Written by Clayton Tarantino and Mike Hill
The self-described “boy band” Brockhampton returns with their release of GINGER, their 5th studio album. The group’s last record, Iridescence, was met with generally negative reviews, but the boyband did not consider GINGER to be a proving ground. In an interview with NME, Brockhampton co-producer Romil Hemnani described GINGER as a fun-loving “summer record.”
The record is not quite the carefree summer album that Hemnani proposed. Instead, it is partially dark, lying semi-successfully between the ghosts of Brockhampton Past and Future.
The Ghost of Brockhampton Past appears when common themes in Iridescence sprout yet again in GINGER, but feel wilted and tired this time around. The first three songs have an increasingly repetitious, cyclical pattern with familiar topics of drug use, the entrapments of fame, mental health, and sexuality. In “NO HALO” Joba seethes about his lack of power and control in his life, and the misfortunes that result. Kevin croons over lost love in “SUGAR,” and Dom struggles with his depression and coping mechanisms in “BOY BYE.” While the first three songs seem scattered and incohesive, the next three focus the album with laser precision. The album breaks its early mold to wrestle with the dichotomy of submission to a higher power versus becoming your own.
A darker hiatus, set off by “HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU,” continues into the next song, with Brockhamtpon’s heavy and straightforward “ST. PERCY.. The song starts off dark, with a deep bass riff and Kevin Abstract’s simple yet enigmatic wordplay. As the beat progresses, it grows and adds aspects to the beat as if iit builds itself. Dom and bearface uncharacteristically threaten and plot against an unnamed enemy. Dom’s verses like “Smokin’ ‘em out like a habit / You know we could make it tragic” and “Fire rapid like a savage” show his bubbling anger. Bearface threatens to bounce his “Shin off your dome.” Merlyn ends the song with his endless energy, screaming “Murder man, murder man / Someone better hold me, before this shit gets ugly.”
In the next track, “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT,” Dom questions religion. He names important religious relics and symbols: the holy lion of Christianity, Haile Selassie, and Allah. However, he juxtaposes these entities with the line “How am I supposed to trust what you say is the truest?” The tone shifts after the introduction to the concept of being in control of your own fate. Matt cautions the listener to “watch your back” for those who “slither through your space and watch it all collapse.” Merlyn speaks out about people “taking food from his mouth.” Conceptually, self-empowerment seems to beat out waiting on God. This three song break forms what could be considered the heart of the album. It is certainly the most divergent production and execution from Iridescence to be found within GINGER.
We would be remiss to not mention possible allusions to Brockhampton’s former member, Ameer Vann, who was removed from the group in May 2018 amid sexual assault allegations. Many verses from Kevin seem to hint at his dearly missed friend, referencing the recent trauma in his life on “BOY BYE”. Dom takes the opposite approach, seemingly mimicking Vann’s typical verbiage and tone in “ST. PERCY” and using it to make threats at an individual whom Dom will not “bury the hatchet” with. That being said, “DEARLY DEPARTED” seems to accomplish a sort of farewell for Ameer. The tone is angry and raw, with booming drums and swelling synths. This is where the artists seem to really open up about their loss, and how it has affected them in many aspects of their lives, most notably their own stability and mental health.
Conceptually, GINGER boasts an uncharacteristically large number of features. A quarter of the tracks on the album include featured artists. In classic Brockhampton fashion, the features are used non-traditionally: instead of the non-members vocalizing side-by-side with Brockhampton veterans, these artists are thrust solely into the spotlight. “NO HALO” takes 88-Rising’s Deb Never front and center as she shoulders the hook, whereas “HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU” has Northampton rapper Slowthai muscle the entire track on his own.
The future begets the past, especially in Brockhampton’s collective downfall: too many voices. Brockhampton’s three producers make the beats they want, as the six vocalists write the lyrics they want. This democratic process comes at the price of thematic incoherence. GINGER tracks switch from discussions of religion, to mental health, to threats of violence in mere seconds. Take “NO HALO,” the album’s opening track. Matt Champion opens with vocals on lost love, Merlyn then switches to fears of career failure, while Deb Never hooks on apathy. By the time we reach JOBA’s verse on religion, the song’s coherence feels laughably muddled.
The boys fall yet again into a mindset of “art for art’s sake.” The album title is never explained. The R&B gap-track that ends “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT” ruins a would-be party bop. We fume when we think of how well Slowthai would have melded with Merlyn, given the chance.
It is when Brockhampton makes conscious decisions that they push themselves, and hip-hop as a genre, to transcendental heights. “BOY BYE” cleverly mixes playful delivery and poppy production with more sobering themes. Dom’s melancholy opener is delivered with a smirk: “Everybody ask me how I deal with my depression / Man look, I don’t got the answer to your question.” Another key move is the choice to pick and choose members for specific purposes, thereby broadcasting the strength of the collective. “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT” features the members playing to their strengths—Abstract handling the hook, Dom spinning poetic verses, and JOBA dropping gruesome bars—harkening back to Saturation Trilogy tracks like “SWEET” in which selective choice was Brockhampton’s it-factor.
GINGER fills an odd space in the Brockhampton discography. Despite the thematic muddiness, artsy smugness, and sonic inconsistencies, GINGER sits solidly between the Ghosts of Brockhampton Past and Future. Borrowing the practice of choice artist selection from the Saturation Trilogy, as well as pulling thematic material from Iridescence, the boy band respects its past. Overall, we recommend giving GINGER a listen, just don’t expect all the tracks to pair well with a beach ball and barbecue.
Key Songs: “SUGAR,” “BOY BYE,” “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT,” “DEARLY DEPARTED”