California-based boyband BROCKHAMPTON accomplished an unprecedented feat in 2017, dropping three exceptional full-length albums in a span of seven months. Although it may seem like a cop-out to consider all three projects “Album of the Year,” it is almost impossible to treat them as isolated from each other. This is not to say that each album cannot be enjoyed as a standalone project; each album is one of the finest hip-hop records of 2017 in its own right.
The funky, pop-oriented style of hip hop the band has made patent is a constant in all three albums. However, the versatility of their style is apparent when the band experiments with different subgenres both within and outside of hip-hop. Tracks like I’s “HEAT” invoke East Coast genres such as boom bap, while songs like II’s “GUMMY” and III’s “STAINS” take inspiration from West Coast gangsta and G-Funk rap movements. The group even borrows from post-punk, evident in the distorted bass riff and booming kick and snare that drive I’s “HEAT” and the urgent drum beats that dictate the first half of III’s “SISTER/NATION.”
The trilogy owes much of its success to the band’s producers, including the likes of Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Kiko Merley. They utilize both familiar and unconventional production methods to create a listening experience without any lulls. They set the off-kilter but playful tone of the trilogy in I, making use of spacey autotune in “BUMP,” flanger guitar on “SWIM,” and a silky piano lick on “TRIP.” On the second entry, they amp up the intensity with the aggressive 808s on “QUEER,” grand electronic chorus on “TOKYO,” and eerie, disorienting synths on “JUNKY.” They cap off the series with more experimental sounds like a police siren in “BOOGIE,” fluctuating drones on “STUPID,” and serene keyboard instrumental on “BLEACH.”
Every one of the band’s seven vocalists is able to stand out individually across the three projects while working off of each other in spectacular fashion. Dom McLennon’s verses combine clever wordplay and complex flows, while Ameer Vann delivers bars that reflect an undeniable swagger. In I’s “STAR,” a heavy-hitting banger with lyrics that make over-the-top pop culture references, McLennon boasts his tandem with Vann when he raps, “Chris Paul I’m assistin’ / Ameer goin’ Blake Griffin.”
Founder Kevin Abstract showcases his dynamic vocal style in earworm refrains as well as the occasional introspective verse. JOBA is the most eccentric of the vocalists, whose repertoire includes sugary falsetto and jittery but melodic bawls. Both make appearances on II’s “SWEET,” a freestyle punctuated by Abstract’s groovy chorus, culminating in JOBA’s manic, spitfire verse.
Merlyn Wood’s visceral, ear-grabbing hollers and Matt Champion’s charismatic, laid-back delivery create a gratifying contrast in II’s “QUEER,” an Outkast-inspired track where the band members explore their individual oddities. Champion discusses how he tackles depression as he gains popularity, while Wood calls out Dolce & Gabbana for their controversial “slave sandals.”
Finally, while his appearances on the SATURATION series are mostly limited to the three albums’ final tracks, artist-producer Bearface contributes beautifully sung melodies that are inspired by alternative R&B and neo soul genres.
While many artists today are preoccupied with making a political statement to the point that their music becomes an afterthought (refer to Eminem’s Revival), the band touches on relevant issues as a result of delving into their personal experiences.
Take II’s “JUNKY,” a standout track of the entire trilogy, where Abstract tackles his sexuality in the face of the homophobia he observes in his hometown: “‘Why you always rappin’ ‘bout being gay?’ / ‘Cause not enough n*ggas rap and be gay.”
On the same track, Champion expresses his love for his mother before calling out men who abuse women for not entertaining their sexual advances: “I hate these shady folk that want a ladylike / But don’t treat lady right, but they be sayin’ like ‘just a tip’ […] Where the respect? Is your ass human?” The rest of the members featured on this track discuss suicide, drug abuse, family pressure, and cynicism.
BROCKHAMPTON have proven they are fully capable of putting out hard-hitting bangers as well as writing contemplative pieces. The all-American boyband has demonstrated a virtuosity that is rare in today’s music industry coupled with a willingness and capacity to mature as artists. Even after they have literally saturated the market with outstanding content, one cannot help but wait in eager anticipation for what the band has in store for us in the near future.