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Courtesy of Question Everything

January 28, 2018

TEST SPIN | Brockhampton — SATURATION III

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For a generation who practically grew up on the internet, the age-old American adage of “Do It Yourself” has never loomed so tantalizingly close overhead. Want to make a music video for Youtube? Do it yourself.  Want to organize a rally on Facebook? Do it yourself. Want to garner 2.4 million listens on Soundcloud? Do it yourself.

We are convinced that the traditional models for artistic and cultural production — which relied heavily on the capital of big-name record labels and mainstream broadcasting corporations — have lost their titanic grip over our DIY 2.0 society. At the same time, however, pop is increasingly trending toward independent artists whose success can be near-uniformly traced as a neat jump from the Soundcloud hype circuit to Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist, or from a viral Youtube video to an Apple Music feature.

Nowhere are the exhilarating capacities and latent contradictions of today’s entertainment industry more apparent than in the meteoric rise of boy band/hip-hop collective/pop outfit Brockhampton. And their latest effort, SATURATION III, caps off what has been a watershed year for the boy band exactly in terms of those tectonic economic shifts to contemporary music production and consumption that I just described.

For example: there’s a decent chance you may have seen Kevin Abstract, the band’s de facto leader, on Twitter before you heard his music. And that’s alright — in fact, that’s exactly how it should be. Every member of Brockhampton is active online (shoutout to Death Grips) and thus fully engaged with “pop culture,” which gives us a clue not only to their marketing strategy but also to the content, form and force of their music.

As many have noted, Brockhampton wear their musical influences — Kanye, Frank Ocean, Odd Future, Childish Gambino, N.E.R.D. and Kid Cudi to name a few — on their sleeve with unabashed ardor. If you were to (1) take the maximalist production and lyrical freak-outs of Kanye post-808s and (2) mix it with the genre-and-sexuality-bending aesthetics and pitched-up vocals of Frank Ocean on Blonde, and then (3) cram all that into the frenetic energy of a group of eager, vulgar youngsters with more than half a mind to flip over the metaphorical table that is the mainstream music industry whilst wearing (and selling) brightly colored streetwear akin to Odd Future, you’d end up with something resembling Brockhampton in its current state.

This isn’t to imply that their three back-to-back-to-back albums are wholly derivative. They each deliver a startlingly fresh sound that’s genuinely fun to listen to. And since we’re already making comparisons between Brockhampton and Odd Future, I’ll make the case that the former’s Saturation trilogy sounds leagues ahead of Radical, the latter group’s second mixtape. From production quality and vocal delivery to thematic depth and stylistic range, Brockhampton scores higher than their predecessor across the board at parallel stages of development. Let’s look at some of the highlights from the album to see what I mean.

Following the trend of Saturation I and II, Saturation III begins with punch-to-the-face banger “BOOGIE” that is breakneck in both its lyrical content and breathless, carnivalesque pace. Aside from being instantly catchy and fun, “BOOGIE” addresses some issues that the seven members feel are important to them. Kevin Abstract starts off the first verse with “What’s on the rules for breakfast today? / What are the words I’m forbidden to say?” Kevin Abstract is openly gay, and his family has often censored him with their disapproval. He is no stranger to homophobia and has made it his mission to make sure no one else feels the way he did through his music.

The fourth track, “LIQUID,” is short but features four strikingly raw verses and an outro. Ameer Vann starts off the first verse with “I grew up all alone / My mom and dad fighting / I moved around a lot, I did a lot of fighting.” Dom McLennon jumps into the second verse with “Watch my uncles duck indictments / I’m used to ramen noodles, victims of mental illness / Products of neighborhoods with broken souls and wounded spirits” Each member has gone through different hardships and they’re not afraid to let the world know, especially since they are living proof and hope that hard times are only temporary.

“BLEACH,” the seventh track, has become more popular than “BOOGIE” regardless of the fact that the two songs sound like opposites. Whereas “BOOGIE” is an upbeat dance song, “BLEACH” is smooth, emotional and raw. The laid-back beats and echoing chords create a melancholic backdrop to the chorus, sung by Ryan Beatty: “Who got the feeling? / Tell me why I cry when I feel it / Tell me why.” The first verse, rapped by Matt Champion, follows the despondent theme of the chorus with lyrics such as “Feel like a monster, feel like a dead head zombie / Feelings you don’t want me, I ain’t giving up, you should set if off / Tell me ‘time’s up’, let the water run, let my body run.” In a genre that is generally about flaunting fame, success and money, Brockhampton are not afraid to flaunt their vulnerabilities and emotions.

The last track, “TEAM,” has no chorus but brings the Saturation trilogy to full circle. In each album, every track had a six-letter title, except for “HEAT,” the first track on Saturation. Now, on Saturation III, the last track has four letters once more, signaling the end of the trilogy. “TEAM” is made up of two parts, the first one being an exposed ballad sung by bearface. The second part features the members once more revealing striking pieces of themselves, such as “Little old me, I thought my world was progressive / ‘Cause my president was black, twenty-five lighters on the dresser” and “I hope this holy water burn me ’cause I ain’t worth this life / I ain’t worth the light of day, but for some I light the way.”

The end of the Saturation trilogy leaves listeners satisfied yet wanting more. There has been enough of Saturation, but we want more Brockhampton. They bring something new and fresh. This isn’t generic rap and this isn’t Kendrick or Kanye. This is Brockhampton, the best boy band since One Direction, and listeners are eager to see what they have in store for the future.

Jeremiah Kim is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jsk356@cornell.edu. Viri Garcia is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at vgarcia@cornellsun.com