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2017 was the year of Brockhampton. The fourteen-strong collective redefined what it meant to be a hip-hop group in 2017, aptly titling themselves as an ‘all American boy band’ incorporating rappers, producers, videographers and graphic designers. Led by the band’s maestro, Kevin Abstract, who formed the group from a Kanye West fan-forum. The rest is pretty much internet history, you can find it all out on Google, YouTube or their show on Viceland. All of which I absorbed last year in a Brockhampton hyped fever dream; I studied their styles, adored their music clips, watched their tv show and even bought a pair of overalls because Kevin Abstract rocked them in their film clip for Gold. The band released Saturation I in early 2017, their second album though many fans will call it their true start. Tracks Gold and Star caught my ear for their incredibly catchy hooks and fire lyrics. “Jason Bourne with the headshot, Jason Statham with the whip game, Liam Neeson with the rescue, I go Gunnar with the leather face,” and “keep a gold chain on my neck, fly as a jet, boy better treat me with respect.” The band soon teased Saturation II with Gummy and Swamp, and goddamn, I had to hold back the little girl squeals as I hit replay time after time again. I felt like a teenage girl dancing to High School Musical. A band like this had never hooked me before. And I went with it, like taking a ride from a hot stranger; it’s dangerous and new but you want to give it a go. But with all the Brockhampton exposure last year, I was happily drowning in a sea of hype; really for the first time in a while. As Brockhampton released Saturation III late last year, I span that album like a DJ on coke. Everyone on social media was heralding it as their best Saturation album to date. People were throwing out lists left right and centre. ‘Saturation 3 is better than 2 which is better than 1,’ and ‘I fuck with 3, 1 and 2 were shit,’ and my personal favourite, ‘I love Brockhampton, I voted for Sweet in the Hottest 100.’ Fuckin normies. But as the hype behind the band has quietened ever so slightly, is Saturation III really the best of the bunch?
The album opens with Boogie, arguably Brockhampton’s biggest banger to date. The band plugged the shit out of it when it was released with intensive radio play and live versions. It’s a great song, and up there with my top Brockhampton tracks. The mix of siren, distorted horns and dirty bass immediately hooked me; the track is infectious. Yes, it makes you want to boogie. Once again Abstract chants a catchy hook, but it’s the tight verses from the rest of the crew that keep the track flowing. Ameer Vann, Matt Champion and Dom McLennon give great performances, but it’s Joba’s performance that gives Boogie a bit more oomph. He sounds like Calvin Candie on the mic; a pure maniac.
Zipper follows, and Joba begins with a childish, almost Eminem inspired verse. The track has an early 2000s sound to it, the drum beat lingers in the distance instead of up front like in modern hip-hop. McLennon has another solid verse, this time with a tinge of auto-tune carrying over his voice. Zipper’s verses are longer than Boogie’s and the track shows the growth that these MCs have undertaken since Saturation I. They all play off each other with confidence, their flows differ in speed, but they have a solid understanding of when to chime in.
One of the standout tracks off Saturation III is the third track, Johnny. Tonally, Johnny is completely different to anything else Brockhampton has produced. It’s a mellow, low key rap ballad. Of course there’s a catchy hook, but it’s the personal stories that the boys spin that makes for a great track. We usually get some insight into their lives through their lyrics, whether it’s about Abstract’s sexuality or Vann’s prior convictions, but Johnny shows a personal, deeper sign for Matt Champion and Joba. Especially Joba, who steals the show in the final verse. In prior albums, Joba has sat off to the side, but three songs deep into III and Joba has been the highlight. The backing instrumentals don’t take away from the personal stories, late night alley way jazz floats above the simple breakbeat and record scratch. It’s simple and effective.
Liquid follows instantly. It’s a short track that sounds very familiar to those who’ve already ingested everything Brockhampton have had to say. It’s nothing new, though Matt Champion delivers a clever verse. “Stuck ‘round dip spittin’ assholes, make they mamas bashful. Got holes in my pockets so my shoes full of cash though. Cigar, Fidel Castro, car full of Castrol.” The track’s intrumentals sound like something off a Kanye album, which makes sense knowing the band’s history. As the ending hook rings, “I was playing rock paper scissors with imaginary friends,” eerie woo’s float in the distance against tinnie piano notes.
