Among the many musical trends that had occurred throughout 2017, one of the most prominent of them all was artists putting out multiple releases throughout the year. Many prominent acts found ways to pump out massive amounts of music beyond just a standard one-off full-length, with King Gizzard’s 5-album release strategy coming immediately to mind. By far, however, the most hyped of all of these was the Saturation series: a trilogy of hip-hop albums from a Texas/L.A.-based collective called Brockhampton. The self-proclaimed “best boy band since One Direction” had all eyes on them throughout 2017 thanks to both their massive line-up of 14 members (rappers, producers, graphic designers/visual artists etc.) and their exciting mix of hip-hop, R&B, and boy band pop, among other styles. Their lyrics mix in bombastic brag-heavy bangers with more somber introspective jams about mental anxieties, fame, sexuality, and more into consistently great packages. Following Saturation, the group announced a new project Team Effort, which turned into a different release called Puppy, which eventually morphed into a release called the best years of our lives, and now we have their proper 4th full-length album Iridescence, the first installment of a new trilogy going under the best years moniker.
As previously mentioned, Brockhampton’s style covers a specific but varied range of styles, and that balance is preserved on Iridescence. From the album opener “New Orleans,” we’re treated to a pretty hard-edged hip-hop banger featuring members Dom McLennon, Bearface, Matt Champion, Joba, and group leader Kevin Abstract. Right away however, there’s a noticeably different vibe at play in the beat. With Joba and Bearface handling the production alongside Romil and Jabari, the beat is more mechanical and dark than normal, as bursts of fuzzy bass back up a squealing minimal electronic lead melody. Over this, the featured members lay down some intense bars about their star status, as Merlyn dunks on Christianity using imagery related to his African roots, and Joba simply just going off on his verse with his signature high-energy yelping flow:
“But I’m up here somewhere
out here, nobody can tell me shit
Shit, never mind what I did back then
you should take a look at yourself instead”
This darkly mechanical style of beats comprises the intense bangers across the release. This is at least partly due to the production dynamic at play here. While Joba and Bearface have occasionally had producer credits across their past 3 albums, on Iridescence, one or both of them are credited as producers on nearly every track alongside Romil and Jabari. This is put to great use throughout the album, like on my own favorite track “J’Ouvert.” The song alternates between a disorienting fuzzed-out synthetic bass line and bombastic samples of Lavaman’s “Doh Blame Meh” to ramp up the hype levels. This helps Matt, Merlyn, Bearface, and Joba flex a massive amount of swagger all around, with Joba especially getting in what are easily his most aggressive bars on record as he disses every fake person in his life:
“Fuck what you think, and fuck what you heard.
I feel betrayed, you can keep the praise
and all of the fuck shit, need to get away,
still ain’t got the fright to the fickle-minded people”
Meanwhile, “Where The Cash At” uses warbled numbing bass rhythms that perfectly compliment verses from Merlyn and Matt, whose lyrics play off the robbery motif of the Saturation trilogy. “District” helps extend on this further, as the beat is maintained by a drifting buzzy synth occasionally punctuated by a clicking drumbeat and a handful of sampled ad-libs. There’s plenty of bragging across the verses, with Bearface being all about getting that money and Merlyn bragging about buying a house and asking for “ounces” repeatedly. Matt and Joba’s verses, however, provide a deliberately ironic counterpoint to the song’s attitude, as the former’s verse is about how all their fame and riches don’t have a positive effect on their mental well-being and the latter utters the lines: “Praise God, Hallelujah, I’m still depressed. At war with my conscience, paranoid, can’t find that shit.”
This is where the other half of the band’s musical/lyrical dichotomy comes into play. Amidst the boasting and flexing of most tracks, there’s of course a solid chunk of songs where the members show off their emotional vulnerability. “Thug Life,” despite the tough-sounding title, primarily sees Dom discussing his struggles with depression as he tries to navigate through life and trying to find a light within the darkness. The song is punctuated by backing vocals from the London Community Gospel Choir, adding to the emotional vibe of things. Kevin Abstract gets a solo track to himself on “Something About Him,” whose clean guitar rhythms underline a song about his love for his boyfriend.
“Weight” is a song where the group is struggling with the weight of the world and their life problems. What’s interesting about this track is that for each featured verse on it, the beat switches up in a distinct way. Kevin’s verse features a beautiful lush string section that underscores the pressure he experiences as the de facto leader of the group, feeling the need to manage everyone else’s happiness and general wellbeing. Joba gets one of his mellow sing-song verses on the album as he sings about constantly needing assistance from others in his life, and the beat switches into fast-driving percussion and DJ scratches, almost like a somber version of The Prodigy. Dom struggles with maintaining a healthy attitude in times full of anger and hatred as his verse showcases a hazier melody with muffled kick drum parts.
“Tape” is another emotionally honest track that relates more to their relationship with their fame. Joba feels inadequate in the face of constant tragedy throughout his life, and Matt’s verse deals with thinking that he’s not permitted to complain or stress out over anything since he supposedly has it made as a member of this group. The beat drives home the intensity of these pressures with a pounding driving kick drum rhythm, and the song starts right away with no building or wasting time. Kevin’s starting verse is perhaps the most emotionally revealing, as he deals with his relationship to his parents, experiencing guilt over his mother’s failing health as he believes this is due to how much shit he’s talked about her in his music:
“But honestly, you see my mom can’t walk
and her lungs don’t work like they used to
I feel like it’s my fauly ‘cause of music
I be saying shit that’s so fucking rude and untrue…”
Iridescence represents a damn promising start for a new series of albums. Brockhampton’s dynamic musical versatility is as potent as ever, effortlessly bouncing between swagger and somberness at a moment’s notice. Joba and Bearface’s enhanced presence on the production side brings a new level of intensity to the proceedings and gives things a unique feel from prior releases. Some may bemoan the lack of more traditionally pop-styled tracks in comparison to before, but there’s still enough strong songwriting on display to make this worth a few listens. The stage is set, and things are looking as bright as ever for the group.
Final Verdict: buy it. Brockhampton are a group deserving of your attention, especially if you haven’t jumped on the train yet.
Iridescence is available from RCA Records via digital download and streaming services.