Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Brockhampton (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Confused by the many members, the face paint, the numbered albums, and all those videos? Here’s a primer.


Image via Kevin Winter/Getty


The world of Brockhampton can be overwhelming to the uninitiated. The collective put out a dizzying three albums last year—each of them great—and they just announced their next one: PUPPY comes out this summer. It's time to get on board with the crew, but for Brockhampton that takes some background knowledge. So let’s get the basics out of the way. 

Who are they? (A boyband—they write it as all one word)

Why are there so many members? (The band’s 14 members includes vocalists, producers, graphic designers, and more. They are a one-stop shop enterprise.)

Do they all sing? (Seven of them are regular vocalists. Some sing, some rap, some do both.)

Didn’t they meet on a Kanye West fan forum? (Several members were active and met on a site called KanyeToThe.com. Brockhampton is an off-shoot of the 40-person group AliveSinceForever that emerged on KTT. There are members from Texas, Connecticut, Florida, Grenada, and Ireland.)

What’s the deal with the skits and the guy speaking in Spanish? (His name is Roberto. He’s the webmaster and also a recurring character in a story that has yet to be explained.)

Why is everything IN CAPS? (No one knows. It may or may not be important.)

What is a “Helmet Boy”? (A character developed by group member Kevin Abstract that traverses his solo music videos and short video series.)

You may have heard about a Viceland TV Show. It’s called American Boyband, and it details the bands arrival and establishment in Los Angeles. You may have heard about the dozen-plus music videos filmed at their home, the short film called Billy Star, and a rumored feature-length movie.

Plus, there’s a rabid teen fanbase and a subreddit where folks dissect the mysteries of the known Brockhampton universe. It’s one of the best spots for fan memes, updates, and theories. There are mosh pits and raps about being gay. 

Here's what you need to know.

The Music

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The trivia, lore, and easter eggs might draw some into Brockhampton fandom, but that’s really just window dressing; it’s the music that will keep you around. In the span of half a year, the group released 49 tracks on three different projects, 2 other singles, and a box set that included a slew of demos. Each album in the Saturation trilogy (made up, unsurprisingly, of Saturation I, II, and III) is bursting with energy. That feeling is assuredly a product of their writing and recording techniques.

Brockhampton albums are collaborative efforts. The size of the group allows for the artists to make space for contrast in the midst of cohesion, and their best songs distill each member’s talent and style. Tendencies that could overwhelm solo efforts become part of the appeal. The result is more a heady brew than a tasting flight.

In the making-of documentary included in the Saturation box set, you can see a group of young men in their early twenties gathered around a microphone in a bedroom. The walls are off-white and scribbled over with verses, and the blinds are drawn tight. Your guess is as good as anyone’s what time of day it is. It is sometime in the Summer of 2017 in South Central Los Angeles. The only lights are from phones pulling up lyrics and a laptop playing a fresh beat. This group of young men takes turns on the microphone, spitting inspiration in the form of verses and melodies. No one is sure where this song will end up, but the beat goes and the boys bring the energy.

Only six or seven vocalists will end up on the album, but even the non-musical members of the group are encouraged to take the mic. This process will continue for days and nights. Any ideas the boys have will be thrown into this room and splattered on the walls. Their riffs, motifs, and melodies will simmer under the heat emanating from the center of the room. They’ll intermingle and take on different hues. When the dust settles, the producers will take all the sounds and turn them into an album. They’ll work with Terrence Malick-esque fervor, and find the songwriting plots in the recording and editing rooms. They’ll chop and whittle until an album comes out.

Brockhampton is a boyband that strains the notions of what a boyband—or, for that matter, any artist with footing in both hip hop and pop music—should sound like. Unlike projects that serve only as vehicles for singles, each installment of the Saturation trilogy has plenty to keep your interest piqued. There is something here for everyone, here's a brief rundown of what to start with:

A Party Starter: "BOOGIE"

A Ballad: "SUMMER'

An R&B Song To Slow Dance To: "SWIM"

A Song To Rob A Bank To: "GUMMY"

A Song To Get You Hyped: "ZIPPER"

A Song To Drive To: "STAR"

A Song To Listen To At The Beach: "SUNNY"

A Southern-style hip-hop song: "ALASKA"

In other words, if you want to put Brockhampton’s sound in a box, you’re going to need a very big box.