The middle of the album doesn’t impress me too much when compared to Brockhampton’s other albums. Most of the tracks in Saturation I and II deliver something new, or I find new things to appreciate on each listen. As I listen to this album, I find myself skipping most of the tracks after Liquid. Sometimes even Liquid depending on my mood. Stupid, Bleach and Alaska are all too familiar to me, even if someone spits a fire verse. By this stage now, after a trilogy of albums, I can’t help but hear repetition in flow and content from the likes of Vann, Joba and even McLennon who’s usually the best MC of the bunch.
Next track, Hottie, is the worst Brockhampton song they’ve released and ruins the flow of the album. The band give us the poppiest track to date, leaving a real bad taste in my mouth, like I’ve eaten a stick of bubble-gum I found in a toy box from when I was six. Abstract’s opening verse sounds like a bad take on bubble-gum pop, and the rest of the crew try to mimic. It’s kind of disgusting.
Luckily, the next track Sister/Nation is one of Brockhampton’s boldest songs. It’s dark and energetic, instrumentally like a light Death Grips, as ominous synths bounce back and forth. Joba gives a moody verse before some auto-tuned vocals, but it’s Champion who unleashes hell on the mic. He spits faster than he’s ever spat before, rhyming lines like a pro. It’s chaotic against the abrupt and violent electronics. More layers of instrumentation are added before the song cuts hard, and we’ve transitioned into a completely different song. Psychedelic synths ebb and flow with a soulful falsetto croon singing “I feel like all my days are coming to rubble.” Vann gives a solid performance; though it’s familiar it works against this atypical instrumentation. McLennon’s verse shifts speed against Vann’s slower drawl, bringing some energy back to the track. Sister/Nation is one of Brockhampton’s best tracks, in production, lyrics, and instrumentation. It’s just a shame it rides on the coattails of their worst track.
Rental follows, and it’s another skippable song. It’s boring and I want to hear Stains which follows. The band deliver another catchy tune that feels like a paint by numbers Brockhampton track; solid verses and a catchy hook. It’s almost too clean though, as if it was written specifically to get airplay. Which I don’t mind, it just differs stylistically from the rest of their material. In saying that, I like the track and it’s one of my favourites off Saturation III.
Final song, Team, ends just as all Saturation albums have done: a solo hazy guitar croon from Bearface. For those who don’t know, Bearface ends their albums, and all his tracks sound the same. In my opinion he’s the most basic member of the band. And I feel like the type of music he plays only strikes a chord with specific groups of people: those who still listen to emo music or those who still listen to NSYNC. Really, Bearface is an emo member of NSYNC. His croons are painful to listen to; even though he can hold a tune it’s just over emotional and over performed, like a bad Australian Idol audition. The production on the track is solid, especially when Bearface’s solo finishes. After some quick silence, the rest of the band join on the mic. A funky bass warps as all the MCs take turns on the mic. It’s a nice surprise against the Bearface crap.
As I look back at my infatuation with Brockhampton, I can see I was caught up in the hype when III was released. I remember refreshing Spotify waiting for the album to drop on both Saturation II and III, but now I know which one stands above the rest. Personally, I feel that Brockhampton deliver on the singles from II much more than they do on this album. Maybe it’s Brockhampton fatigue. Maybe if I hadn’t heard any of their other albums I’d enjoy this one more.
Brockhampton’s Saturation III was not worth the hype.
Epilogue. I am still very keen to hear their new album Puppy, coming out this year. Hopefully it’s different to the Saturation trilogy and they show something new. I’ll be a bit disappointed if they don’t.
And now I need to toss up whether to buy a Listen Out ticket just for Brockhampton. Fuck.
After the Hype is a weekly series where I listen to an album after the hype dies down and give my general thoughts, sometimes a little whinge. It’s ok to disagree.