by Jack Gillespie
For people who were in the know, 2017 was the year of Brockhampton. In a span of six months, the self-described “boy band” released three albums, Saturation, Saturation ll, and Saturation lll, filled with some of the most charismatic, catchy, wonderfully produced hip hop of the decade.
Every single emcee had a distinct personality, style and tone, but the chemistry shared among all of them was undeniable. This isn’t even mentioning the variety of music videos, all directed by band member Kevin Abstract, that solidified their strong aesthetic that had a huge part in their virality. They were bona fide phenomenons! It wasn’t until May of 2018 that the band came back to Earth after their meteoric rise; Ameer Vann, one of the founding members, was accused of sexual misconduct by two women and was eventually removed from the band. One of the most prominent members of Brockhampton was now gone. For a group whose greatest appeal is their chemistry, this was absolutely game-changing. Now with iridescence, the first album in a whole new trilogy of records, the idea of a Brockhampton album without Ameer is now a reality.
How exactly Brockhampton were going to address the departure of Ameer or whether they’d mention it in the music at all was a significant question. The result? While there are a few lines that may reference him, they are few and far between, and they only ever allude to what happened. Considering the circumstances in which he left and the disappointment they show towards Ameer in the statement they issued shortly after the allegations started to spread, this is probably for the better. Much like how the band have decided to move on from the situation, the best idea is most likely to do the same and not obsess over the something the group obviously does not want to define them.
Turning things up to 11
With that addressed, the biggest question now is this: What’s next for Brockhampton on iridescence? With how much music we got from Brockhampton last year, they were going to have to switch things up. As great as their style is, by the time Saturation III came out, certain aspects of the Brockhampton formula were starting to lose their charm.
Thankfully, with this new record, there are adjustments to their style. The most notable change shows up in the production. Brockhampton has had their fair share of intense cuts (i.e. “HEAT,” “BUMP,” “BOOGIE”). However, the hard-hitters on iridescence take things to a whole new level. With the embrace of heavy distortion and noisier, harsher sounds and textures, there are tracks that could be considered Industrial Hip Hop. Not counting the two-minute pseudo-interlude “THUG LIFE,” “NEW ORLEANS” and “BERLIN” make up the fiercest tracks to ever open up a Brockhampton record. “J’OUVERT” and “DISTRICT” are genuinely startling in how eerie and noisy they can get sonically.
The evolution of Brockhampton’s more emotional, low-key tracks isn’t quite as easy to pin down as their bangers; pointing out just one element wouldn’t be able to capture the change. The one thing that can be said is the group’s more experimental, abstract side gets to be shown off on these cuts, as well as their ability to masterfully compose and structure a song. The transitions in songs like the Radiohead-influenced “TAPE”, the absolutely gorgeous, melancholy “TONYA” and even the Saturation-esque banger “HONEY” are the highlights of the record. Signing to major label RCA Records didn’t result in their sound being simplified, it was simply elevated.
Swap Pop for Odd
But with the more experimental direction taken, one of the things that did become a casualty was the pop appeal of Brockhampton and their general catchiness. Every Saturation record was filled with infectious hook after infectious hook, so to come out of a Brockhampton record with so few hooks you can recall at the drop of a hat is quite the surprise. It’s not as if Brockhampton should be making hooky, poppy rap their entire careers, but their ability to consistently write some of the sharpest hooks in the game was one of their biggest strengths, as well as one of the things that initially made me a fan of the group. So to see that asset not being used to its fullest potential is a tad disappointing.
The one aspect of the Brockhampton sound that had the biggest chance of changing for the worse was probably the most important factor of their music: their chemistry. It was obvious that their decision to remove Ameer from the group was extremely hard on them. They all met as friends before bandmates, so it was much more than simply removing a rapper from a troupe. It’s the kind of move that could cause permanent shift.
The Power of Chemistry
But it shows on iridescence that there was next to nothing to worry about, as each emcee is as strong as ever; this is proven even on the very first tracks. On the aforementioned bangers “NEW ORLEANS” and “BERLIN”, each member feeds off the intensity of the instrumentals: Dom McLennon continues to prove he’s the most technically skilled rapper in Brockhampton, Merlyn’s one-of-a-kind voice and delivery is as entertaining and thrilling, and Joba solidifies his status as the most improved member. He went from having so few verses on Saturation I they could be counted on one hand, to being essentially a rap chameleon on iridescence. He comes through with what seems like an endless variety of deliveries, tones and flows. Sure, not every single one worked, but the fact that he seems to never run out of new ways to approach a verse is simply astounding. Pretty much every returning member has continued to do as well as they did on the Saturation albums, with the slight exception of Matt Champion, but that might just be because he hasn’t really changed his approach since last year.
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Featured image: DJBooth
Much like the first album of their first trilogy, "iridescence" sounds like a solid blueprint that will polished with the following albums. The blemishes are visible, but the bigger picture is so wonderful that those blemishes are (mostly) excused because the possibility for improvement is pretty much guaranteed. How could a group that shows as much talent as Brockhampton not have the ability to improve? But as it is, without thinking of the follow-ups, "iridescence" still captures the magic of the original "Saturation" trilogy and stands as one of 2018’s most inventive hip hop records in a year that has brought us a lot of amazing hip hop.
Jack is a Journalism Major and a Sociology Minor who has been writing about media for over four years. He used to be a pop music nerd, then an indie music nerd, and now both. If you’ve heard of something queer, pretentious or artsy, he probably has something to say about it.