There’s a roar coming from the lobby of Alpine Cinema in Brooklyn.
Brockhampton producer Romil Hemnani just won two stuffed bears from a crane game, and fellow beatmaker Kiko Merley is running through the concessions area, yelling in celebration. Twenty feet away, rapper Merlyn Wood is blasting their new song “Sugar” through his backpack speakers while group leader Kevin Abstract scrolls through the Brockhampton subreddit and shares fan-created memes with fellow MC Matt Champion.
The boys are in a relaxed mood. They just released their new album, GINGER, and there’s a sense of relief in the air as they decompress from the group’s most challenging period since forming on the KanyeToThe forums in the early 2010s. It’s been 15 months since former member Ameer Vann parted ways with the band amid allegations of sexual misconduct, and nearly a year since they dropped a major-label debut album (Iridescence) that came as a letdown to some fans, despite critical praise.
Signing a $15 million deal with RCA Records and contending with an internal crisis in front of an expanding audience, everyone in the group had to grow up fast. So they took a break from recording and moved into separate houses for the first time in the history of the band—a sudden departure from years of living and creating together in a home they dubbed the Brockhampton Factory, which relocated from Texas to Los Angeles in 2016.
Disrupting the creative environment that produced their breakout trilogy of Saturation albums in the summer of 2017 was a risk, but they all agree the change has been positive. If the Brockhampton Factory era was their dorm room experience, 2019 was a chance for every member of the group—all in their early to mid-20s—to finally test the benefits of independence.
As he searches for the best words to describe the current era of Brockhampton, Kevin Abstract jokes, “All Grown Up! Like that cartoon show with the Rugrats.” Having battled through a traumatic period marked by Vann’s departure and the weight of expectations that come with a massive record deal, they emerged with a deeply personal album they all agree is their best work yet. Reenergized, they now have their sights set on the future, squarely focused on reaching as many people as possible and becoming the biggest artists in the world.
Rapper Dom McLennon admits that he misses living with his friends, but he makes it clear that the move has been a healthy change for them all. “There were certain aspects of living together that were super dope, like being able to wake up and hear my favorite song being made,” he says. “But now I’m more confident and comfortable in my own skin when I go to work on creative stuff. I’m taking the time to take care of myself, and I wasn’t doing that when I was living with everybody. I would just jump straight in the studio from waking up.”
Instead of living and working around the clock under the same roof, they now come together to record at a house in the Hollywood Hills. “There’s still a central house,” Abstract confirms. “We call it the Creative House, because the creative team lives there. We set the studio up there, so we go there and record. We worked on GINGER there, for the most part. We shot a lot of videos over there. That’s where we have group meetings and stuff like that.” Romil explains that they end up spending most of their time together at the house: “It’s just like how it’s always been, always together working on music.”
Despite living apart from each other, they stumbled into a way to be closer than ever: a weekly tradition they call Friday Therapy.
“Every Friday, all of Brockhampton and a bunch of artists, or just whoever is in L.A., will come to our house,” Abstract explains. “We’ll sit in our kitchen, go around this big circle, and one by one say what our week looked like and what we went through. Good or bad—it doesn’t have to be a terrible thing. It could be something happy.”
“We want hits. We want to dominate radio and be the biggest band in the world, but we don’t want to ever try to sound like what’s popular.” - Kevin abstract
The weekly sessions began on a whim, while Brockhampton was in the early stages of work on GINGER. “It started as me just fucking around in [creative director Henock Sileshi’s] room, saying we should have Friday Therapy and get a bunch of people here, like, every week,” Abstract remembers. “The first time we did it, it was kind of a party. There was a lot of drinking, and it wasn’t really focused.”
As the sessions continued, though, they became more serious. Most of the guys had known each other for over a decade and were already very close, but the experiment served as a breakthrough that let them connect on a level they hadn’t yet experienced.
“The thing I like about Friday Therapy is how I’ll feel like I’m the only one going through something and facing my own battles,” says Sileshi (known by everyone as HK). “Little did I know that there’s this circle of people around me. Here I am, going through these battles, and someone else is actually going through the same thing with me and we connect.”
After the first session, they opened the creative house to people outside of the group, which attracted Los Angeles personalities ranging from young, aspiring creatives to public figures like YesJulz. “Introducing people that aren’t us into the mix changes a lot,” HK remarks. “You hear so many different perspectives from different walks of lives, different ages, different sexualities, different genders, and all of that is validated in this space, and that’s the most important part.”
