Artists including Danny Brown and A$AP Rocky appear on the albumTWITTER/BRCKHMPTN

Content Note: This article contains discussion of grief and suicide

Brockhampton was never meant to last forever. The thirteen-member self-proclaimed boy band, defined by their unconventional, genre-blurring sound, have been a prominent force in hip-hop ever since their inception back in 2010. Last month, however, marked the beginning of the end for the San Marcos collective, after founding member Kevin Abstract announced that Brockhampton will be releasing their final two albums this year, the first of which was released just short of a fortnight ago. The record, ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, carefully combines the defining elements of their earlier work with newer, fresher styles, to produce what is arguably their most versatile and polished work to date.

The album begins with “BUZZCUT”, a song that’s initially reminiscent of the boisterous, riled-up rap of their 2018 album, iridescence, with strong verses from Kevin Abstract and guest Danny Brown, but is later juxtaposed by smooth, meditative vocals from Joba and producer Jabari Manwa. This is then followed by “CHAIN ON, which was first released last summer under Technical Difficulties, a collection of singles produced during the band’s self-induced quarantine. It features slick, quotable lyrics from Baltimore rapper JPEGMAFIA, like ‘I don’t need six seconds / you remember Vine’, and ends with a sample from Wu-Tang Clan’s relaxed, piano-laced “C.R.E.A.M.”.

“These high-profile features outnumber Brockhampton members on occasion, but they certainly don’t outshine them”

Indeed, Brockhampton’s newfound affinity for collaboration is part of what sets ROADRUNNER apart from all their earlier releases. The summery, R&B-ish “COUNT ON ME features uncredited vocals from A$AP Rocky and Shawn Mendes, and while the latter feature seems somewhat unorthodox, a reference to him from their debut album SATURATION (‘Bruh, I don’t fuck with no white boys / ’Less a n***a Shawn Mendes’) reveals that this collaboration has probably been long awaited. “BANKROLL is brought to life by A$AP Mob, while SoGone SoFlexy delivers a solid verse later on “WINDOWS” before it’s electrified by Merlyn Wood. There’s also no escaping the soulful vocals of “Bound 2”’s Charlie Wilson on “I’LL TAKE YOU ON, particularly given Brockhampton’s infamous formation on the Kanye West fan forum, KanyeToThe. These high-profile features outnumber Brockhampton members on occasion, but they certainly don’t outshine them; they blend seamlessly with the band and elevate each song.

After a run of colourful and psychedelic tracks, the album takes a darker turn in almost typical Brockhampton fashion, as it starts to lean into the melancholy that imbued their 2019 album, GINGER. The energetic, G-funk bassline of “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY is unsettled from the offset by lyrics about social and political issues permeating the US, such as racism, homophobia, and gun violence. Matt Champion is indubitably at his best here, and really fuels this track, making it one of the album’s best. Equally, the nostalgic instrumentals of “WHEN I BALL, assisted by Rex Orange County and The Neptunes’ Chad Hugo, are tempered by Dom McLennon’s musings about the impact of incarceration and the legal system on his childhood.

YOUTUBE/BROCKHAMPTON

However, the emotional crux of this album is undeniably the trauma experienced by Joba in the wake of his father’s recent suicide. His pain is expressed in various ways throughout the album; graphic, grief-stricken lyrics haunt “THE LIGHT: ‘Think I will always be haunted by the image / Of a bloody backdrop, skull fragments in the ceilin’ / Felt your presence in the room, heard my mother squealin’. Desperate, heartbreaking lines can later be found in “THE LIGHT PT. II”:The light is worth the wait / I promise, wait / Why did you do it?’. It’s raw, painfully honest, and is perhaps best described by Merlyn as “therapy mixed with creativity,”. It’s without a doubt one of Brockhampton’s most poignant moments.


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Ultimately, the expectations for this album were high, and it’s clear that Brockhampton delivered. Rhythmically, lyrically, and thematically, this album refuses to be pinned down, showcasing anything and everything from Beatles-inspired guitar on “WHAT’S THE OCCASION, to a gospel hymn led by Bearface in “DEAR LORD. Admittedly, this gives rise to inconsistency between tracks, but nevertheless, each and every song is laced with creativity and authenticity. It’s evident that Brockhampton – both as a band and as individuals – have matured a great deal, and have successfully pivoted between lighter and darker moments to begin their eventual farewell.