2017 was the year of BROCKHAMPTON. And 2018 will also be theirs for the taking. If you disagree, then I have 48 quality feature-length reasons to prove you wrong. Yes, releasing three full studio albums has been done many times. For example, Gucci Mane did it, but with help from three years of solitude and reflection in hiatus. Hell, Chris Brown released 57 songs this year in his album. But, in addition to the mass production, what makes BROCKHAMPTON so special is its story and vision. The group is shaping the future of hip-hop.
If you aren’t familiar with the tale, in 2015, Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, Rodney Tenor, Russell Boring (aka JOBA) and 8 more behind-the-scenes characters met on KanyeToThe, which is a Kanye West fan forum. This makes the group the internet’s first organically created boy band. While each has their own background and personality, they all mesh together into a controversial and prolific, yet catchy and prevalent hip-hop group that harmonizes with both a 25-year-old’s teen angst and a 15-year-old’s trials through growing up in an online world. And, they have a lot to say. Here are my top five BROCKHAMPTON songs of 2017 (paying no attention to the videos, which complete the experience):
Although not the most lyrically challenging composition, STUPID sheds a light on the behind-the-scenes work of production. The beat is unmatched by other BROCKHAMPTON tunes, and the hook is extremely catchy (“Boys wanna play with my cell phone/But I don’t want nobody to see what’s in it”). The lyrics serve as a “subtweet” to all off the bullies and skeptics in their lives that have come before and after reaching stardom; BROCKHAMPTON is over your bullshit. Cleverly, the vibe of the beat portrays a sense of resolution to match the testy lyrics. Almost halfway through a dense SATURATION III, STUPID is a refreshing track happy in a Green Day sort of way.
It’s not every day that your staple singer and producer (JOBA) can power a song with a rap verse. Approaching it similarly to Frank Ocean on “RAF” or André 3000 in “Rollin’”, JOBA uses the tonal change in singing raps to his advantage. With the longest verse, he focuses on his experience chasing his dream. It’s all sung/rapped with the sense of reflective pride, where he can find humor in his questionable choices. To match, Matt Champion opens the track offering questions he receives about the superficialities of fame. The snake-charming beat amplifies the mockery to give off a Curtain Call Eminem vibe.
A rawer song, it’s interesting that BROCKHAMPTON chose “GUMMY” to be a single off of SATURATION II. However, the track has a charm similar to Odd Future cuts and gives every member a chance to shine. On the surface, each verse is unrelated, yet after peeling back layer after layer of word play (“Call me king of the n*****, I need a crown made of thorns/God said let there be light, on the day I was born/step off the ship with the slaves, then I go hit the stage”) and rap clichés (“Now I’m evading the law, I’m on a high-speed chase/I’m in a big ass truck, I tell ‘em get out the way”), the idiosyncratic stories all support the last verse. Dom McLennon uses these references to Black pride to shed light on societal issues, preaching, “I like to speak like a scholar, like to think like a n****/In this world I can’t wander, no honor behind the trigger/I could get shot in my back, and they’d tell the world that I fought ‘em.” The first track off SATURATION II, the group wanted to start off making a strong statement.
The sole song on this list off of SATURATION, this is a day-one favorite amongst fans. The single is a proud declaration of being an outcast. Backed by a psychedelic “L$D”-inspired beat, each member offers his own verse that work together to show how a motley crew of weirdos can band together to run the hip-hop world. It’s in “GOLD” that the bridge between charming boyband and rambunctious rap group becomes transparent. The track is chalked full of allusions to beat around the bush, from paying homage to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” in the hook to each member’s favorite movie and pop-culture references. The combination of playful wording, positive message, and flowy production induce a numbing euphoria for listeners. The song, thus, is the most versatile: it can be enjoyed while working, relaxing, or partying.
“JUNKY” is a track that more consists of idiosyncratic realizations strung together randomly. Yet, they all help to unify the group in facing each one’s inner demons: sexual identity, drug abuse, dropping out of school, sexism and suicide. Kevin Abstract starts the song with an introspective inspection of coming to terms with homophobia and a lacking family support system. He raps, “I told my mom I was gay, why the fuck she ain’t listen?/I signed a pub deal and her opinion fuckin’ disappearin’/I’m payin’ bill for my sister and tryna fund her business/Is it homophobic to only hook up with straight n*****?” He goes on encourage rappers to embrace their sexuality, no matter gay or straight. Ameer Vann next discusses the realities of battling drug addiction as he raps, “I ain’t under control, I’m losin’ motor function/I need an intervention, I need an exorcism/I need a therapist, paranoia and drug addiction.” Merlyn Wood gives hope to those who choose not to finish school, saying “So I forgive my mommy, daddy, auntie and my uncles/For guilt-tripping feelings whenever they call my number/They see men dream, they see men fallin’/But when I dream, I’m smashing on a lana.” Tying into the family issues that Vann touched upon, Wood gives another example of how we shouldn’t take advantage of support from our loved ones. Matt Champion provides the last verse to discuss male entitlement in an inherently sexist world. He preaches, “I hate these shady folk that want a ladylike/But don’t treat lady right, but they be sayin’ like ‘just the tip’/And, yeah, you mad ‘cause she ain’t fuck, mad ‘cause she ain’t suck/Beat your ass before you got time to say ‘why not?’” With a powerful beat, this track serves as a testament against the current state of the American society.
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- Written by Sam Harkey