRIP” brims with energy and humor, even as it tackles issues such as racism and depression. It’s a track that uplifts as it bums out, and the result is an experimental pop-rap track that’s in a league of its own.
“SWIM” is one of the poppiest songs on the album, with its summer-y, nostalgic vibe that reminds me of a bunch of teenagers hanging out together in California, drinking milkshakes and walking on the beach, trying to distract each other from their problems. BROCKHAMPTON very much feels like a group of people coming together trying to overcome their anxieties, woes, and fears. BROCKHAMPTON calls itself a boyband, but I’m more tempted to call it a glee club.
They continue to play with expectations on the song “BUMP,” which features aggressive verses and the album’s hardest beat, but Kevin intentionally kills its energy with the hook, which removes everything from the beat except reverb-guitar chords and a somber line: “When this ends, at least I’ll have a reason to live.” The track has a confusing energy, but after the initial surprise, it’s extremely enjoyable, especially for its versatility and slight-parody of the “banger.”
“CASH” also features a catchy, yet annoying hook, one of my least favorites on the album. Despite this misfire, though, each of the verses deliver short, potent bars about political issues, whether its homophobes torturing Kevin Abstract for his sexuality, Dom McLennon’s revolutionary dreams of post-capitalism, and Merlyn Wood’s disdain for the powers that be. It’s a shame the “Get money, big bands, simple bands” hook kind of undercuts the song’s success.
“MILK” is a really great track, though, and I enjoy the somewhat cheesy hook: “I gotta get better at being me/Just being who I am.” It’s a track that displays respectable honesty and tells of the desire to have a friend to hang out with. I especially like Merlyn’s verse about the isolation he felt as one of the only black people at his college campus.
The album ends with the one-two punch of “FACE,” which features a hook from Joba instead of Kevin Abstract, and “WASTE,” which is the only song to feature Bear//Face, who recorded this track in London. He’s also the only one on the song, so it’s sort of an odd ending to an album that has featured 4-6 people per song. Still, it’s an excellent song and one of my favorites, leaving me not-yet saturated with what Bear//Face (and BROCKHAMPTON in general) is capable of.
I think this is one of the year’s best hip-hop projects. There’s hardly a dull moment here, nor are there any particularly bad moments. There are a few misfires here and there, but this track is mostly fantastic and consistently great, even if it doesn’t feature a unifying sonic consistency. The unifying factor is that BROCKHAMPTON is a group of outsiders and weirdos who met online, and right now they are unstoppable. I’m stoked to see what the band does on “SATURATION II” and into the future, and I hope they continue to reenforce their own strength by shining the light on individual members’ unique styles. I also hope Kevin continues to write hooks and piss off homophobic rap fans.
SCORE — 9.00 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — HEAT, GOLD, STAR, BOYS, FAKE, BANK, TRIP, SWIM, BUMP, CASH, MILK, WASTE