“I want Brockhampton to be something that lasts beyond me. Yeah, that’s the goal.” – Kevin Abstract, founding member of BROCKHAMPTON.
The story of L.A.-based hip-hop outfit BROCKHAMPTON is a bit of an unconventional one, especially in the world of hip hop. The group formed after Kevin Abstract (real name Ian Simpson) made a post on a Kanye West fan forum looking for artists to collaborate and make music, following him being disowned by his family after coming out as gay (a main topic of his last project under the Kevin Abstract moniker, called American Boyfriend). He and the others that responded then relocated to a house in L.A., where each member resides and creates music together. Kevin just turned 20 a couple weeks ago, and the other members of the group are around the same age. Yes, that really is the story behind this group; material that I don’t think even some of the most skilled storyteller could come up with easily.
BROCKHAMPTON has been gaining traction steadily ever since their formation, with a healthy dose of singles and a scatterbrained, albeit super enjoyable mixtape with 2015’s All American Trash, which showed a great deal of promise and great tracks to match. Don’t begin to think that this level of heart and ambition doesn’t shine through on their new album, SATURATION (BROCKHAMPTON’s first proper LP), because that feeling permeates and consumes this project wholly.
There are many aspects that set BROCKHAMPTON and SATURATION apart from most hip-hop records and projects in recent memory, but the one that sticks out the most is how organic the group feels working together on this LP. When you look back on older hip-hop collectives as a whole, from Wu-Tang Clan to Odd Future (which has been admitted by Abstract to be a huge influence on BROCKHAMPTON), there’s typically the sense where one can pick out a Ghostface Killah or Tyler The Creator out of the mix and feature a sort of “favorite” member from the group. But with BROCKHAMPTON, there is no trace of this. BROCKHAMPTON as a group almost solely relies on ambiguity, from it’s questionable amount of members (ranging somewhere from 6-16 people), to only having maybe one member take over a track or a few different producers helm a given song — it’s all done for the sake of artistic integrity and serves its purpose. You would think this would lead to an uneven hodgepodge in the long run, but it doesn’t. The results lend to something more than just a hip-hop group. BROCKHAMPTON is a community. And as I said before, it feels incredibly organic.
But let’s go back to talking about the music, shall we? I mean, it’s the reason you’re here, after all. Like any good community, diversity reigns across all of SATURATION. Not just from a musical aspect, but from the verses that are delivered by it’s members. In hindsight, It’s kind of amazing that it took this long for a hip-hop group to come about that truly feels representative of almost all walks of life and addresses problems they may face. Whether it’s growing up in low economic areas, facing adversity as a homosexual youth, living with clinical depression, millennial angst, or just being fed up with the current state of the world, SATURATION is an album that introduces listeners to many topical issues.
I can’t think of a single rap record where themes of hyperbolic masochism and proud homosexuality exist among one another. On “STAR,” Abstract even goes as far as to claim a bragging swagger for his sexuality with the line, “Heath Ledger with the dreads, I just gave my nigga head.” SATURATION is progressive in every sense of the word. Not just in its politics, but in the music that dwells within its world. The members of BROCKHAMPTON have been vocal about their influences — hell, as I mentioned before, they literally wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Kanye West — but they have also expressed a deep love for Odd Future, Kid Cudi, and Frank Ocean, which when you listen to SATURATION is clear as day.
It’s seriously a feat within itself how imaginative this thing is through multiple aspects. From the instrumentals and production that sounds new and forward-thinking, to killer hook upon killer hook upon killer hook. (Sing it with me: “Keep a gold chain on my neck, fly as a jet, boy better treat me with respect!”) One of the most interesting aspects about SATURATION is something that I felt was similarly evident on their debut mixtape All American Trash; that being the group’s clear love of alternative rock (most specifically 90’s emo) that shines through on this record in a really unexpected and surprising way. When the hard, plumbing bass and lyrics of “BUMP” practically melt away to a singer-songwriter guitar refrain, it doesn’t sound nearly as awkward or wired as it does on paper. It’s seamless. It’s not the only left curve stylistically that I feel the need to mention in this review, though. The auto-tuned odyssey of “FAKE” absolutely needs mentioning. I honestly can’t recall a track that used auto-tune to it’s full potential and purpose as this track does. Every member of ‘HAMPTON uses it to basically become a character and add an angle of innocence to the bleakness that they are talking about on this track; a quality that just makes the song every bit as haunting as it is earworm inducing.
I could seriously go on for an entire day with praise for SATURATION. The entirety of its existence and the story of its creators is truly beautiful when you boil it down. I assure you you won’t find anything like this in rap. Not before, and maybe not ever again. SATURATION is special, and cannot be copied or imitated. The group ends up feeling more than just a collective of certain rappers and producers, and instead feels like it’s own living, breathing being. With SATURATION, it’s as though you’re witnessing an important moment in music; all at once a revolution and a revelation that I hope lasts and keeps going as strong as what’s on display here. If it does, then maybe Kevin Abstract’s dream of BROCKHAMPTON continuing on past his involvement could actually some day come true. SATURATION is a damn promising start to that dream, and without a doubt one of the best records of the year.
9.5 out of 10
— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger