By Jack Crockford, Digital Opinion Editor
According to the group’s leader Kevin Abstract, Brockhampton’s musical journey will come to an end in 2021, making ‘Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine’ their penultimate studio album before the group splits.
Brockhampton burst onto the music scene in 2017 with their successful ‘Saturation’ trilogy, in which they released three albums within the space of a couple of months. The music was fresh, energetic and gave rap fans a new hip-hop collective to get excited about. They did not take themselves too seriously and the tracks were infectious. The members seemed that they were enjoying themselves and their love for making music rubbed off on listeners.
After the trilogy was completed however, Brockhampton made the difficult decision to kick out member Ameer Vann in May 2018 after multiple women accused Vann of sexual misconduct. On their subsequent record 'Iridescence' and their 2019 album 'Ginger', Brockhampton sonically took a more introspective tone, making a conscious effort to release a batch of tracks that tended to be more R&B inspired.
Sugar, a contemporary R&B single off 'Ginger', went on to become their most successful track to date, amassing over 300 million streams on Spotify and prompted a remix with Dua Lipa. Brockhampton seem to be aware that this R&B style and boyband aesthetic has been successful for them, and Roadrunner continues this musical trend. Often times on this record the instrumentals are stripped backed with some of the bars being some of the most personal and mellow to date.
You wouldn't get this impression from the first two tracks, though. BUZZCUT with Danny Brown is exactly what fans have been craving since the disappointing 'Iridescence' in 2018. Kevin Abstract sounds like Yeezus-era Kanye, and Brown excels using his trademark manic delivery. It is a great track and will have great replay value for those who enjoyed more energetic songs like BOOGIE and BUMP from their back catalogue.
CHAIN ON follows which can only be described as a song that fuses a laid-back beat with subtle aggression. JPEGMAFIA performs well and brings a typically nerdy verse laden with Street Fighter and wrestling references. The instrumental itself is quirky with skipping beats and is reminiscent of type of beat that The Alchemist would have used on Freddie Gibbs’ Alfredo. A good track overall, although Peggy carried the song with his standout verse.
Despite strong performances from Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA on this album though, the features overall are hit or miss. Up and coming rapper SoGone SoFlexy executed his verse flawlessly on the banger posse cut WINDOWS, but the A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg features on BANKROLL left a lot to be desired.
Whilst Brockhampton are known for fusing elements of R&B and hip hop to form smooth and catchy choruses, there are occasions on the record where the hooks are rather generic. OLD NEWS, whilst not terrible, is rather one-note, and WHAT’S THE OCCASION seems rather safe and forgettable. The worst track on the album is the dreadful DEAR LORD. Bearface croons over a skeletal gospel beat which resembles more a karaoke Bon Iver impression than a sincere emotional performance.
Part of the reason why the 'Saturation' trilogy worked so well was the balance between bangers and slow jams. With this album though for the most part, Brockhampton seem content with settling down in the middle with repetitive tracks aimed at maximising radio play.
At the end of the record though, there are some standout tracks, some of which that may even rival some of the best songs from the coveted Saturation trilogy. Joba’s performance on The Light Part II is the best verse on the entire record. He opens up on this track, rapping about the recent suicide of his father, and the emotional weight of the subject matter is strengthened by a beautiful, enchanting instrumental. Kevin Abstract’s bars about his sexuality are particularly powerful too. Brockhampton seemingly saved the best until last with this track.
It certainly feels like Brockhampton have naturally progressed from their breakout 'Saturation' trilogy in 2017 and have developed a sound which is more mature and introspective. At times though on the record, some of these introspective tracks are feel a bit mundane and lacking an exciting element. Whilst not necessarily a bad thing, as all groups have to change and evolve to stay relevant, it seems that a collective who broke onto the scene with raw energy and excitement have grown weaker with age.
Have you listened to the album? What did you think?