Last Friday (January 14), hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON announced they would be taking an "indefinite hiatus" after their O2 Academy Brixton show and playing at Coachella 2022. Fans of the band always knew the split would someday be inevitable, but it's still wild realizing this is the end of the road for the Texas group.
For many Gen Z kids, BROCKHAMPTON left a solid mark on their lives during the end of the 2010s. It all started when Kevin Abstract posted a note on the forum KanyeToThe in 2010 asking if anyone wanted to start a hip-hop band with him. Initially named AliveSinceForever, the group later rebranded as BROCKHAMPTON, moved to Los Angeles, agreed to appear in the Viceland show American Boyband, and began releasing tracks.
In 2017, the group struck gold with the release of SATURATION, and were catapulted to the heights of hip-hop while sharing SATURATION II and SATURATION III. It was an exciting time. Viral music videos, rave reviews from Anthony Fantano, and even a televised performance in the middle of Times Square helped cement them as the 'it' kids of rap.
Following controversies and burnout, things got turbulent for the collective as quickly as they had skyrocketed. However, BROCKHAMPTON has endured in the public eye due to their experimentation with track and video concepts, astounding work ethic, infectious energy, and admirable camaraderie. The band had the courage to spit bars about uncommon rap topics like homosexuality, mental health, misogyny, education, and even mass shootings - thus giving a voice to young adults who feel unheard in the United States.
We're going to miss BROCKHAMPTON very much, which is why we're doing a top 10 ranking of what we consider to be their best songs. This was one of the hardest lists for us to conjure, and we had to cut some of our favorites: including "SUMMER," "MILK," "FACE," "1999 WILDFIRE," and everything off iridescence (though we'll admit, that album feels like a whole listening experience rather than separate tracks pieced together). Still, we're proud of this list, and we're very excited to share our picks with you!
10. "BANKROLL (feat. A$AP Rocky & A$AP Ferg)"
"BANKROLL" had been in the works for several years before it was finally served to us on ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE. The song was first teased back in September 2018 through a promotional video for the band's i’ll be there tour. It featured a short snippet of a song with a verse from Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky along with Merlyn Wood rapping what seemed to be the song’s chorus.
News about "BANKROLL" continually came through livestreams, and it wasn't until last year the money-themed song was properly released on an album. Compared to the old version of the song, the reworked version of "BANKROLL" has an irresistible pump of energy, trippy reverb, amazing features from A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg, and astounding vocals from Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, and Jabari Manwa. We love any song where Merlyn and Matt team up, as their voices compliment each other well. This song is the magnum opus of their combo.
9. "BOY BYE"
We know "SUGAR" was the big commercial success of GINGER. But if we're talking about a song on the record that showed off each members' strengths flawlessly while feeling like a return to the SATURATION days and having a stellar music video concept to boot, "BOY BYE" easily snags our #9 spot.
The track features contributions from every vocalist of the group present in 2019, as well as production from each producer: making it BROCKHAMPTON'S only track that involves the whole team. It covers a wide range of topics, from boastful lyrics about the group’s meteoric success, to introspective moments about its members' traumatic pasts and upbringings.
We honestly feel like everyone brings their A-game to this track. The tropical-esque sounds in the music production are fire enough, but combined with Dom McLennon's technical skill, Matt's quirky pop culture references, Kevin Abstract's brutally honest verse, bearface and Joba's chill contributions, and hype-man energy from Merlyn, "BOY BYE" will have you saying "hello" to the replay button.
Now that we've got songs from other BROCKHAMPTON albums covered, it's time to dive into the SATURATION trilogy.
Whether you love "HEAT" or not, you can't deny that it felt like the true beginning for the boy band. It's the thesis statement of BROCKHAMPTON. You get a good understanding of each vocalists' personality just from listening to this opening song. The last track of the SATURATION trilogy, "TEAM," even uses the same static mumbling sound at its end that "HEAT" uses during its beginning - feeling like a call to start the listening experience over again.
