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BROCKHAMPTON, rap’s first self-proclaimed boy band, is the latest step in hip-hop’s progression towards tolerance. Fronted by the openly gay Kevin Abstract, the group speaks comfortably about both sides of sexuality. In a culture as heavily steeped in misogyny and homophobia as hip-hop, BROCKHAMPTON represents a new wave of artists that could bring change to a genre stuck in antiquated ideals. This unique position is not lost on the group, with their latest project, Saturation II, reaching for a greater depth both lyrically and sonically. In a recent interview, Kevin Abstract claimed that “[BROCKHAMPTON IS] what America actually is. We speak for people of color who have a hard time expressing themselves publicly.” Given those lofty ambitions, fans and critics alike have (ed note: unfairly) generated loads of anticipation for each BROCKHAMPTON project. But it is that hype that creates a conflict for the group; on one hand BROCKHAMPTON is being anointed as the progressive face of hip-hop, while on the other the group is also simply a collective of friends looking to make music. It is that dichotomy that at times weighs on their latest release. For though Saturation II marks overall improvement for BROCKHAMPTON, with the group’s innovative production and streamlined aesthetic remaining at the forefront, the rap collective still has room for improvement in their content and lyricism before they can transcend their current ragtag status and achieve the stature so many in the hip-hop community thrust upon them.
Saturation II marks the second release for BROCKHAMPTON this year, following the early summer release of Saturation. The California collective is a ten-plus member group who initially connected via an online Kanye West forum in 2015 and have since moved in together and formed a family-style polymath collective, debuting their first tape All-American Trash last year. Filled with unique, bouncy production and earworm hooks, the tape served as an introduction to a promsingly multipurpose group. Given the amount of traction the group has gained since the release of Abstract’s 2014 solo tape MTV1987, this latest project has been heavily anticipated amongst both their base and new fans curious about the latest hypetrain. The resulting release highlights a bevy of potential in each BROCKHAMPTON member and contains moments of truly great hip-hop, though overall it is clear that the group still needs to work through a few details before their unlocking their potential.
Clearly evident is the versatile production styles and unique personalities of each MC. Each beat is fresh and dynamic, from the crunchy lo-fi percussion on opener “Gummy” to the simple guitar sample that guides “Fight”. This production creates a varied but cohesive vibe that best resembles a more mature, less sociopathic Odd Future. In addition, every MC that tackles a track brings their own flavor, instantly differentiating themselves from one another. Though Kevin Abstract often receives the most attention from the general public, rapper Ameer Vann proves to be especially charismatic, stealing scene on “Gummy” and delivering one of II’s best tracks with his solo turn on “Teeth.” Dom McLennon and Merlyn Wood both have great appearances on tracks like the Justin Timberlake-esque “Tokyo”. It feels like a Saturday skate session through BROCKHAMPTON’S home of LA — warm, wild, and fun as hell.
Saturation II’s best moments come when BROCKHAMPTON’s inventiveness is married to the topics they find themselves uniquely equiped to tread. On “Junky,” Kevin Abstract and Ameer Vann vent their frustrations over a strange synth, string beat that sounds like Beethoven crashing into the moon. Abstract raps “I told my mom I was gay, why the fuck ain’t she listen / I signed a pub deal and now her opinion fucking disappearing,” bringing you into his emotions, injecting anger into every bar. Abstract effuses rage onto the track, flowing magma-like over the tense production. It’s his most engaging performance on the project. Vann’s solo cut “Teeth”, a percussion-less soul loop, is filled with sharp lines like “I got my finger on the trigger, I’m a project baby / A free lunch felon, and I’m hungry every minute.” His ravenousness is evident, and it is truly a star-making turn for the young rapper.
Unfortunately, those lyrical highlights come few and far between on Saturation II, leaving many a song feeling forgettable. Oftentimes, the writing feels like empty calories, and though it may sound spectacular, production and flow alone can’t help cuts like “Chick” and “Sweet” from lacking any true replay value. At worst, mauldin songs like “Gamba” fall into wallowing Kid Cudi-esque territory with its cheesy, synth heavy production and ankle-deep insights into love like “I don’t know why I wanna fuck with you / But all I know is that I really fuck with you.” Emotive content is fine when delivered with subtlety, but far too often BROCKHAMPTON push the subtext, ultimately hindering its nuance. Across II, BROCKHAMPTON prioritize medium over message, making songs that sound like the groundbreaking, genre-defining music that fans expect from the group, but without the content or lyrical dexterity to match.
Culture is always evolving, and the world is forever changing. Hip-hop is no stranger to this evolution, and BROCKHAMPTON are representative of the next big leap for the genre both sonic and socially. With their taffy sound and unique take on neo-masculine sexuality, BROCKHAMPTON has the potential to become more than a teen pastime. If they make good on their promising talent, its no stretch of the imaignation for the collective to graduate to a full-fledged movement. Every release has brought a wave of improvement, and if Saturation II is any indication, BROCKHAMPTON is right on the brink of greatness.