Six studio albums, a documentary television series, sold out headline shows across the world, a dream slot at Tyler, The Creator’s prestigious Camp Flognaw festival, a landmark performance of ‘BOOGIE’ in the middle of New York’s Times Square, one of the most riotous Reading Fest sets ever, BRIT award nominations, Dua Lipa collabs, and more.
These mark just some of the career highs of Brockhampton, the Texas-formed group of multi-talented artists, producers, directors and designers who have become one of the most ground-breaking collectives of recent times.
Over 10 years since their inception, the boys have announced an “indefinite hiatus” and are scheduled to make their final shows in London this week.
There’s never been a better time to get caught up with their inspiring - and extensive - journey thus far. Just what it is that has fans worldwide infatuated with the self-proclaimed best boyband since One Direction? Well…
“Anybody wanna make a band?”
It was 2011 when Kevin Abstract – Brockhampton’s aspirational figurehead and founder - made a post looking for potential bandmates on KanyeToThe, a forum centred around discussing all things Kanye West. With responses soon trickling in, Abstract started piecing together the first loose iteration of Brockhampton – originally called AliveSinceForever – which would feature future members Ameer Vann and Dom McLennon. At one time the line-up consisted of over thirty contributors. Blimey.
While AliveSinceForever certainly mirrored the scope of Brockhampton’s ambition to achieve big things, it wasn’t until the release of Abstract’s debut album ‘MTV1987’ in 2014 that there was a body of work that suggested their goals could come to fruition. Working together with Romil Hemnani - the nucleus of Brockhampton’s then producer roster, alongside Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley – Abstract outlined the tumultuous effects of the internet on his personal life while sonically pooling from all the influences that inspired his growth as a person. It’s unrefined in the sense that it feels like Abstract’s stream of consciousness set to his own jukebox, but highlights like ‘Hell / Heroina’ and the grandiose ‘Tame Cab’ emit a star quality that surpasses derivations.
The years following ‘MTV1987’ were the most formative in regards to shaping the genre-spanning sound of Brockhampton, with Kevin Abstract experimenting and collaborating on a variety of projects with the members that would go on to comprise Brockhampton’s present day lineup. There’s the bizarre ‘Bubblegum’, released in late 2014; an infectious dual effort with Dom McLennon over a sputtering beat that feels synonymous with the weird pop stylings of PC Music’s output at the time. Then there’s the ‘NOT ON DOASM’ collection – offcuts from Abstract’s eventual second solo album featuring Vann and Matt Champion that have since been scrubbed from streaming services – that offered a glimpse into the bombastic production and vitriol that would flavour some of their more aggressive cuts. Even the solitary EP ‘MEMORIAL DAY’- a grungy, lo-fi affair from NOWIFII; a project orchestrated by Abstract, Hemnani and Brockhampton’s enigmatic crooner bearface. under aliases – is a key piece to the puzzle, an early indication of the group’s creative spontaneity and their tendency to flirt with the fuzzy tones of college rock.
Establishing an expansive repertoire of music spanning a multitude of genres between them, the final footnote in the era preceding Brockhampton’s explosive 2017 came in the form of ‘All-American Trash’. The equivalent of a handpicked mixtape you might gift a crush after a few dates in the hope that they’ll understand you better, it serves to put the spotlight on the talents and quirks of the group’s individual members, above demonstrating their prowess as a cohesive unit. For anybody wanting to quickly familiarise themselves with the who’s who of the group, it’s the ideal starting point – especially since ‘Flip Mo’ gives the charismatic Merlyn Wood his first starring role on a track and ‘Lost In Love’ puts full focus on the delightful singing chops of vocal powerhouse Joba.
THE SATURATION STREAK
Being prolific isn’t necessarily an uncommon thing when it comes to hip-hop. With the ongoing trend of artists churning out ‘commercial’ mixtapes that often seem filler-loaded just to take advantage of new streaming rules, Brockhampton’s ‘Saturation’ trilogy’s unwavering hunger to reinvent and best its predecessors with each instalment sets it apart as a brash, vital alternative.
The original and first ‘Saturation’ release marks the first time that the members of Brockhampton all wrote and recorded together in the same living space. Their newfound sense of intimacy immediately translates to their output. There’s a burning desire to bring out the best in each other that bubbles to the surface on songs like ‘STAR’, the album’s de-facto banger that sees McLennon, Vann and Abstract bouncing pop culture references off one another in quick succession. There’s also a collective outpouring of bottled-up thoughts and emotions that spill over tracks like ‘MILK’– a special moment that sees Wood opening up about feeling ostracised by college despite being formally accepted, and McLennon delivering a deeply introspective monologue at its tail-end.
In a lot of ways ‘Saturation II’ was a cultivation of the seeds sown by its predecessor, but there’s still new elements that bloom amidst the old ones. It’s more adventurous in its composition, while elevating the group’s pop sensibilities, demonstrated by ‘QUEER’ tinkering with the boom bap formula and Joba’s harmonic vocal runs on the sax-ridden ‘TOKYO’ that call back to early Outkast. It’s the middle child of the trilogy that also fosters ‘JUNKY’ – positioning Brockhampton at their most abrasive and thematically dark - in which Kevin Abstract claps back at those criticising him for putting his sexuality front and centre in his lyrics, and Champion tears into rape culture.