Putting "HEAT'S" importance in BROCKHAMPTON's catalogue aside, we love this Romil Hemnani-produced song for being a flat-out banger...literally. The heavy drums and bass give it a monstrous intensity that feels hotter than lava. Add in Joba's screaming and Ameer Vann's chorus, and you've got something easy to headbang to. Even though this bop is technically an early song in the band's portfolio, it shows just how experienced and impeccably talented the group was even at a young age.
SATURATION II is full of a lot of fun songs. If "HEAT" was the track that introduced us to the offical BROCKHAMPTON, "GUMMY" was the anthem that put them on the map.
With a pitched-up M.I.A.-inspired chorus from Kevin, lyrics that give off heist vibes, and a hilarious music video influenced by Baby Driver and Resevoir Dogs (as well as an adorable alpaca), "GUMMY" is an incredible set-up leading to the rest of an amazing album.
Even more than being a bouncy, dance-worthy track, "GUMMY" is about the strengths that come with having tight friendships, and the power of loyalty. This song really made the group feel like a power team, and can be labelled as peak BROCKHAMPTON. There's nothing super deep about it...it's just a really good song!
From the genius "clone" idea Matt presents, to Merlyn's freeing proclamation of his intelligence and Joba's Justin Timberlake-sounding vocal contribution, "SWEET" is a tasty dish off SATURATION II. You can go into this song insecure, but you will always come out of it feeling empowered and ready to make history.
There are so many moments of this song we could keep talking about. Kevin's chorus puts down the forces that try to "twist him up like licorice," while Dom's underrated verse sees him break through the hip-hop mold with ambition and mental prowess. Ameer also offers a squeaky-clean verse that helps to separate Kevin's catchy chorus before Joba packs a punch with his solo. Honestly, it's one of Joba's best performances, and we can't get enough of his falsetto "teacher" impression. That, and Merlyn's cool shift from a higher to lower register.
When we tell you that people JUMPED to this song at SATURATION III-era BROCKHAMPTON concerts, we're not lying! "BOOGIE" is a hardcore party staple that maintains the trademark intensity and motivational lyrics BROCKHAMPTON is loved for. It's also a perfectly-placed opening for the third installation of the SATURATION trilogy.
From Kevin's catchy "beat up my whole life" chorus to Ameer's summoning of BROCKHAMPTON fans, Joba's wonderfully psychopathic "chiropractor" character and that whiplashing Dom verse over Merlyn's part (one of Dom's best performances, in our opinion), it's impossible not to dance to "BOOGIE." Fun fact: this song actually samples the famous Mii Channel theme music, as well as a drum sample from Lyn Collins' “Think (About It)” and a saxophone sample from Yonosuke Kitamura’s “All Night Long.” (The sax sample could also be taken from “Tenor Sax 03” by Mr. Roboto.)
When BROCKHAMPTON performed this song for their TV debut on MTV's Total Request Live, we knew it was a victory lap for our boys. All of a sudden, they truly were the "best boyband since One Direction."
Not into tracks that are too hardcore? Maybe you like chill hip-hop that's got a bit more of a pop or 90s edge while still feeling unique? BROCKHAMPTON's got a song for you, and it's called "GOLD."
Dedicated to M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls," this number is a braggadocious jam with outlandishly fun sounds. Basically, it's about each member describing how "fly as a jet" they are. They boast about their possessions, sexual partners, power, and more. All of the vocalists give standout deliveries, and Jabari Manwa's and Kiko Merley's swanky production is smoother than a metal chain.
"GOLD" also has one of the best music videos from the group. Standout elements include Matt's cardboard box costume, the multicolored lights as the boys party, Joba rocking out on his incredible falsetto verse, and of course, that awesome U-Haul whip.
"BLEACH" was a surprising break-of-formula for the group that somehow worked. It's a gloomy song that talks about a personal struggle each vocalist is going through. It's also one of BROCKHAMPTON's biggest commercial successes, being certified gold by the RIAA on November 13th, 2019. It was first heard in BROCKHAMPTON's short film Billy Star before being released on SATURATION III three days later.
