TURNING RAP INTO THE NEW POP
The Warfield was in for a treat this weekend…
BROCKHAMPTON gave outstanding back to back performances at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater on the 3rd and 4th. A relatively new group on the meteoric rise to fame, this Hip-Hop collective produced three albums in 2017 alone, gaining a cult following in the millions. Celebrating the completion of their Saturation Trilogy (Named after their debut album), Brockhampton has been on tour since mid January 2018, marking March 3rd as their first ever concert in San Francisco. The group will conclude the Love Your Parents Tour on March 8th, at The Van Buren in Phoenix, Arizona.
Self proclaimed as “The Internet’s First Boy Band” the members of Brockhampton (stylized as BROCKHAMPTON) all met online, exchanging messages and information over a Kanye West fan forum actively known as KanyeToThe. The band’s founder, Kevin Abstract, posted on the forum asking if anyone would like to form a band with him, to which 30 people responded. Of those 30 users, 14 are current members, making the collective, a super-group of talent. The band was originally formed in San Marcos, Texas and but has since moved to Los Angeles.
While they call themselves a “boy band”, Brockhampton is really in a class by itself, mixing Hip-Hop with elements of Pop and R&B, but with a much darker undertone. With an ensemble of so many musicians, Brockhampton keeps innovative, sometimes owing their sound to Middle Eastern folk music, other times sounding like a tribute to NSYNC. At the core of their music is still mainly rap, their ability to switch off verses between 3-5 band-mates so seamlessly is what brought the house down in their live performance.
Of the 14 members in Brockhampton, seven of them performed last Saturday and Sunday. The other members are the behind the scenes crew, responsible for producing and the creative direction, as well as their own photography. Whereas in other groups, music labels assign bands managers and graphic designers, Brockhampton incorporates all elements that are involved but secondary to rapping, save for distributing the music themselves. In late 2017, they even self-funded and produced a feature length documentary about the making of the Saturation trilogy.
While I fell into the band listening to them at home and reading their lyrics on genius.com, the supergroup’s live performance was another experience entirely. The largely teen audience was extremely die hard, with many people coming dressed in jumpsuits and blue faces. Brockhampton’s biggest challenge was being heard over the roaring cheers of the crowd, that just got louder with every song over the night.
The performers themselves make quite an impression when you see them on stage. The seven main vocalists took the stage in orange jumpsuits, dressed like inmates, referring to their music videos which they frequently recorded dressed in orange and painted entirely blue. Each of the performers has a distinct personality and moment to take center stage, giving the show a good deal of flamboyant theatrics. Each personality had its time to shine, with many of the fans polarized between which of the rappers was their favorite. With such unique voices, appearances, and defining characteristics, it’s hard not to fall behind one of the main members.
“Why you always rap about bein gay? ‘Cause not enough n****s rap and be gay,” -JUNKY, Saturation II
KEVIN ABSTRACT is one of the only opening gay rappers in modern hip-hop. Many of his verses address the stigma and persecution he deals with being from a largely homophobic community. He doesn’t downplay his sexuality, but uses it as inspiration for lyrics and as a platform for representing gay people in Hip-Hop. He is the founder and de facto leader of the band, often being the creative inspiration for their music videos and design. Kevin goes hard when he raps, but also uses a distinguishable womanly (albeit edited) voice as accompaniment and when he sings in the choruses.
“Turning Rap into the new Pop,” -JELLO, Saturation II
21 year old AMEER VANN brings the deep vocals and intensity that balance the group’s pop elements. The Houston native grew up without much affluence and many of Vann’s verses address the contrast between the disenfranchised hardship that characterized his boyhood, with the success he worked hard for and is still adjusting to.
The rapper’s foreshadowing words couldn’t convey the band’s overnight transformation into a powerhouse of Pop-rap any better. The 2nd and 3rd installments in the Saturation trilogy received widespread critical acclaim, turning their gritty and unpolished sound into something refined, with appeal not just to rap fans. Considering their near entire obscurity at the beginning of 2017, Saturation III charted at 15 on Billboard’s Top 20, selling over 36,000 album equivalent units. and Their next project, Team Effort, is already underway, and can to bring the band even more rapid success.
