Brockhampton packs a fifteen finger punch

Photo courtesy of Empire Records

Last week, Atlanta’s Buckhead Theater was absolutely lit up two nights in a row by an eclectic conglomerate of musicians who bill themselves as “America’s best boyband since One Direction.” If not familiar with the extremely talented 15-person hip-hop collective out of south Texas, it is definitely worth knowing that this description is purposefully ironic, serving to symbolize Brockhampton’s larger ambition as a group.

In their music one will not find the same focus-grouped choruses or forced boyish charm that the five guys of One Direction offered for the duration of their pop career. Existing as a “boyband” is a reflection of Brockhampton’s desire to be mainstream, even though nothing about them would be considered so.

For one thing, most boybands do not include the producers and visual artists they collaborate with in their official headcount, but, in a larger attempt to challenge what can be accepted in today’s musical landscape, Brockhampton does.

Through deceptively unrelated musical, visual and technological art (yes, technological — the band has an app free for download in the Apple and Android app store), the larger goal of Brockhampton is simply to work — to break through into the mainstream and force listeners to reckon with the dense subject matter in their music, as well as with the genius, irreverent minds of 15 ultra-talented troublemakers.

At the venue, a couple minutes after 8:30 p.m. in a theater filled to the brim primarily with wide-eyed, expectant college students, the seven emcees of the band emerge to cheers. Immediately, they break into “BOOGIE”, an upbeat song celebrating all the success the band has achieved through releasing music in their own truly industry-
disrupting way.

However, describing their opening performance as just “upbeat” is simply inaccurate. Their opening act, in addition to all of the remaining songs from the night’s setlist, were performed with the type of pure, unadulterated vitality that could only come from seven fanatical savants that have all encountered personal trials of their own, but emerged victorious, unified and with the world at their fingertips.

The next hour and a half of music was pure madness, with mosh pits engulfing unsuspecting victims left and right, palpable anticipation during every brief silence between songs, and by the end, a venue full of perspiration-drenched concert-goers content after an electrifying live

But truly understanding the nature of the pulsating, reciprocal transfer of energy between the stage and the audience those two nights can only be done by recognizing the backgrounds of each of the group’s members, as well as the thematic content that the band tackles in their frequent releases. Throughout 2017, the guys of Brockhampton showed an impressive deal of resilience and focus in dropping an acclaimed trilogy of albums entitled “Saturation 1,” “Saturation 2” and “Saturation 3,” filled with verses chronicling stories of struggle and maturation unique to
every member.

For starters, Kevin Abstract, the group’s ringleader and main vocalist, occupies an incredibly distinct place in society by identifying as gay and by being a rapper. On “Junky,” a Saturation 2 highlight, he poses as a weary listener, asking, “Why you always rap about being gay?” then swiftly answers as himself, “’Cause not enough n***as rap and be gay!” In the same song, he makes a bold declaration relating his race and sexuality: “I do the most for the culture, n***a, just by existing.”

Ask sociologists everywhere, the intersectionality of race and homosexuality within the black community — and more specifically the hip-hop community — is a complicated topic that deserves rigorous analysis on its own.

But as if this one couplet from Kevin Abstract was not dense enough, just try to imagine that another six emcees within the same group also possess the intelligence and talent to pack verses just as potent into the 48 songs that constitute the Saturation trilogy.

What you are now imagining is the reality of the music of Brockhampton and is what makes a concert experience like this one so exceptional.

In an age of unprecedented social progress, Brockhampton is a group that reflects America’s ongoing growth and that offers something for everyone listening. Socially-conscious pop culture consumers of today laud artists like Frank Ocean for being the watershed in reconciling hip-hop with homosexuality, Vic Mensa and Joey Badass for embodying the spirit of “unapologetic blackness” with respect to 21st century politics, Kid Cudi for rebounding in his career after issues with mental illness and even Mac Miller and El-P for holding it down for the white folks and being extremely talented hip-hop artists in their own right.

But now, for the first time ever, there is a one-stop-shop for almost any kind of person to engage with the idea of finding one’s identity through music, and it was born by 15 20-somethings from south Texas. The collective sense of freedom and contentment during their performance was a powerful reflection of that.