The Boys

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With seven recurring vocalists making an appearance on each album, it can take some time to recognize each voice and personality. While Kevin is on almost every track, and Ameer, Matt Champion, and Dom are frequent heavy lifters, the others make more specialist appearances.

As with any boyband, it’s crucial that one get to know the boys.

Kevin Abstract is the visionary, with songwriting credits on almost every track, and the mastermind behind some of the best hooks of 2017. With the most developed solo career of the group, one that involves an album and tour in 2016, his fingerprints are easy to spot on the group’s musical direction.

Romil Hemnani is the lead producer, and his chemistry with Kevin is in many ways the bedrock of the group. He’s produced or co-produced a majority of the songs and also doubles as the recording engineer. His room is the studio. He has amazing eyebrows.

Ameer Vaan graces the album cover for each volume of the Saturation trilogy. His deep voice and steady flow are iconic, and the backbone that holds I together. His verses often involve a Jay Z-esque narrative of moving from drug dealing to pop stardom.

Matt Champion is the pretty boy and a fan favorite. He has a charismatic, laid-back style paired with a capable singing voice.

Dom McLennon is perhaps the most technically skilled rapper of the group, with the ability to switch up his approach and flow for each song. His verses will grow on you.

Joba mixes and masters all the group’s music, along with occasional production and lending his falsetto and spastic rapping to the song chemistry.

Merlyn. MERLYN! Often called the group’s hype man, his distinctive cadence will get stuck in your head even against your best efforts.

Q3 is the production team of Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley. From Grenada and Jacksonville, Florida, respectively, this duo’s presence is felt throughout the Saturation trilogy.

bearface. is a singer and guitarist from Belfast, Ireland most notable for his role on the closing track of each Saturation album. For much of Saturation Season, he was traveling back and forth between the US and the UK, but he seems to have rejoined the group for the Love Your Parents Tour.

HK is the group’s graphic designer and one of the key creative directors. He’s responsible for the single and album covers, and also edits the music videos, documentaries, and short films.

Ashlan Grey is the cinematographer and cameraman. He’s responsible for most of the visuals that Brockhampton puts out. One of Kevin’s most iconic lines, “My shooters only speak Spanish,” is a loving tribute to Ashlan.

Robert Ontenient, AKA Roberto, is the band’s webmaster and subject of a storyline told through of the group’s album skits and interludes that frame the music videos.

Jon Nunes, tour manager, makes appearances in the group’s tour vlogs.

The Boyband

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we are a boyband, not a rap collective :)

— ian (@kevinabstract) August 25, 2017

Much to the group’s chagrin, media coverage tends to hedge when using the group’s chosen description. They’re referred to as, among other appellations, a “self-proclaimed boyband,” “internet boyband”, “self-described boyband,” “not your typical boyband.” It’s easy to imagine the thoughts implied in these modifiers: They don’t look like a boyband. Do boybands rap?

Brockhampton is too unruly and too black to fit most people’s image of a boyband. So the term is not taken at face value, instead getting treated as a put-on or ploy that needs unpacking. True stans insist on the moniker; the only acceptable additions are “All-American” or “Since One Direction, best.”

Boybands are typically combine a handful of young male vocalists who don’t play instruments and are brought together by a powerful producer like Simon Cowell or, to take it back a few generations, Maurice Starr. Their aims, both sonically and aesthetically, are orchestrated with an eye for popular appeal.

For an independent boyband, taking a label becomes a way of shedding labels. It’s way of deconstructing how a multicultural, DIY, queer-inclusive group of young men can be defined. It’s a way of preempting the conversation.

Here’s where it gets complicated: they are also quite self-consciously more than a boyband. They call their house “The Factory,” and if you ask them who they seek to emulate they’re as likely to say Apple, Facebook, or Spike Jonze as Kanye West, One Direction, or N.W.A. Brockhampton is a one-stop shop: a boyband and the enterprise that produces the boyband. It’s an artistic project with a horizon that exceeds music. For Brockhampton, the lines separating musician, media company, and film studio are just questions of will and ambition.

The Clues

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The breadth of content available for exploration fuels Brockhampton fandom. It’s not just that their music makes young people feel seen, or the way the group adeptly maneuvers social media and press without appearing contrived or inauthentic (things like album announcements and single releases are concerted but also impulsive). There’s depth in the variety of personalities, talents, and voices that the band offers. There are storylines that stretch across skits and interludes, and short films are available for the insatiable—it's an effort that understands that the internet is always ready for more content, and fans will always notice when there's something worth picking apart.