“Here for the loot, and to inspire some of you, To do what you do despite all the f*** you’s” -CHICK, Saturation II
With “a shitty mustache and a new haircut,” MATT CHAMPION tells a dignified message about the importance of tuning out the haters. In a way, the members of Brockhampton can be seen as outcasts, easy targets for people to stigmatize whether for their eccentricities, their sexuality, or even for being the newcomers of the music world. Champion’s sentiments speak to the uncertainty the band felt when they started; not having anyone believe in them at first except for them, each knowing the pain of failure but persevering past the naysayers regardless. The band-mates bought a house together in Los Angeles to drown out all the people who told them they wouldn’t make it, and after a few short months of concentrated effort, the voices started going away.
“Don’t call me stupid that ain’t the way my name pronounced,” -SWEET, Saturation II
MERLYN WOOD is arguably the most colorful and eccentric member in the band, with his bleach blonde hair and hyper-active energy. The Audience at the Warfield brought posters of all their favorite members, but nobody’s face was printed on a banner, or cheered more than this charismatic rapper. Originally from Ghana but raised Houston, Merlyn’s verses can be easily recognized by his unique inflections and often humorous tone.
All the members seem to be well humored, never taking their success and fame too seriously. On Saturday, Ameer Vann, twerked on stage with a big smile on his face, while Dom McLennon and Matt Champion had a dance battle, bringing the audience to a roaring laughter. Merlyn Wood is the perfect hype-man, with quotable lines and a larger than life personality. His light-hearted ability to generate hype shouldn’t be confused for one-dimensionality, since his verses are some of the most iconic, carrying weight beyond just bringing up the crowd’s energy.
“We still workin’ for titles and makin’ tidal environments” -GUMMY, Saturation II
DOM MCLENNON has the most tender voice from among the main rappers. His verses have a soothing sweetness, his raps speak to an optimistic dream about the many things still to come in the band’s future. The group commonly refer to themselves as the “greatest boy-band since One Direction” but it’s very possible that they may even eclipse their heroes. Brockhampton is considerably more creative and experimental than most pop bands, mixing genres and with vulnerable moments that explore metal illness, drug abuse and the racism that still obstructs African American communities. McLennon’s gentle vocals don’t mask his powerful words about entitlement and the persistence of disenfranchised people to achieve the same success as those raised with privilege. It’s an unfair world, but Brockhampton will reach greatness despite of it.
“Me llamo Roberto…”
If’ you’ve been following Brockhampton, you might’ve heard these words at the beginning of a music video or in the original skits from Saturation. They’re often followed by a few phrases in Spanish that set the tone for the upcoming music. It’s become something of a catchphrase for fans, and you might be wondering: what does it mean? Who exactly is Roberto?
In case this mystery had been keeping you up at night, looking for answers, Spanish speaking Roberto is an alter ego of Robert Ontenient, the band’s Florida native webmaster and producer (along with Romil, Jabari, and Kiko Merley). His character is used to connect the three albums, to tell a bit of an overarching story about the otherwise separate music. The band repeatedly refers to their earlier work and ties in previous albums, in both the song names, and in repeating musical motifs, such as in WASTE, SUMMER, and TEAM. These connections are all brought together in the Saturation feature film, which looks at the making of the three albums, and treats them like parts of same project. Below is a compilation of all of Roberto’s cameos from the music videos, and a link to the full Saturation documentary.
If you’re interesting to hear more analysis about the band’s characters and their stories, I encourage you to watch the video in the link below that breaks down the way Brockhampton tells a story.
If not already familiar with the group, I highly recommend checking out the music of the Saturation trilogy for yourself, in anticipation of TEAM EFFORT, which will be coming out some time in 2018.
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Featured photo by Emilia Pare. All Rights Reserved.