Let me start this review with saying that I never in a million years thought that I would be going to see a show made up of people who were recruited for a band through a Kanye West fan forum – that I didn’t even know existed until now. But the cool thing about music is that it always continues to surprise you: and that’s exactly how I felt when I started listening to Brockhampton.
Brockhampton is an “alternative rap & hip-hop” group made up of a group of rappers, singers and producers that compile a list long enough to confuse you with a grocery list. Below is the current roster:
- Kevin Abstract is essentially the unofficial “leader” of the group: he’s the one who started looking for members several years ago. He is a vocalist in the group and also works on production and video direction.
- Matt Champion – vocals
- Merlyn Wood – vocals
- Dom McLennon – vocals & production
- Joba – vocals, productions (mixing and mastering)
- Bearface – vocals, guitar and production
- Romil Hemnani – production, engineering & DJing
- Q3 – production
There are also a few other names who are involved with the group in other ways, but these are the ones that seemed to be the most relevant to this piece. There’s been a long history with the formation of Brockhampton and the addition and subtraction of members, but for the sake of coherency I’m going to start with the release of their Saturation trilogy in 2017. It starts with the release of the group’s debut album, Saturation, released in June 2017.
Saturation received critical acclaim and created a lane for Brockhampton to defy genres and stereotypes that live in the hip-hop genre. Saturation II was released just two months after their debut, closing the trilogy with Saturation III on December 15 – this album was received the best out of the three.
In March of 2018, the group signed with RCA Records (Cage The Elephant, Khalid, Foo Fighters are just a few notable names under this label): according to Billboard, the deal is worth more than $15 million for six albums over three years.
Brockhampton was quickly on the rise in early 2018, set to perform at a handful of festivals over the summer until their future was in question after former (and founding) member Ameer Vann was accused of sexual misconduct. Denying the allegations, he admitted to verbal and mental abuse and was kicked out of the group in late May of this year, causing the group to postpone musical projects and canceled remaining tour dates, including their set at Governor’s Ball in New York City.
The group was active again just about a month later as they continued their summer tour without Vann. Their next album, Iridescence, was released in September and scored the band’s first Number 1 album on the Billboard Charts: a big moment for the genre, considering that they have openly queer members. Just three weeks prior, Eminem’s Kamikaze held the same spot and was criticized for it’s homophobic lyrics.
Self-described as an “All-American Boy Band:” Brockhampton group is made up with black, white, queer and straight members: a big selling point of their appeal as the hip-hop industry has never been very open with the LBGTQ community. Founding member Kevin Abstract has been open about his sexuality as a black hip-hop musician and is happy to be a positive face in the genre that has been historically anti-LBGTQ.
“I don’t want to be labeled as a ’queer rapper’, I just want to be a rapper. I have to exist in a homophobic space in order to make change and that homophobic space would be the hip-hop community. So me just existing and being myself is making change and making things easier for other young queer kids. I want to be me and express that and break new ground along the way.” – Abstract in an interview with BBC Radio 1.
I have to admit that their openness and welcoming nature to the LBGTQ community is a huge reason as to why I like the group so much: not only are they changing the face of the genre, but they are also allowing a wider demographic of fans to feel welcome & included in the band’s rise to success. This was the first thing I noticed when I arrived at their sold out show at The Aragon Ballroom in Chicago last week. Lots of younger fans of different races and sexuality. I was much unaware at the fact that they have such a young fanbase, but it’s interesting to see younger people being drawn towards such a progressive hip-hop group.
I’ve seen hip-hop and rap performances at music festivals before but I have never had a ticket to see a hip-hop show ever, which is crazy to realize since I’ve gone to so many shows throughout my lifetime. With no opening act, Brockhampton started their performance just a few minutes late and opened their set with “Weight,” one of the band’s few slow songs in their discography. It was interesting move, considering how much the crowd was buzzing with anticipation, even starting to chant “Brock-hamp-ton” a couple minutes before their set started.
While I was unsure of what I would get out of this performance, I left being even more of a fan than I was before I walked into the Aragon. I had a chance to catch about 20ish minutes of Brockhampton’s set at Lolla this year, but it definitely didn’t do it justice compared to seeing them perform a headlining show in a sold-out venue. While there are 6 members onstage, none of them try to outshine each other.
They take their place at the front of the stage when it’s their turn for a solo, they retreat back into the shadows of the huge, brightly lit screens when it’s their turn to be silent. They come together with genuine happiness to be onstage with each other when it is time to rap or sing in unison. It was like a group of friends who have a bond like the kids you see in the movies: my first thought was of “The Sandlot.”
Brockhampton has been touring for a long time and have faced issues like having to kick a founding member out of the group, but it seems as though it’s only made their bond as musicians and friends stronger. They broke up the nearly 2 hour long performance with small clips of the group answering questions about themselves about religion, adulthood, music and more. It felt as though the audience was able to experience the group’s friendship and connectedness outside of the musical aspect: what more could you want as a fan?
The 20-set long performance was filled with moments of contradiction – soft moments of vulnerability – particularly with their song “San Marcos” – a song that references suicide and codependency – and then loud bursts of energy – my favorite was the last 20 minutes of the set, which brought an encore of three tracks: “1998 Truman,” “1999 Wildfire,” and “Boogie.” This was a great way for them to establish themselves as a group with depth and edge.
I think the set could have been cut by a few songs, but that’s probably the 24-year-old in me who was getting tired of standing at a show on a Sunday night. Overall, Brockhampton’s performance has and will continue to change my perspective on hip-hop and I hope that they are just the start to a new ideology that lives in the genre. Based on the success of their albums and tour, it seems like I can have faith that a wave is coming.
November 12 – Boygenius
November 13 – Jessie Reyez
Click here to read all of my show reviews of 2018.