Courtesy of RCA Records

May 3, 2021

TEST SPINS | Brockhampton’s Roadrunner: A Beacon of Light That Was Worth the Wait

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From the group that made the Saturation trilogy comes a heartfelt release that announces their return to music. After a lengthy wait from their previous album Ginger, Brockhampton delivers on the hype with the musically shifting and emotionally searing project that is Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine.

But to get to the album’s best parts, one has to sit through its rough start, with most of its worst cuts being conveniently consolidated in the beginning. The only exception in the opening four-song stretch is the intro “Buzzcut.” Mesmerizing vocals form the backdrop for Kevin Abstract to channel his inner Andre 3000, while Danny Brown does his thing as immaculately as he usually does (“Through the lights, camera, action, glamour, glitters and gold / Unfold the scroll, plant seeds to stampede the globe”). The following three songs aren’t bad per se — JPEGMAFIA has a tight verse on “Chain On,” and “Count On Me” features an infectious whistle melody — but they’re not nearly as memorable as the rest of the album. “Bankroll” doesn’t have much going for it, with its uninspired composition and general messiness.

The mediocrity of the beginning does have one positive, in that it emphasizes how much of a major step up the fifth song is. “The Light” is intensely personal, with Joba sharing the impact his father’s suicide had on him through dark imagery (“Master of disguises, ash to ash, dust to dust, voids behind my eyelids / Blackin’ out, bleedin’ out, silence”). Kevin Abstract follows with a meditation on poverty and the struggles of fame, along with bars about the problems his homosexuality has generated in his relationship with his mother (“I love the attention, I’m a bastard in public / I still struggle with tellin’ my mom who I’m in love with”). An emotionally charged guitar beat enhances each rapper’s contributions to the track, which is tied together by Joba’s soaring chorus (“For the record, I can fly…”).

After a grimy posse cut in “Windows,” which is centered around a stellar Dom McLennon verse, the album veers in a poppier direction with “I’ll Take You On” and “Old News.” They’re both standard love songs, but their melodic verses and pretty hooks have a unique Brockhampton spin to them. “I’ll Take You On” has a glossy boy band aesthetic that will be endearing for fans of Brockhampton’s softer side.

The next song, “What’s The Occasion,” sees the group closely aligned with their indie influences. An understated hook and crunchy drums pair fantastically with a forceful guitar. It almost feels like a Joba solo song, with a Matt Champion feature thrown on (“I made my Sunday mornings feel like Friday nights / I feel like Boobie Miles under these Friday lights”). Its euphoric outro transitions well into the laid-back “When I Ball,” a happy track that has McLennon and Champion reminiscing on their childhoods and the advice their parents gave them. The gently sung, wholesome hook (“You always used to tell me / I could be anything I wanna be / But it’s hard to see, it’s hard to be”) is the icing on top of a touching piece of songwriting.

For fans who prefer the more banger-oriented side of the group, “Don’t Shoot Up The Party” is here to deliver. The ramp-up throughout Kevin Abstract’s intro verse is well-paced and satisfying — a thumping kick drives the energy as the beat builds and erupts into a raucous refrain. Matt Champion’s verse comes second, with some ad-libs and melodic nuances sprinkled into the background to complement confident rapping and funny bars (“Kiss my ass, treat my balls like it’s mistletoe”). The song is a departure from the lower-key tracks surrounding it, but its wild atmosphere stands out in the best way possible.

The album regains its serious tone with its grand finale. “The Light Pt. II” somehow manages to rival the emotional potency of its predecessor. The first verse belongs to Kevin Abstract, and he does an excellent job balancing “abstract” observations (“To see the world move without you feel like a daydream”) with personal frustrations (“But I hate that she got me in this box, expectin’ me to see the light”). The latter example uses the imagery of “the light” in a religious sense, explaining how Abstract’s mother is comfortable having a relationship with him but still desires her son to repent for his sexual orientation. Underneath this heavy content is subtle percussion that drops halfway through the verse to great effect, working in a small groove under Abstract’s best rapping of the project.

But Joba’s heartrending verse is the climax of the album, continuing the baring of his soul that was established on the original “The Light.” The verse is addressed to his late father, with Joba looking back on the time he spent with him (“Missed it when we laughed / Didn’t trust my intuition when I saw the cracks”) and the grief he has been carrying (“And share some, are you lookin’ down? / And a child reachin’ out, brittle bone, crying now”). Joba’s bars derive their impact from the gravity of their topic and the despairing delivery of their rapper (“Impermanence turned permanent with a nine / That’s life, that’s life”). He sings out a somber, whispering hook to close out the song, flipping the meaning of “the light” on its head to represent both heaven and the recovery that can rejuvenate a person after bouts of depression (“The light is worth the wait, I promise / Wait, screamin’ ‘Please don’t do it’”).

The same can be said for the album as a whole: it was definitely worth the wait. Forging forward with the group’s dynamic production and pop-rap sensibilities, Roadrunner is another gem in Brockhampton’s catalog that is a strong contender for their best release yet. 

Nihar Hegde is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].