Giving ample weight to the adage of saving the best ‘till last, it was ‘Saturation III’ that felt like the record Brockhampton had been threatening to make since their inception. From the album’s riotous opener ‘BOOGIE’ – graduating from the school of N.E.R.D. yet wasting no time in showing up its teachers – to the hazy slowburn of ‘BLEACH’, their camaraderie and diverse range of skills have never been more potent. With the sheer breadth of musical territory the album covers, it’s at this point that comes the feeling Brockhampton could pull off just about anything they set their minds to.
Beyond the music
While Brockhampton’s commitment to emphasising every aspect of their factory-like creative process means that nobody is truly behind the scenes, there are members with roles that fall outside of writing and performing music. Graphic designer Henock ‘HK’ Sileshi and photographer Ashlan Grey head up Brockhampton’s artistic direction, taking the group’s ambitious concepts for artwork and visual media, and meticulously crafting them into the striking imagery that adorns their records and floods their videos. Garnering inspiration from artists who take immense pride on the aesthetic of their work like Odd Future, their contributions have been vital to the appearance of Brockhampton’s persona - right down to the less glamorous tasks like sifting through 300+ hours of footage for an intensive making-of documentary that was bundled with the limited run boxset for ‘Saturation’.
Administrative tasks that come with being the internet’s biggest boyband are also handled internally. Jon Nunes acts as Brockhampton’s onsite manager - a huge logistical undertaking for a group with so many individuals. And with nobody on hand to sort out the technical side of establishing online presence, Robert Ontenient stepped up to the plate as the group’s webmaster instead. His main responsibility is coding and developing their websites and apps, but he’s also become something of a viral sensation thanks to his “Me Ilamo Roberto” skits that precede every music video tied to the ‘Saturation’ trilogy.
Embracing the fandom
While Brockhampton themselves were the ones who first claimed their boyband title, the ravenous fanbase they’ve amassed - particular over the past year - have been instrumental in cementing that label. Flocking to the boys for a myriad of reasons – the diversity of their craft, apathy towards societal norms and their endearing personalities to name a few big draws – the affection of their audience is akin to the kind of support you might expect to see associated with a K-pop group, and it’s a testament to their importance in redefining what it means to be a boyband in the 21st century.
The members of Brockhampton aren’t shy about expressing their own fandom either, whether it be Hemnani’s pleas to get in the studio with 1D alumni Zayn Malik or Abstract’s ecstatic Twitter exchanges with Canadian pop dreamboat Shawn Mendes. It’s not surprising when you consider their roots in online fan forums, yet it’s still refreshing to see musicians conduct themselves in such a carefree way. Elsewhere internet culture can be all too quick to shun or delegitimise the reactions of ‘fanatical’ fans. Not here.
The Longest Summer Ever
Riding high off of the back of their ‘Saturation’ trilogy, the band delayed their reported fourth output ‘Team Effort’, announcing that they’d be releasing their new album ‘Puppy’ in mid-2018, before signing to RCA for a reported sweet, sweet $15 mill.
Sharing a snippet of the forthcoming record, the album was once again delayed after original member Ameer Vaan faced multiple sexual assault allegations. The band released a statement announcing that he was out of the group, with Kevin Abstract telling fans, “We’re probably gonna push the album back but I still want a single to come out next month. Having to deal with family problems in front of the world is very difficult, and I’m sorry if this isn’t enough. It’s heavy and I also understand if you’re mad and completely over it. I should have said something, I shouldn’t have been quiet for so long.”
Unsure what the future was looking like for the group, ‘Baby Driver’ actor Ansel Elgort surprisingly got the band back on their feet, inviting them out to Hawaii where they regrouped and reconnected.
The group would go on to pen emotional track ‘TONYA’ in Hawaii, which got its live debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon with backing from serpentwithfeet, Ryan Beatty and Jazmine Sullivan. The band’s bearface would later say that this song and performance helped Brockhampton regain momentum after the allegations.
The group also used the live performance to announce their new album, ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’.
Things We Lost In The Fire
Scoring a Beats 1 radio show, the collective promised “new music all summer”, dropping bangers ‘1999 Wildfire’, ‘1998 Truman’ and ‘1997 Diana’ in the episodes.
Scrapping the name ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’, they confirmed that their fourth record would be called ‘iridescence’, which was, as it so happens, penned during a 10 day stay at London’s infamous Abbey Road Studios.
That wasn’t all: August 2018 also saw the boys not only hopping across the pond for recording, but to finally give us British BH stans the goods and play their debut UK shows.
