Written by Mike Hill and Clayton Tarantino
The “best boyband since One Direction” has returned from the completion of their fame-inducing SATURATION trilogy with a new album, the genre-bending Iridescence. Released September 21st, the 15-song album features a varied, sometimes jarring production style coupled with work from BROCKHAMPTON’s six signature vocalists. Lying oddly comfortable between the raw emotion of mumble rappers like XXXTentacion and the daring experimentation of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, the album pushes rap genre conventions with a thematic focus on mental health and its related stigma.
BROCKHAMPTON is a Texas-based rap collective formed in 2015. The 13-man group, ages 20-26, considers all of its active members to be a part of the “boyband,” even though some members do not create music. The group had mostly an underground following until the release of SATURATION, an album trilogy starting in June of 2017 which inundated the hip-hop music community, hurtling the group into its current humble popularity.
In May of 2018, vocalist Ameer Vann was kicked out of the group due to allegations of relationship violence. This loss of a lead vocalist, coupled with BROCKHAMPTON’s recent signing with label RCA, has made Iridescence a kind of proving ground for the group.
To understand BROCKHAMPTON and Iridescence in context, it is essential to have an understanding of the six current vocalists and their usual roles within the band. They are, as follows:
- Kevin Abstract: Talented rapper, singer, and frontman of the boyband, Abstract primarily handles the hooks.
- JOBA: The most versatile member of group, JOBA is all over—rapping in high-pitched mockery, screaming threats with raw anger, or pouring out his love in teary ballads.
- Dom: Dom is arguably the most lyrically talented rapper in the group. He writes using poetic conventions, yet his raps sound like revitalized flows from hip-hop’s 90s “golden age.”
- Merlyn: As the most energetic member, Merlyn is often compared to Lil’ Wayne as his verses possess the kind of “party song” energy you would expect from rap’s mid-2000’s Bling Era.
- Matt Champion: Both rapper and singer, Matt Champion is known for his smooth flows. He is the heartthrob of the group, and he knows it.
- Bearface: The most distinctive member of the group, and the only non-American, the Glasgow native is the only solely-singing member. He croons emotional love ballads with the kind of sleepy melancholy of an emo-indie pop artist.
As mentioned above, much of Iridescence speaks to the effects of mental illness on fame and vice versa. While many other artists and groups in the hip-hop genre tend to focus on the material gain that comes as a result of fame, BROCKHAMPTON chooses a different route: They showcase their humanity by talking honestly about the issues that affect them in spite of their growing popularity.
The second song of the album, “THUG LIFE,” finds Dom struggling to overcome skeletons adamant on staying hidden from his sight: “I’m still reconciling with skeletons I ain’t know that I possessed.” Later in the song, Dom gives a name to one of these skeletons: “The biggest threat I’m up against is who I face in my reflection / Depression still an uninvited guest I’m always accepting.”
In “WEIGHT,” the crew aptly discusses the weight of their own insecurities, shortcomings, and pressures. Kevin Abstract opens the song with these lines: “They split my world into pieces, I ain’t heard from my nieces / I been feeling defeated, like I’m the worst in the boyband.” He addresses his feelings of losing touch with his family and feeling like a lesser member of the boyband he helped start. About halfway through this song, the beat transitions from smooth strings and angelic vocals to one with a bouncing drum line and scratched, raspy vocals. JOBA takes over for the group. His verse is hard-hitting, repeating the phrase “Pressure makes me lash back, wish I could get past that / I can’t take a step back, makes me wish you’d pass that.” In the outro, JOBA again repeats a phrase that sticks with listeners: “Sipping on my pain, smoking by my pain / Ingesting my pain, I just wanna play.” The trend of the song follows the construction of the pressure and weight that affects the group. The ending finds ways to cope, “sipping” or “smoking” away the pain to make it more tolerable.
Iridescence was entirely created in a span of ten days; this sprint, while impressive, has left room for some cracks. The biggest issue with Iridescence is one the members could not quite control: Ameer Vann’s removal. As mentioned earlier, Vann was a lead vocalist; with his loss, some of the harder-hitting tracks on Iridescence feel a bit thin. Take “WHERE THE CASH AT,” a high energy, minor-driven, superficial banger that quite literally screams “Merlyn.” Matt Champion handles the second verse, but his heart-throb flow does not quite cut it in terms of energy or believability. This slot could have been successfully filled by Vann, as his gravelly, ominous flows and narrow focus on substance-abuse might have fused the track into a cohesive whole.
Other cracks show. “LOOPHOLE,” the only interlude of the album, works against its own intentions. Opposed to providing a niche perspective, or breaking the musical conventions of a given album, “LOOPHOLE” fails to be a true interlude as it slows the pacing of Iridescence with a barely relevant interview hosted by non-interesting, unrelated characters. Similarly, the “Sammy-Jo” samples sprinkled throughout the album taste artificial. Sammy-Jo forcefully speaks on “bike thieves” and “hot babes” to a result of confusion and subsequent annoyance. A similar pace-killer, Merlyn’s tired verse on “J’OUVERT” will force listeners to hit the skip button in an otherwise interesting, genre-bending track.
Iridescence proves that post-Ameer Vann, post-record deal BROCKHAMPTON is still the same experimental, talented, and socially relevant boyband as set by the precedent of the SATURATION trilogy. The members meet this precedent in several ways. An augmented focus on meaningful lyricism, with themes of mental health and staying “real” in the face of near fame, propels the boys quite far. The increased, successful use of Bearface, coupled with daring experimentation in production, cements this album as a stepping-stone to comfortable success for the group. However, the album loses a few points in heavy-hitting tracks due to the loss of Vann. There are additional pacing and authenticity issues due to odd sampling choices. While these hiccups matter, we consider the album as a whole to be a success.
BROCKHAMPTON and their album Iridescence can be streamed on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and Youtube.