One of those new faces was Shia LaBeouf. The 33-year-old actor has been a major influence on Abstract and the rest of Brockhampton since they were teenagers. Abstract remembers being “obsessed” with LaBeouf and emulating the actor’s performance art stunts. At one point, he even broadcast his computer desktop for 24 hours to fans watching at home. “I wanted to be just like him,” Abstract remembers.
In early 2019, Abstract finally connected with his childhood hero through mutual friend Jaden Smith. “We talked on the phone, because we were supposed to do a video together. He was saying, ‘Set up a music video. It doesn’t have to be a three-minute video. It could be, like, 30 seconds, or it could be 10 hours long.’ Then he came up with an idea, and I’m like, ‘That’s fucking amazing.’”
LaBeouf’s idea was for Abstract to produce a live stream of himself running on a treadmill in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, for 10 hours. As he walked on the treadmill, fans were free to walk up to him and watch. Some asked questions. Some took photos. Others, watching at home on a YouTube stream titled #THE1999, were reminded of LaBeouf’s own live stream experiment from 2015, when he watched his own movies for 24 hours.
The rest of the group looks back on Abstract’s experiment as a moment of inspiration. “Being able to see all of that happen in real time was amazing,” Dom says. “I was in the studio with Bari, making music, watching #THE1999. Just because I was that inspired seeing my friend. It’s how hard you’re willing to push yourself that really matters. Watching that, I was literally writing songs about that shit.”
After the positive collaborative experience with Abstract, LaBeouf started leading Friday Therapy on a weekly basis. “Everyone followed his lead,” Abstract says. “He was talking to people, giving them advice. It was really cool, and then we just started doing it every week ever since then.”
The Friday sessions ended up informing the lyrical direction of GINGER. It’s clear that each member was working through emotionally heavy issues, and GINGER contains some of the group’s most personal, introspective material to date.
On “Dearly Departed,” they tackle the feelings of loss and trauma that lingered after Ameer Vann’s dramatic departure, which was met with a mixed response from fans. Addressing a May 2019 voice memo in which Abstract said he was “writing music and songs and albums from hell” and felt like he had to “release music not from joy but from obligation,” Kevin raps: “RCA, that note wasn’t ’bout y’all. No lies, it was about how me and my brothers been traumatized/And I must keep creatin’ truths and hooks to get up outta this hell for myself.”
At the end of the song, McLennon shares his take on the events that unfolded with Vann before concluding his verse with a cathartic scream, releasing a gasp of pent-up stress the whole group has been carrying over the past year.
The entire Brockhampton crew is sitting in an empty Brooklyn movie theater, engaged in a heated debate about the best and worst movies of all time.
Kevin Abstract just revealed that the 2015 erotic thriller-horror titled The Boy Next Door is his least favorite movie ever, and the rest of the group has erupted in laughter about Jennifer Lopez’s run of misfires on the big screen. “I’ve got mad love for Jennifer Lopez forever, though,” Abstract quickly adds, smoothing over any real-world repercussions from his comment before they have a chance to develop.
Watching (and arguing about) movies is a ritual the group bonded over when they first lived together in Texas, and it’s a tradition that keeps them close to this day. “Film is one of the few pillars of our friendship,” Hemnani says. “We’ll have movie nights at one of our houses and everyone will just hang out in the living room. It develops a close bond and a lot of inside jokes. It’s fun.” Sitting in the empty theater, Abstract also promises that a long-awaited Brockhampton feature film will happen at some point, and says it has already been written (their first attempt at a Saturation movie was never released because it didn't live up to their quality standards).
Brockhampton’s interest in film hasn’t changed since the beginning, but some things about the group have. After joking that they’re all “getting old,” 23-year-old Abstract takes on a more sincere tone when he acknowledges the growth he’s seen in his friends.
“I think this is the most confident I’ve been in any Brockhampton era,” he says, adding that everything has been “easier” because of better communication inspired by weekly deep talks. “We’re talking more and becoming closer, which I didn’t know was possible.”
The guys attribute their newfound confidence to finally taking a break from music, as well as the experience of watching Kevin Abstract create an intensely personal solo album, ARIZONA BABY, released in April 2019.
