The first instalment in a new regular column sees our contributors tackle the issue’s hottest topic. This week, we brave the stans of BROCKHAMPTON and try to unpack the hype. Our resident sceptic and music editor Niall O’Shaughnessy attempts to come round to the brighter side occupied by Matthew Derwin, Sean Armstrong and Muireann O’Shea.
Niall O’S: Alright, thanks for doing this guys, let’s dive straight in. First off, what is the extent of your love for BROCKHAMPTON? Are we talking just giving the new releases a few listens or are you buying merch and have seen every interview on youtube?
My history with them started with Kevin Abstract’s Boyfriend tape thing a while back, then when they broke with Ben Carson and I listened then to Saturation III when that was getting buzz too. At no stage did I want to immerse myself in the BH universe or whatever, thought some tracks were good but never got any further. I’m obviously not hearing what everyone else so what’s wrong with me? Am I a bad person for not loving such an ‘important’ and ‘necessary’ group?
Muireann O’S: I came to BROCKHAMPTON sometime after the release of Saturation II, around this time last year. I was listening to Kevin Abstract’s solo work alongside Brockhampton, oblivious to their connection.
Matthew D: I’m definitely a big fan, the SATURATION albums made up a huge percentage of my listening this year. While I find the hype around them can be a bit overwhelming, I feel like Brockhampton bring something very unique to the table in that they cast aside the traditionally hyper-masculine shroud that surrounds rap in favour of what feels like genuine honesty and vulnerability.
Sean A: I think they occupy a unique space in hip-hop in that they have one of, if not the only prominent gay rapper as their frontman, and overall they remind me of the Island of Misfit Toys. Many members have been othered by various parts of society, and fans themselves can relate in that they have been diminished or undervalued just like the members of the band. I don’t think BROCKHAMPTON is doing anything groundbreaking or incredibly new on the music side of things, but they came in at the right time and are benefitting from that.
Muireann O’S: I personally appreciate music with lyrical depth and BROCKHAMPTON always provides. Between their buoyant pop hooks and clever wordplay, there are genuine and vulnerable moments; take Matt Champion’s discussion of rape culture on JUNKY, Joba’s confession of suicidal thoughts on SAN MARCOS or Merlyn’s description of the cognitive dissonance of the education system on MILK.
Matthew D: Their self-description as a boy band, Kevin Abstract’s unashamed openness about his sexuality and the diversity of the members are all refreshing changes from the norm. They feel more like a collective of artists than simply a run-of-the-mill rap group. In a community that can almost glorify homophobia and machismo – Eminem and DMX come to mind – BROCKHAMPTON are shaking things up and making excellent music in the process. Even if you ignore the social connotations of what they’re doing, their stellar production and the unique flows of each member alone are enough to elevate them far above their contemporaries.
Muireann O’S: Beyond the six vocalists, there are 8 or so more members that adhere to a wholesome School of Rock ‘Just because you’re not in the band, doesn’t mean you’re not in the band’ mentality. Brockhampton operates as a more transparent sphere of production that a conventional boyband. Fans can see, and therefore more easily appreciate, elements of the band that are usually professionally manufactured or obscured from fans. In knowing that HK and Kevin Doan designed the merchandise or that the song J’Ouvert is named about the festival in producer Jabari’s native Granada and samples a soca song, a fan feels like they’re witnessing something more personal and organic than is usually on the market.
Matthew D: Something that I personally find a bit of an issue is the massive online following they have that’s blindly loyal and rabid, particularly on Twitter. Deciding you don’t like BH, a perfectly valid opinion, is enough to get you torn apart by the legions of overly dedicated ‘stans’. For the kind of positive messages the group gives off, it’s a bit wild how ridiculously hostile the fans can get. I guess it’s an issue that affects every large fanbase and can’t really be avoided, but it can be quite a turn-off for someone with a passing interest in their music. I know it certainly would have been for me if I wasn’t already into them.
Niall O’S: I suppose if you like the music, all the great things about the group on an aesthetic or personal level make being a devoted fan very easy. A flip side of that is that there’s no room for the casual listener, as in you’re either a part of this revolution or you’re not and maybe that’s how I feel. Or I could just be getting old. I miss Odd Future.
Sean A: Sonically, BROCKHAMPTON came in to occupy a space previously used by The Gorillaz and by Odd Future, but given that both those groups/projects have either disbanded or significantly disintegrated BROCKHAMPTON is running away with that market group.
Muireann O’S: The comparisons to Odd Future are valid, but not always relevant to me in specific areas. Tyler, the Creator has always walked too fine a line between pushing the envelope of rap culture’s attitude towards sexuality and simply being homophobic for the shock value for me to admire him in the same way that I do Kevin Abstract. Frank Ocean and Syd are excellent artists, but have never been LGBTQ+ advocates in the same way Abstract has; putting himself in the firing line to try and change perceptions.
Matthew D: In regards to actually getting into the group’s music, it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea – while not on the levels of Marmite, I’ve found they can be a love or hate affair, and with the waves of excessive hype surrounding them you’ll probably start listening with some preconceived bias already. Don’t come expecting the rap messiahs that you’ve been promised, but try to stay open-minded instead.
Muireann O’S: I agree with everything said above about the musicality of the group. Perhaps I can give a different perspective on what makes Brockhampton special to their fans; their existence beyond music, as a group of distinct personalities with presence on social media, as young DIY entrepreneurs and as a representation of our generation in this era of socio-political polarisation.
Sean A: BROCKHAMPTON are empowering audiences that other rappers simply cannot. Frankly, their brand of politics is more inclusive and honest than many of the other mainstream rappers out there and that is why they will continue to succeed. We live in a point in history where the marginalized are starting to speak up because they are not okay with how they are treated and the rising popularity of BROCKHAMPTON is a symptom of that.
Muireann O’S: In essence, they epitomize the American Dream in the 21st century. This rag tag band of teenage boys met on an online Kanye fan forum and decided to move in together in LA and pursue a music career. They released three albums in seven months last year and their most recent album was recording over ten days in Abbey Road. Having different ethnicities and sexualities, struggling with mental illness and drug addiction, they are a cross section of the american youth and I think fans can both relate to and be inspired by Brockhampton, as a group of underdogs that triumphed despite the odds.
By Niall O’Shaughnessy – Music Editor
Featuring Matthew Derwin, Sean Armstrong and Muireann O’Shea.