To me, Brockhampton is the pinnacle in the evolution of the boy band.
This is not based solely on the fact that they clearly have the most boys in their boy band, although it does help that there are a metric shit ton of boys in this boy band. This band has earned this title in my eyes by redefining the concept of a boy band into something incredible. Boy bands have always been a great example of the influence musicians hold on their listeners, and I’ve been curious to see if there would ever be anything past the One Direction model. Though their self-proclaimed title as a “boy band” has always seemed like sort of a joke, this rap group is a perfect next step in this evolution. They’ve taken the sentimentalism of boy band music and morphed it into a hip-hop product, giving them a massive appeal. And they seem to know that they’re changing things, becoming legends, little by little. Included with this piece is a short playlist with the songs referenced, so you can listen to each track as you read through:
The first track, MOSSCLIFF, from the band’s 2016 mixtape All-American Trash, sets up a potent atmosphere, with the sound of rain from inside the car and the flicking through the radio to find little song samples in and amongst the static. After about three soundbytes, there’s a woman’s voice, lilting towards us over gentle acoustic guitar coming through the stereo. She describes an exposition of the band thematically on par with the Odyssey, referring to them as “The Boys of the Wild.” It’s almost spooky how dramatic this intro is. The first time I heard this it felt like a walk through a Brockhampton museum, despite this being before their success with Saturation. Now, after hearing all three Saturation albums, it strikes me as oddly appropriate.
Brockhampton is made up of several, several members. Like, a bunch of dudes. BOYS, from Saturation, will help explain. Hella boys. The first verse here is Ameer Van, who feels “just like Zayn, I feel just like Harry,” and the one who calls the band “Southside One Direction.” Other MCs include Merlyn Wood, Kevin Abstract, JOBA, Matt Champion, Dom McLennon, as well as guitar and vocals from Bearface. I’d advise doing some personal research for the full list of collaborators, as they’ve essentially built a small town. But it’s like twenty guys. They met one another via a Kanye West fan forum online and decided to all move to California together and began making music.
So you’ve got all these young men who set out to chase their dreams, completely bailing on society’s ideal path for them, diving immediately into hip-hop, a hyper-masculine genre. This is obviously what every other rap group went through, but while this seems to be a very masculine dream scenario, they’re not exactly making the music you’d expect them to. Sure, they have aggressive lines on the album, and they’re trying to live up to the hero myth a lot of film pushes on young men through the superhero genre or films like Ready Player One. However, listening to their music, it is clearly an exercise in making a modern boy band rap album, and the lyrics don’t really belong to either genre. Check out this song MILK, from Saturation, as an example.
This whole song revolves around growth and change. Talking about feeling outcast in your school, talking about feeling ugly, or about barely ever feeling anything- these are conversations I rarely hear in hip-hop, or from pop groups either. Brockhampton is making it clear it’s okay to admit you’re not alright. While artists like Earl Sweatshirt or Frank Ocean (a heavy influence on Brockhampton) have done a lot for presenting your mental illness openly, there’s something else when hearing it from such a large group- like the difference between a close friend and a bigger support session. And instead of describing their feelings within a diagnosis, they give the listener the gift of walking through what it actually feels like. I think that connects to the music in a strong way.
Here’s JUNKY off of Saturation II next, to show that mental health is only one of several topics appearing on these albums that break certain masculine tropes, including open homosexuality, feminism, and excellent examinations on growing up as a black man in America. In his first verse on JUNKY, Kevin Abstract hits you with
“Why you always rap about being gay?
‘Cause not enough n****s rappin’ be gay
Where I come from n****s get called “f*****” and killed
So I’ma get head from a n**** right here
and they can come cut my head off and
And my legs off and
And I’ma still be a boss till my head go yeah,”
This whole verse is so amazingly assertive in his sexuality, it’s powerful in a way I’m not used to hearing. I know there are a lot of LGBTQ rap artists that I sleep on, but this is still so important considering the huge fandom Brockhampton have gathered, and how many more kids they’ll be able to reach with this sort of representation. In this same song, Merlyn Wood talks about wanting to appeal to his Dad and his cousins, and Matt Champion spits a verse where he asks men if they’re “fucking human” over their disrespect women. Surely these are better role models for young men than most musical artists have been. And unlike One Direction, or any other new boy band, these guys still have an appeal to young men, because they’re rapping- they’re cool. They still talk about making money and being better than anyone else at what they do. The boy band aspects remain as well, but I don’t remember the last guy I heard say 5 Seconds of Summer helped him deal with homophobia in his school AND bumped in the whip. Really quick, listen to this song, it’s great, and it’ll lead into FIGHT, Ameer Van and Dom McLennon’s Magnum Opus on race in America. There’s not enough room in this piece to quote every good line from this song, but it’s still worth it.
I love this band, and I’m happy to have found this much from their music. Because it signifies there’s a world in which young men have this group of superstars to look up to, to teach them you can in fact do both; you can be tough and tender. And who learn the right group will present you with a space to talk about anything you need to, without making you feel weak about it. And maybe we can all learn to love auto-tune in this world. If you’re hungry for more Brockhampton, I’ve dropped a few tracks that especially illustrate the points above on the end of the playlist, and a few more I think are just real good. Thanks for stopping by the Shelter!
To the boys of the wild.
Weird that I’d be interested in coming together with some guy friends and making something that we love an- OH wait a minute.