The idea of Brockhampton has always been appealing—a large group of very talented friends working together to form rap’s first boyband. It’s only now with the June 9 release of Saturation and its August sequel Saturation II that everything is falling into place.
Since the release of their debut singles in 2015, which have now been scrubbed from the internet, Brockhampton have continued to improve with each release. From the fragmented All-American Trash to the cohesive Saturation albums, they are becoming their best selves by being even closer collaborators. They persisted, experimented, and the results are on their records.
Saturation was initially announced as a mixtape but it soon expanded in scope. Changing its status to an album, Brockhampton made their debut proper. Building on everything they learned creating their first mixtape, All-American Trash, they’ve kept growing and evolving with Saturation and Saturation II. From album to album, Brockhampton are improving in front of our eyes.
Brockhampton are often compared to Odd Future, if only because there isn’t another large rap group with an off-kilter approach receiving major attention right now. But in a few crucial ways, they’re fundamentally different. Outside of a few songs on the collaborative tapes they released and Tyler’s older material, Odd Future never made an obvious effort to flaunt their collective chemistry in their music. Brockhampton, however, are all about collective energy.
Finding more in common in how they operate with Wu-Tang Clan than Odd Future, Brockhampton are the first truly post-OF group to come along and shake up hip-hop. Even though Kevin Abstract is the architect and mastermind behind the group, both Saturation albums are very much a group effort.
Considering how they operate, the Odd Future comparisons fail to make much sense. They’re undoubtedly influenced by the group, and Tyler in particular, but that is the case for a huge number of rising rappers who are now in their late teens and early twenties. Tyler certainly paved the way, but now Brockhampton are shooting off down a new fork in the road, a path uncharted.
Rather than following a blueprint, they’re tinkering with it, and making it their own to inspire even younger artists. Learning from their experiences over the past couple of years, they’ve nailed the accelerated album cycle approach, outdoing even the biggest acts with unlimited resources when it comes to constant content. What makes them different from say, Drake, is that everything they’ve been putting out has been consistently great.
With the trajectory they’re on right now, it won’t be all that long until they’re fulfilling that boyband dream of theirs. The progression from Saturation to its sequel isn’t immense, but it’s noticeable enough that the prospect of a third album has expectations high—perhaps not unreasonably so considering that Brockhampton keep outdoing themselves.
What makes them great isn’t simply how well they present themselves, either, as they’ve shown an interest in furthering their lyrical capabilities, too. Dom, who had a standout verse on the bittersweet “Trip” speaking about thoughts of suicide, proves himself the most adept when it comes to tackling issues many youth face. But he’s not the only one going a lot deeper on Saturation II.
Ameer opens up the track “Fight” with one of his finest moments in Brockhampton so far. “And when I grew up I learned what racism was / And what teaching it does / And like my teachers would say / ‘Little black boys have a place in the world’ / Like hanging from trees / Or dead in the streets like I seen on TV.” Considering he’s faced criticism before regarding the lack of variety in his subject matter, this feels like a direct antithesis to the idea Brockhampton don’t really rap about anything, as Pitchfork suggested in their review of the first record. Ameer even addresses such criticisms directly on “Chick,” rapping, “I’ma be a star even if I say the same things.”
Moments like this highlight just how astute they are when it comes to their surroundings and their own failings, aiming to better themselves rather than staying stuck in place. They’re both dismissive of criticisms and willing to prove them wrong, which makes them one of the most exciting rap acts around. Maybe they’re not yet revolutionary for rap in the same way Tyler and Odd Future were, but if Saturation II is any indication, they’re getting there.
There is, however, one way in which they’re definitely breaking new ground. In previous interviews, Kevin Abstract has stated that he wants to be an idol for gay kids. As much as there are gay idols in pop and rock music, rap culture has a long history of homophobia. In recent years, artists like Le1f and Angel Haze have been vocal about their sexuality in their music, and Kevin is building on their progress as part of a group of artists with varying sexual orientations.
In a now deleted tweet, he explained, “The goal is to fucking normalize this shit so if a gay black kid wanna talk about hooking up with dudes next to his homie it’s not a big deal.” It’s all about avoiding the segregation of queer artists from straight artists. Kevin Abstract has all the tools to be a rap star, it’s just that Brockhampton, and Kevin in particular, are blowing up without adhering to the traditional ideas of hip-hop masculinity.
His verse on “Junky” is not only one of his best verses so far, it’s also one of the best rap verses of the year so far. It’s impassioned, addresses the hatred he faces, and tackles it head on. “Where I come from niggas get called ‘faggot’ and killed,” he proclaims, before adding, “So I'ma get head from a nigga right here / And they can come and cut my hand off and / And my legs off and / And I'ma still be a boss 'til my head go, yeah.” Put up to the spotlight, this is one of the hardest verses rap has given us this year, and for a genre that still struggles to understand sexuality beyond the “norm,” this is a big moment.
In a video for All Def Music, YouTubers Zias and B Lou reacted to the “Junky” video, saying, “I ain’t gonna lie that was probably like, the gayest, dopest verse I’ve heard.” And they’re right; it’s unapologetically gay, and it’s also hard as fuck.
Brockhampton are firing on all cylinders right now, hitting every target they aim for. It speaks volumes about the group as a whole that Kevin’s verse doesn’t really overshadow the rest of the group’s contributions to the track, even if it’s the most immediately attention grabbing.
Everyone’s verse on the track speaks to their demons and what they’ve been coping with, and how others perceive them, but Kevin’s is the verse that feels the most important for a culture that’s still got a lot of growing to do. How often have queer rap fans been able to look towards someone in the genre and think, “This is someone I can look up to”? Rap needs someone like Kevin Abstract.
But what makes Brockhampton so great isn’t the individual members and what they do—it’s what they manage to create collectively. Together they are unstoppable, and they’re on a legendary run right now. Their work ethic is challenging the likes of Future’s incredible 2015 mixtape run, especially if they can keep things going with Saturation III. And Brockhampton haven't given us any reason to doubt them yet.
Brockhampton's group chemistry is unmatched, and they’re finally earning the boyband tag they’ve long claimed. At this point, they might redefine boybands for a new generation the way Odd Future did for collectives. With their live shows looking wild, it’s evident that this collective energy isn’t exclusive to their records, either. But we’ve already seen this with their videos, filmed on the streets of South Central L.A. and Van Nuys, often with a disregard for their own safety. It all feels youthful and punk, a remedy to the overly authoritarian chaos of 2017.
Brockhampton are open, honest, and refreshing. When so many rappers are calling Marilyn Manson their biggest influence out of nowhere and wearing metal t-shirts to keep up with trends, Brockhampton only seem all the more genuine. Rather than creating an artificial alternative persona to stand out, these guys are truly standing up for kids that are actually different.