Arts and Entertainment

Brockhampton Leaves On Their Own Terms With The Family

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American boyband Brockhampton, founded in 2014, saw a meteoric rise to fame in 2017 for their unique sound and the chemistry between members. Their trilogy of Saturation (2017) mixtapes garnered critical acclaim and aligned them with the semi-mainstream “alternative rap” subculture alongside artists like Tyler, the Creator and Aminé. After a long history of complicated interpersonal relationships, a multi-million record deal with RCA, and countless delayed release dates, frontman Kevin Abstract has returned to tell the story of the boyband’s rise and fall.

The Family follows a different structure from the band’s previous work—for one, Abstract is front and center vocally, while the band’s crooning heartthrob Bearface handles production. Each song lasts about two minutes before suddenly cutting off or phasing into the next, giving little breathing room for listeners. The instrumentals range from dense and wild like the eclectic lead single “Big [EXPLETIVE],” to minimalistic and mellow like “Gold Teeth” and “(Back From The) Road.” The whiplash between songs creates controlled mayhem within the project, well represented in the album cover, which is a collage of easter eggs from the band’s history. Bearface’s production is consistently fantastic across the album, blending a mix of Ye-inspired samples with acoustic elements, a chaotic yet coherent sonic context for Abstract to shine.

Abstract does just that, bringing energy to every verse. On the track “RZA,” Abstract channels a Dropout-era Ye with energetic doubled vocals reflecting on his relationship with his mother, likening the group’s disbandment to that of the Wu-Tang Clan. He aspires to be like their de-facto leader, RZA, who encouraged the collective’s members to embark on their own solo careers, which have produced multiple classic records that bolster Wu-Tang’s legacy on the whole. Abstract also ruminates on how his parents stayed together despite their complicated family life, and how his mother encourages him to do the same: “My momma asking me, Ian why don’t you keep the band together?” The conflict between keeping his Brockhampton “family” intact and letting his friends pursue their solo careers is an overarching theme of the project which Abstract’s poignantly reflects on in each song.

The group’s contract with RCA Records is another central event referenced across the album. In a transition between songs, RZA (who interviewed with the band in 2021) mentions how Wu-Tang were signed to RCA as well. The thumping “Gold Teeth” further elaborates on the deal with the lines, “Only made this to get out the deal, partly / So don't ask me if the crew is still talking.” After the incredible success of their Saturation series, RCA records gave Brockhampton a $15 million contract to release six albums for the label. Though this was fantastic news for the group at the time, burgeoning sexual misconduct allegations toward key member Ameer Vann and his subsequent departure turned what would have been the height of the group’s career to a moral predicament where the members were forced into making music while trying to cope with the downfall of their friend. The group lost all of their upcoming work with Vann: their fourth studio album PUPPY, which was meant to be their entry into the mainstream, was scrapped along with their plans to perform at The Governor’s Ball in 2018.

Their experimental comeback album iridescence was met with mixed ratings and general disappointment from fans. Abstract reflects on this confusing era of the group’s career in the wonderfully-written “All That,” discussing how Vann’s absence damaged his relationship with bandmate Dom McClennon. “Too much trauma for me to be at my highest / I missed Ameer, so me and Dom kept fighting,” Abstract raps in a pitched morose delivery. Abstract touches on his substance addiction as well, admitting to spending money from the deal on alcohol. Abstract adeptly weaves his internal struggles into the narrative of the group’s career, elaborating on how his tendency toward toxic relationships worsened his connection with the group with a few blunt spoken-word monologues. At the end of the reflective “Good Time,” the instrumental suddenly cuts as Abstract talks about how he used to record his friends talking about personal trauma and insecurities in the name of creating art, saying his process created yet another toxic relationship.

Abstract bears his shortcomings openly, with each track peeling back another layer of the group’s dissolution. “Basement” and “Southside” focus on the pressure of fan expectations, while the ballad “Any Way You Want Me” sees Abstract shallowly beg for forgiveness from his friends, including the disgraced Vann. The line “I know you hate mе, but what if I could change?” exemplifies his egotistical attitude—he calls the line toxic and tries to play it off with a joke, but his frustration is tangible nonetheless.

The climax of the album comes in the following title track, where Abstract is at his most vulnerable. The production is uncharacteristically upbeat for the subject matter—producer and additional vocalist Nick Velez weaves sips of alcohol into the production as Abstract angrily insults his bandmates, talking about how he can’t stand working with them and doesn’t feel guilty for sabotaging their careers with his reckless behavior. He’s jealous, drunk, and miserable, with the chorus cutting his first verse mid-yell. The fallout of his breakdown comes in the second verse, where he describes telling his bandmates his frustrations only to be met with silence. After this moment of rage, bandmate Bearface joins the track, angelically singing “You tried to keep it alive” in a gorgeous outro. The title track marks a turning point in the album, with Abstract letting his anger out while Bearface, speaking for the rest of the boyband, consoles him.

By the finale, “Brockhampton,” Abstract has accepted the end of the group. Despite his fraught relationship with his bandmates, he puts his differences aside, reminiscing on the good times and music they made and looking to the future for each member’s solo career over a somber string section. He takes the final moments of his verse to directly address each of the members, recognizing them individually for their talent and wishing them luck before the instrumental quickly changes into a Ruby Winters sample. Abstract yells at the listeners to get out of their seats, declaring that “the show is over.” With The Family, the show of Brockhampton’s career is essentially over. A day after its release, Brockhampton additionally published TM, its sixth studio album under RCA which fulfilled their contract, setting the group free. TM, while important in its own right, is a collection of throwaway songs from various eras of Brockhampton’s career that amount to filler fan service. There is little mention of the group disbanding in the project, so treating TM as their last album is the wrong way to see the tape.

RCA contract aside, The Family is a beautiful send-off to America’s greatest boyband. Kevin Abstract’s approach to the story of Brockhampton and their downfall is masterful and makes for a compelling ending to the short but electric career the group has had. It’s easy to criticize The Family for only featuring Abstract and not giving the group the epic ending fans wanted, but it’s clear this album is how Brockhampton was intended to end.