“I think it was good that after Iridescence and the I’ll Be There Tour, we took a break,” HK points out. “In that moment, we kept talking about taking a break and seeing life, which is why songs like ‘Dearly Departed’ can exist. We finally got to regroup after working on ARIZONA BABY. It helped seeing what [Abstract] was doing with ARIZONA BABY and how he was being vulnerable and expressing his truth. I think once people saw that, they were willing to just go off and let it all out.”
Compared to the rest of Brockhampton’s discography, the creative process for GINGER was much more deliberate. This time, the producers met ahead of time to plan out what they wanted the album to sound like. “I feel like the other ones were based off a lot of just raw feeling,” producer Jabari Manwa says. “But this one, I feel like we actually were trying to say something, make something that resonated with people sonically, you know, that n****s could live with.”
Two of the themes the writers focused on most were prayer and faith. Abstract says the faith-based song titles were inspired by an old gospel album they were listening to on tour called The Best of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist Church, Louvale, GA. He also indirectly credits Shia LaBeouf with guiding him down this path.
“I hit a low point, and I was reading this Shia interview,” Abstract says, referencing a 2016 Variety profile. “He was listening to Nina Simone’s ‘If You Pray Right (Heaven Belongs to You)’ on repeat at this interview. So then I just started listening to that song nonstop, and those lyrics were helping me get through my shit in a way. That same day, I wrote the ‘Boy Bye’ verse, and I love that. I love ‘If You Pray Right (Heaven Belongs To You).’ It’s like, this is heaven—me being with these guys.”
Before GINGER was released, Abstract kept telling everyone the group was making a “summer album.” But when the project hit streaming services, fans and critics were taken aback at how subdued and sad it felt. “We were trying to make a summer album,” he explains. “We just didn’t realize it was this dark. I was the one who said we’re trying to make a summer album, and then we put out an album that just sounds like fall, winter—like, sad.”
With the group on an accelerated path to adulthood while dealing with trauma in the public eye, Brockhampton’s summer did feel a little sad, and it spilled out in the music. “We didn’t make ‘Gold,’ and we didn’t make ‘Boys’ over again,” McLennon explains. “We made something different, and this feels like summer to us right now. This is what summer felt like this year for us.”
They made a concerted effort to avoid recreating the types of songs from the Saturation trilogy, but they did fall into some of the old round-the-clock methods that produced those albums. “There are moments where we wouldn’t stop, and we would be up mad late,” Abstract says of the GINGER recording sessions. “There’s beauty in the urgency.”
Since the release of the album, Abstract has been thinking a lot about how to take the band to the next level. “What’s challenging is trying to reach more people, man,” he says. “How do you do that? No one really knows how. So it’s just making the best thing you can make and putting it out and seeing what happens.”
Perking up, Abstract stares straight ahead and adds, “We want hits. We want to dominate radio and be the biggest band in the world, but we don’t want to ever try to sound like what’s popular. We want to be left of that. Do it our own way, make something unique.”
As they chase success, their relentless recording habits will continue (GINGER is the fifth album they’ve released since June 2017), and they say they don’t plan on ever taking long breaks between projects. “It’s just not in our DNA,” Joba says. “I feel like I would go fucking insane just focusing on one record for three years.”
Abstract points out, “We did that to ourselves. This is the precedent we set. No one is forcing us to do this. Also, the way people consume music now, you want to stay a part of the conversation. You want to put out the best thing, see what sticks, and make yourself happy.”
At least internally, GINGER is sticking. On release day, Romil shared an Instagram post saying this is his favorite Brockhampton album. “I think it’s all of ours,” he says later. Abstract confirms, “GINGER is our best album.”
As Brockhampton’s afternoon at the movies comes to an end, and they begin looking toward the next stage in their career, a discussion about the definition of success breaks out.
“I can only speak on my personal perspective, but security for my family right now is what defines success to me,” McLennon says. “So I don’t think that I’m successful until I have enough businesses and enough assets and equity in my life to where my sister doesn’t have to worry about how my nephew is going to go to college.”
Hemnani pauses the conversation to point out, “Success is such an odd term because I failed a million times before I succeeded once. Even during my successes, I failed. Success is not a real term to me.” But moments later, discussing Brockhampton’s current position as underdogs who wish to break out of that role, he allows himself to lay the group’s ambitions out a little more bluntly.
”We will be the biggest band in the world,” Hemnani says. “Ever. All time. History.”