Performing two nights at KOKO, DIY went along to witness the madness, writing, “One minute, the band are standing on speaker stacks, encouraging circle pits and dancing manically in the eyeballs of the front row; the next, they’re serenading their way through slower cuts, taking their seats on swings suspended at the back of the stage - the 2010s equivalent of Westlife and Boyzone getting off their stools for the key change? - each slowly pacing forwards to deliver their verse, before retreating once again. The duality of the performance, and of Brockhampton as a whole, is impossible to avoid. The way that they traverse genre boundaries - and consequently traditional fanbases - is what makes them so unique, exciting, and set to go the whole way and deliver on the promise they’ve shown - to become one of the biggest bands in the world.”
They’d later go on to rip up the Radio 1 stage at Reading festival that summer, and even appeared as special guests in N*E*R*D’s set later in the day. In our review we said, “The anticipation in the lead up to Brockhampton’s set today is so much that the festival end up letting them loose on the huge Radio 1 stage fifteen minutes early, and to the most frenzied crowd of the weekend. Kevin Abstract orchestrates the six-piece through a set that feels like a real Reading ‘moment’, anticipation at fever pitch for a band whose journey is only just beginning. When they appear on the main stage with N*E*R*D later in the day, it’s clear that’s where they’re destined to end up.”
Dropping in September 2018, Brockhampton’s fourth full-length ‘iridescence’ landed in its full colourful glory, shooting to the top of the Billboard 200 chart and marking the group’s first number one album.
Inspired partly by Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, Kevin Abstract said on Twitter, “I think it’s really important that people listen to the album as a whole. It’s our painting and I’m really proud of it. We shot a video for a song - still debating on whether or not we should release it. kid a didn’t have singles and we’re kinda using that as the blueprint ha”.
In our five star review of the album, we said of LP4, “By confronting the bumps they’ve found in the road over the last year, Brockhampton have found a new sense of unity, and when ‘iridescence’ confronts every single one of these bumps, it proves that the band possess a truly special voice. It was a record Brockhampton had to make - now it’s done, they’re free to move on and become the biggest in the world.”
And as if the world was listening, the group went on to be nominated for Best International Group at the 2019 BRIT Awards; only losing out to power couple The Carters, aka Beyoncé and Jay-Z. However, even Queen B couldn’t pull off the fish shoes Merlyn sported on the red carpet…
Notably absent from also delivering a #lewk at the BRITs, Kevin Abstract revealed that he’d been working on solo music, announcing new project ‘ARIZONA BABY’.
Dropped in April 2019, he silenced any BH break-up rumours, tweeting, “BROCKHAMPTON IS NOT BREAKING UP THE NEW MUSIC SOUNDS GOOD AS HELL WE JUST NOT SPENDING 10 DAYS ON ALBUMS NO MORE”.
Delivering on that promise, the group confirmed their fifth full-length ‘GINGER’ in 2019, returning with first track ‘I Been Born Again’ that August. The record found the boys at their most emotionally mature, confronting their demons, and featured appearances from slowthai, Deb Never and Ryan Beatty.
Dua Lipa (yes, Dua Lipa) would later hop on a remix of ‘SUGAR’ marking one of the most iconic collabs of 2020, and making the track even more dreamy than its original.
COVID may have put a pause on the world, but nothing could stop the creative juices of our BH boys. Although 2020 marked the first year they’d not dropped a record since 2016, they decided to use their self-induced quarantine to create a string of one-off singles uploaded to their YouTube.
Sharing the new tracks weekly as part of their Technical Difficulties series, they previewed the songs in livestreams on Twitch, uploading them to their YouTube for a limited time before they disappeared from our airwaves. The tracks also saw OG member and producer Jabari Manwa stepping up as a new vocalist within the band.
Later that year, Kevin and Romil also started their own label, Video Store.
The Light Is Worth The Wait
Kicking off the beginning of last year with a cryptic teaser video declaring that ‘The Light Is Worth The Wait’, it was only a matter of time before more music would arrive.
Dropping ‘ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT NEW MACHINE’ in April, Kevin revealed that the album would be their penultimate release as a band, with another record set to follow the same year.
Emotionally centred around the death of Joba’s father, ‘ROADRUNNER…’ found the group once again confronting their struggles in genre-blurring hits. It also featured appearances from Danny Brown, A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, JPEGMAFIA and, Kevin’s fave, Shawn Mendes.
Writing in our review, we said, “An album which finds a band who’ve been through a lot finding their stride and searching for joy from within the bleak, ‘Roadrunner…’ sees Brockhampton silencing any of those who feared they might have lost their spark. It’s a record that - if it is truly one of their last - sees the lads going out with a bang.”
The Best Boyband since One Direction
Pushing back their last album plans after putting out a call for new producers, just as 1D did back in 2015, on January 14th 2022, Brockhampton announced that they would be going on a “indefinite hiatus”.
“From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for being on this journey with us.” They said in a statement. “We would not be here without our fans. We hope we have been able to inspire you as much as you have us these past eight years.”
Noting that their performances in London and Coachella will be their last, though 2022 may have ushered in the sad ending of the BH era, the group have proved themselves as one of the most game-changing collectives in recent memory.
Writing ahead of their shows at O2 Academy Brixton, Kevin tweeted, “tonight is a celebration if you’re coming to the show be safe and be ready to dance and sing”. Only one question remains: we’ll see you in the pit, yeah?