Album of the Week: Brockhampton - Saturation
By Kyle Mantha
I always knew Brockhampton were going to be huge. I first heard of them back in 2013, when they were still called “AliveSinceForever.” The collective, a near thirty member crew of kids who met on a Kanye West forum, had been steadily pumping out pop-tinged bedroom rap tracks. They garnered a little bit of buzz, mostly off of the strength of ringleader Kevin Abstract’s debut mixtape “MTV1987.’ After a rebrand, as well as a tightening of their roster, the group re-emerged as Brockhampton. In 2016 they released “All American Trash.” A compilation of bouncy hip hop tunes that, while slightly amateurish, provided a breath of fresh air to an underground rap scene that was mostly comprised of dark, trap influenced music.
Earlier this week, Brockhampton released their follow-up to “All American Trash”, a seventeen track album titled “Saturation.” The record is a quick-paced compilation of alt-rock influenced rap songs that are held up by quick witted and deeply personal lyricism, as well as a bedrock of glamorous bedroom production. The collective’s in house producers (Romil Hemnani, Kiko Merley, and Jabari Manwa) handle the entirety of the instrumental work on “Saturation.” The beats are a mix between abrasive and smooth. There are many times on the album where things get so distorted and blown out that you lose track of the song entirely, and there are other times where the music is just plucking along as the vocalists croon and rap softly. There is a lot of sonic duality on “Saturation”, which makes for a highly interesting listen. Even after a handful of plays, I’m still picking up small details in the tracks that I hadn’t noticed before.
In terms of vocalists, the standout on this album is definitely Ameer Vann. His deep, smooth voice coupled with his icy and cold delivery allow him to transpose tales of crime, depression, and redemption with ease. There is never a dull moment when Ameer is on the mic. He covers a wide range of styles throughout the project, from his buttery verse on the dancehall-tinged “Gold”, to his raspy and dark rapping on “Heat”, to his downtrodden, confessional flow on “2PAC.” Lyrically, he stands out as the member with the most interesting things to say. He talks a lot about his past, which seems to include plenty of robbing, stealing, and selling drugs, as well as a deep history of addiction and mental health issues. He also knows how to write something smooth and seductive, as seen on “Gold.”
Kevin Abstract is, of course, another stand-out from this project. His 2016 album “American Boyfriend” showed that he could sing well, and convey emotion through storytelling like no other, but on “Saturation”, Kevin shows off his pure rapping ability. On the booming track “Star”, Kevin destroys the beat for 32 bars, making tongue in cheek references to his sexuality, his brand new Viceland series, as well as a multitude of pop culture stars. You can find influence from Lil Wayne and Childish Gambino in his rapping, although he approaches it with less of an emphasis on punchlines and more focus on flow. He also carries the majority of the album’s sung-hooks, often soaking his mid-range voice with autotune and other vocal effects.
Other than the obvious stars, other standouts from the group are Merlyn Wood and Dom McLennon. Merlyn was easily the standout on 2016’s “All American Trash,” but he seemed to dial it back a bit on “Saturation.” He seems to have shifted his focus from clever rapping and unique songwriting to trying to be as whacky as possible. It works really well on some tracks like “Heat”, but it falls flat on other tracks. However, he does manage to come through with some really personal and moving verses, especially on the tracks “Swim” and “Milk.” Dom’s contributions to the group are criminally underrated. He’s easily the best technical rapper in the group, and his ability to weave thoughtful lyrics with deeply personal anecdotes is nothing short of excellent.
There is really no musical theme to “Saturation.” Sonically, it hops from one concept and vibe to the next with feverish haste. No two tracks are the same, and the fact that there are contributions coming from many different artists really shows up well on this project. “All American Trash” fell short when there were too many cooks in the kitchen, but “Saturation” thrives exceptionally under the constant barrage of different styles and ideas. The biggest mistake that Brockhampton makes on “Saturation” is attempting to function differently on an album then they did on their mixtape. There are times when I would’ve liked to see them let loose a little more, or play with conventions and expectations, but sometimes it seems like they are holding back in order to not alienate any potential listeners who are not experienced with experimental music. All in all, “Saturation” is an excellent debut album from Brockhampton, and I can’t wait to see what they do on the sequel, which is slated for release this summer.