The title "BLEACH" is a metaphor for the desire each member has to start life off with a clean slate. Besides being one of the only BROCKHAMPTON songs to include all seven performers, this ditty also features collaborator Ryan Beatty, and is the second BROCKHAMPTON song to feature him (the first being “QUEER” from SATURATION II).
Despite how somber "BLEACH" sounds, it does end on a hopeful note with Joba's bridge about relying on himself, Kevin's verse of "a pretty sky" (a metaphor for escapism), and bearface's unconditional love for a partner.
It's no understatement saying "JUNKY" is probably one of the most vulnerable rap songs ever created. In this fierce, demonic-sounding track off SATURATION II, each vocalist talks about one huge trauma that has plagued their life for years and, in a sense, has defined them.
Kevin uses his time in the spotlight to rap about his homosexuality: how it harmed his relationship with his family, how it hurts to only hook up with closeted men, and how little gay rappers there are in the music industry. At the time of this song's release, Kevin's verse was huge. It was before Lil Nas X, before Tyler, the Creator made it very clear to fans he was bisexual. At the time of "JUNKY's" release, rapping about being gay was near taboo in the industry.
Next up, Ameer talks about the paranoia of his drug addiction. He's followed by Merlyn, who offers a melancholy verse about how dropping out of college helped him succeed in life - yet he's still pressured by his family to study.
Towards the song's end, Joba contributes a warped, almost dizzying bit about drug abuse and a toxic relationship before Matt swoops in with his verse. It covers a lot of ground: from his mother's alcoholism, to his hate of police and death, to a plea for men to respect women, and finally, a threat that he'll shoot any misogynist he comes across. It's a noteworthy verse, considering it predates the 2018 Ameer Vann scandal when the group member was accused of sexual misconduct and later kicked out of the band.
Dom McLennon closes out "JUNKY" with some quick-yet-vague bars about a reckless lifestyle, mental illness, and possibly the pressure his career has put on him. We can't talk about "JUNKY" any more than that. It's just something you have to listen to for yourself in order understand its artistic merit.
If you're an OG BROCKHAMPTON fan - as in you've been to one or more of their concerts around their peak in 2017 or 2018 - you know how important of a song "STAR" is. For those who don't know, BROCKHAMPTON would typically play "STAR" at the end of their concerts, and the crowd would go NUTS every time. Depending upon how bananas the audience was, they would keep encoring the song until things died down. Some even believed the amount of "STAR's" BROCKHAMPTON played in a row indicated how well they thought the concert went. One time, BROCKHAMPTON played "STAR" six times in a row at a Milwaukee show in 2018 - the most amount of times it's ever been recorded. And people still couldn't get enough of it.
So...what makes "STAR" so good? The hard thumping bass that feels like danger. All of the genius movie and pop culture references that offer a trip down memory lane. Kevin's Shawn Mendes confession. Even the music video - which has everyone painted BROCKHAMPTON's signature blue - has such a cinematic vibe. "STAR" only features Kevin Abstract, Dom McLennon, and Ameer Vann as vocalists, and yet it feels like the whole group is involved in this track.
You can easily write off "STAR" as just a silly, short bop that's only filler for the first SATURATION album, but it's so much more than that. At its core, "STAR" is a pumped-up power track about the group's desire to be famous, own their style, and grow up to be just as legendary as the names they list off throughout the song.
In a way, "STAR" is a prophecy of what was to come for the group. Little did they know sharing the song would manifest them the success they desperately craved. Why? Because even though the majority of BROCKHAMPTON's audience may not have the same teamwork or talent as they do, they still have the same desire for attention and ambition. Therefore, "STAR" is a macho hit, but it's also a relatable piece that feels like a time capsule of the late 2010s. It's "STAR" - and many other incredible tracks - that led BROCKHAMPTON to stardom.
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Article Image: Kevin Abstract and Merlyn Wood jumping in the air during a BROCKHAMPTON concert in early 2020. (Danny Howe via Unsplash.)