For example, take the structural patterns that connect the three Saturation albums. They all start with a bombastic track and end with a ballad that hinges on bearface's sweet vocals. The first album, I, has 17 tracks, and all of the song names are in caps and have four letters, except for the last song, which has five letters. The next album, II, has 16 tracks, and all the song names are in caps and five letters, except for the last song which has six letters. And III has (you guessed it!) 15 tracks and, again, all songs names are in caps and have six letters, except for the last song which has four letters. “Team” not only closes the loop of the trilogy in title length, but the sample at its end calls back to the opening track on I

In a TRL interview, the band was asked about the song title pattern, but played it coy.

The band that shares much in vlogs, interviews, and TV shows, but also understands the value in withholding. The hints and mystique are there for the kind of fan who reads everything there is to know about their favorite artists and follows them on all social media. It also is primed for generation of internet discourse that embraces discussions and scrutiny over the clues and misdirections dropped in HBO shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld, or the rabid, internet-fueled fan theorizing of Lost.

Relatable content is not unique to Brockhampton, but they simply outpace other artists in the scope of their vision. The stories they spin are narrated in music, skits, music videos, and short films, all of it potentially connected. 

The Brockhampton Cinematic Universe

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Brockhampton’s videos, which number at least 14 in 2017 alone, are the product of Kevin Abstract’s direction, Ashlan’s camera work, and HK’s editing. The videos have storylines that tie in with the Helmet Boy series and the short film Billy Star. The videos convey the essence of the song, but also advance some of the ongoing narrative.

Almost all the clips are filmed at or near the boys’ Los Angeles home, and they usually involve some kind of unexplained absurdist antics. Whether it’s the boys destroying the house, relaxing after a heist (there’s shirtless Ameer petting an alpaca), or driving a golf kart (Dom, covered in blue paint and in prison garb, bench presses an enormous pencil), they’re endearing portraits that convey the team’s chemistry with enough visual antics to keep viewers engaged.

The visual style is consistent. The camera work is free flowing and favors long takes. The videos are in 4:3 aspect ratio, which brings to mind peak-era MTV. It allows vocalists to dominate the screen and deliver evocative performances. Though none of the videos are boring, “Junky,” “Swamp,” and “Boogie” are perfect for beginners.

The music videos work on multiple levels. For those who place close attention, the music videos and short films tell the stories of Roberto and Helmet Boy—two tales which may or may not be related.

Video is one of the crucial ways the band controls narrative. For fans who can’t get enough, there are vlogs from tours, a making-of documentary for Saturation season, and a Viceland TV show. Viewers get glimpses of the writing process as much as the band just shooting the shit. You can get a look as the group lends a narrative to their journey in real time.

The Takeaway

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A nondescript black van pulls up to the scene and the boys spill out into Times Square. They are painted in blue and dressed in their recognizable orange jumpsuits. Erupting from anticipation, the crowd of teens keeps pace with band as they perform the lead track of their latest album, “Boogie.” The camera bobs just out of reach as the song’s horns and sirens propels the crowd forward. The energy that has made the group’s live performances notorious emanates from the screen.

There is a fascination with Brockhampton’s origins because they seem like a group organically spawned by the internet. While YouTube and Vine performances have prompted “discoveries” by record companies, these are mediums of primarily individual expression, not connection.

Brockhampton is, perhaps, what you and your friends could be if you really set your mind to it. They embody the possibilities for community building that exist online. They are the daydream of getting out and finding the friends you deserve. The songs are relatable because the band is composed of lyricists who are frank about the things they are confronting in their lives.

The lyrical content speaks to this, but so do the videos, the vlogs, and the live shows. Brockhampton are ultimately about the tragedies and triumphs of growing up.

Brockhampton brings together a set of elements that at first seem disparate. They are gay, black, white, DIY, ambitious, all-inclusive, and would-be pop stars. They are saturated colors and cinematic aims in 1.33.1 aspect ratio. They are coordinated and impulsive. They are a relentless work ethic, constant self-documentation, a series of music videos and skits that engage narrative arcs, and near limitless fan interaction. Brockhampton moves with the audacity to push their artistry as far as they can imagine. They just might get there.

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