On The Family, beneath pitched up samples and lyrically opulent rap verses is the harrowing history of a band from rise to ruin. Brockhampton’s penultimate album is the culmination of 12 years of friendship, grief and glory, laying out in experimental hip hop the devastating consequences of fame on art.
After a decade together, the self-proclaimed boy band announced earlier this year that The Family would be their last album, followed by an “indefinite hiatus.” However, mere hours after its release last week, the band dropped its true final album: the surprise TM.
If TM is a “parting gift for fans,” then The Family is the fulfillment of the six album contract they signed onto with RCA Records in 2018. Infused with brutally biting honesty, the album does not dance around its self awareness about why it exists: “Only made this to get out the deal, partly, so don’t ask me if the crew is still talking,” lead vocalist Kevin Abstract, born Ian Simpson, raps in the trippy, experimental “Gold Teeth.” “Did we sign for too many motherf—in’ albums? Probably.”
In leading single “Big Pussy,” Simpson bluntly states “the label needed 35 minutes of music,” making yet another dig at the creation of art solely for something as cold and uninspired as a contract — and indeed, the album barely surpasses 35 minutes. This theme abounds: “My American Life” features a repeated refrain of “I got nothing to say,” demonstrating a demand that can no longer be met, their inspiration run dry and burnt down to a nub.
The Family’s strength lies in the fact that the obligatory nature of the album never becomes repetitive, the lack of passion that Simpson is so frustrated by failing to make itself felt in its clean production. Member Ciaran “bearface” McDonald produced most of the album, and his lofi ethereal touch comes through in its extensive sampling, which includes interpolations of Smoothe Da Hustler, James Carr, Willie Hutch, Germ, Ruby Winters and even TLC.
All of the record’s vocals belong to Simpson, a departure from previous albums where most members had verses. Their absence rings glaringly through The Family, furthering the notion that Brockhampton’s spirit was snuffed out albums ago, their final works a mere contractual courtesy. Instead of the scrappy group project sound of their earlier days, this album feels like Simpson’s own personal letter to the band and its tumultuous journey.
On The Family, Simpson frequently reflects on the band’s bond and its inevitable crumbling under pressure. Songs such as “Good Time” mourn the way egoism, money and fame permanently changed the group. Smoothing his heartbreak into rap verses overlaid on jazz samples, Simpson’s pain is brought to a boil when he admits how he let the commodification of art interrupt the organic authenticity that made Brockhampton special. “This the most corrupted vision: I turned my friendship into a business into an empire,” he sings in “The Ending.”
Most heartbreakingly, Simpson references former member Ameer Vann, who was removed from the band in 2018 following sexual abuse allegations. Despite Simpson’s claim that it was his decision to kick Vann from the group, the grief he feels for losing his childhood best friend is palpable in songs such as “Any Way You Want Me.” Laid bare under minimal production, his voice wavers: “Baby, you’re still my best friend even when I don’t see you.”
The album’s final song, “Brockhampton,” laments lost friendships most potently, opening with a snippet from a 2019 Instagram live of the band ordering from a McDonald’s drive-through, laughing and talking over each other. “I miss the band already,” Simpson admits before thanking each member individually.
The song wraps up The Family bittersweetly, both an end and a beginning. “This next chapter is everything that we want it to be/ The show’s over, get out your seats … it’s solo time,” Simpson says, both relieved at the open road in front of him and rueful of the ashes, left behind in the wake of the band’s fire.