There are a few things you need to know about hip-hop in 2017. Firstly, Texas-based self-proclaimed American boy band Brockhampton led by openly gay rapper Kevin Abstract have elegantly vanquished all rival artists from the scene. Brockhampton released their first full-fledged album Saturation in June and followed the record up with a sequel in August to critical and commercial acclaim. The collective has plans, allegedly, to release Saturation III in October; making it one of the most hyped records of the year; projecting to hoist up the Brockhampton flag over all of 2017.
Secondly, Brockhampton announced Jennifer’s Tour: 23 stops across the mainland United States, with every single show selling out in a matter of days.This is the most important part. Brockhampton completely underestimated how popular they became after Saturation.
Almost every venue was a bar, or small theater, or glorified living room, all of which were the catalyst for the most intimate, aggressive, passionate, overwhelming series of shows in the past decade.
For the curious, the group is quick to introduce their affiliates. The track GUMMY serves as a welcome card to all their performing members: Ameer Vann, Kevin Abstract, Merlyn Wood, JOBA, Dom McLennon, Bearface, and Matt Champion. The fourteen-member collective is further embodied by videographers, producers, and visual artists. They bear resemblance to other hyperactive rap groups such as Odd Future, but Brockhampton is more reminiscent of Wu-Tang Clan than anyone else. The artists here truly utilize unique styles, personas, and flows. All carry their own share of the weight and the collective truly is more than the sum of its parts.
If that's not enough, the boy-band can flip styles on a dime, regularly putting out heartfelt, emotional tracks just as much as psychotic bangers.
Brockhampton, from left to right: Ameer Vann, Romil Hemnani, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, JOBA
This sentiment was demonstrated in full during Phoenix’s show. With a local bar filled comfortably to the fire code, Brockhampton came out with HEAT, a teething boom-bap medley — one of the most aggressive tracks in their arsenal. Each member dramatically fell to the ground after their verse and rose simultaneously during the ending where, much like the music video, the band swayed to the screeching, almost horror-core beat. Abstract then burst out on stage, formally leading his army into the war zone.
It was quite the war. The crowd felt more like a walled-in stampede, and if someone fell to the depths of the thousand shoes beating the ground in rhythm there would have been blood on the dance floor. Fans that could handle the chaos were willing to fight to the frontlines, potentially getting elbowed in the face unintentionally by an adjacent enthusiast en route.
There was something beautiful about the passionate, aggressive fandom. As if, only for a night, the combative fervor was rendered into a hundred momentary friendships.
“Do you want to know why Brockhampton is the best boy-band of all time?” inquired Abstract.
“Because we got this song right here!” Turns out, someone brought a bunch of plastic necklaces to celebrate the performance of GOLD.
September 22 was also the day of Ameer Vann’s birthday, which the crowd acknowledged by harmonizing a dozen voices into the most hyped up “Happy Birthday” rendition since Marilyn Monroe’s. The crowd passed forward a piece of artwork drawn by a random fan, a crude replica of the first album’s art which features Vann’s face.
“It’s a picture of my face,” he said, deadpan, to a screaming coalition of teenagers.
Abstract was easily the most experienced performer of the group. The others were hesitant to match the crowd’s intensity, but he mediated the audience into not trampling each other and, with McLennon, continuously passed out water to the sweltering fans. The stage was adorned with a single couch where the rappers would occasionally plop down when exhausted or out of words to say.
“Everyone shut the hell up!” Abstract went on to exclaim after the most morose song of the night, JUNKY. “Quiet! Quiet!!” he screamed until the bar fell into a dark silence.
And then BUMP launched. Out of nowhere, it set the tone to one of the tracks I was most curious about hearing live. During the chorus, the hundreds sang along with the chorus’ hollow acapella:
“And when this ends, at least I’ll have a reason to live”
Tied together afterward by a blood-curdling scream, the beat drops back in: a priceless, cathartic, familial moment.
Bearface appeared at the end to perform the penultimate tracks: WASTE and SUMMER, bookending a nearly 60-minute session of chaos with solemn tranquility. Both detail a melismatic trial of love and feature his staple exaggerated lamentations and smooth guitar licks. They are also notably the two least hip-hop influenced songs on both Saturations — it’s a stretch to even consider them remotely in the genre. It’s what critics credit the collective for creating: a combination of cheesy, self-indulgent 90’s lo-fi alt-rock love ballads with top-tier aggressive hate-laced power beats.
The show concluded in a manner I'd never experienced before. They played the encore, STAR, five times in a row. Five times straight, the band made the audience open up giant pits, and for five times Romil stopped the beat during Kevin’s part (two minutes into the studio version):
“High school, they ain't f--- with me, now the critics, they don’t f--- with me, my own fam ain't f--- with me! BUT VICELAND, THEY F--- WITH ME!!”
At which point the empty circle vacuumed with people jumping into each other at full force. Five separate times.
I think everyone involved in hip-hop culture, both fans and artists alike, learned a lot this year. For once in the genre’s almost 50-year lifespan, it’s acceptable to be openly gay. The inclusivity brings along with it various connotations: an open-minded audience is more willing to allow artists to experiment, and give them the benefit of the doubt when trying new things.
But it's more than just that. Brockhampton is the conduit for which these ideas are spreading so quickly in the young fans of hip-hop. Songs like JUNKY and MILK address being different or unfulfilled, and cultivated a following just as passionate as golden age hip-hop like Tribe and Gang Starr.
It’s exciting to think of what’s next for Brockhampton, or just pseudo-indie hip-hop in general. Because even if this is a weird phase, even if Brockhampton falls off the map and fails to carry their momentum into the upcoming decade, they’ve already fractured the foundation for a plethora of young artists to carve their way into a now not-so-niche scene.
Audrin Baghaie is the music editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or @DailyLoboMusic