Brockhampton is back with a vengeance on ‘iridescence’

RCA Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

After a prolific 2017 and a comparatively quiet 2018, Texas boy band Brockhampton’s RCA Records debut iridescence stays true to the band’s ethos while successfully executing on an ambitious push toward new musical territory.

Brockhampton exploded onto the underground rap scene in 2017 with its independently-released DIY album SATURATION last June. Its creation and subsequent success were unprecedented for the upstart group — the 15 members at the time conceptualized and completed the Billboard-charting album within one month.

The boy band retained its now-famous work ethic for the remainder of the year, releasing two sequel albums to widespread acclaim and selling out two nationwide tours. One RCA Records deal later and Brockhampton’s hype reached a fever pitch in the first half of 2017.

This momentum reached a screeching halt in May, when integral Brockhampton member Ameer Vann was indicted by multiple women for countless acts of domestic violence and emotional abuse. The band seemed to be in freefall when Vann was subsequently kicked out. Fans were left wondering whether the band could remain relevant without the member who appeared on each album cover of the SATURATION trilogy.

Hope for the group’s future dwindled further as it dropped multiple forgettable singles this past summer. While “1999 WILDFIRE” was a nice change of pace, the overly self-indulgent “1998 TRUMAN” and “1997 DIANA” both sounded like Brockhampton was trying to parody itself.

But now on iridescence, Brockhampton shatters and exceeds the level needed to redeem itself after a shaky first part of 2018. From its impeccable production to its members’ thought-provoking verses to its seamless transitions between nonstop energy and reflective sorrow, this album cements Brockhampton as a staying power not only in the rap game, but also in contemporary music at large.

Producers Romil Hemnani and duo Q3 (Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley) have never failed to impress since the days of the SATURATION trilogy. On this album, they elevate their work from the usual early 2000s, Neptunes-inspired drums and raw synths to a polished, blockbuster-level collection of new and unfamiliar sounds.

Following from the album’s European influence, the beat for “DISTRICT” stands out as an explosive U.K. grime-inspired banger that solicits nothing short of the highest energy from each performer on the track. Frontman Kevin Abstract’s pitched-down hook and pitched-up verse contrast beautifully, and the juxtaposition is furthered with JOBA’s instantly memorable line “Praise God, hallelujah! / I’m still depressed.”

Iridescence’s mostly energetic mood is set with the intro “NEW ORLEANS,” which has “SICKO MODE”-esque bass and anxious synths backing an excellent opening verse from Dom McLennon and a surprise Jaden Smith appearance on the last hook. It makes for a perfectly uncomfortable, disorienting song that reintroduces the world to Brockhampton’s unapologetically weird musical style.

The album then seamlessly transitions into the downtempo “THUG LIFE,” which features moody keys and emo-rock melodies — courtesy of previously underutilized member Bearface — making it a perfect foil to the preceding song.

Band member Merlyn Wood is known to possess more energy than the rest of his bandmates combined. He shines with his starring role on “WHERE THE CASH AT,” which instantly evokes inverse nostalgia for a future Brockhampton concert wherein Wood screams the hook at the top of his lungs while the crowd moshes.

A slew of creative, tasteful instrumental ad-libs such as the sound of a cash register throughout the aforementioned “WHERE THE CASH AT” and the revving engine on “BERLIN” breathe new life into a production style that would have otherwise become stale. For the most part, iridescence is an unbelievable marriage of fast, roof-shattering energy and drawn-out rock-bottom lows. On this album, Brockhampton seems to have perfected the formula the band has been trying to improve upon since its earliest days.

There are the odd filler songs that don’t work — while songs such as “HONEY,” “TAPE” and “WEIGHT” contain well-written verses that add to the band members’ characters, they are relatively unimpressive as entire songs. But, these filler songs fail to significantly detract from its overall quality. The strong, defined, self-realized performances from every member make up for the relatively minor creative oversights. Abstract and crew have delivered their best work yet.

Justin Sidhu covers music. Contact him at [email protected].