Music

"Today, I'mma Be Whoever I Wanna Be"

Brockhampton straddle the divide between worlds, creating a space where their fans can be themselves.

by Ryan Bassil
09 August 2017, 9:29am

Illustrazione di Kayla Graves.

I haven't thought of a good introduction to this semi-regular column yet, but it will be about music: some good, and some shit. Thank you for being here. Peace and love, peace and love.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term "growing pains" as being related to "the stresses and strains attending a new project" and/or discomfort in the limbs of small children. This is a good assessment – after all, these guys consider themselves "America's most trusted online dictionary for English word definitions" – but it also misses another crucial interpretation: the psychological discomfort of growing up in the in-between.

As a phenomenon both incorporeal and omnipresent, the-inbetween is slightly similar to "the upside-down" – a term popularised by the Netflix show, Stranger Things – in the sense it represents a place between worlds. In the show, it's where Will is kept hostage – not quite in the real world, but not dead either. The non-fiction "in-between" version isn't as dramatic, but it describes a similar place between places: a weird divide, existing between two worlds, a separation.

In here is where you'll find the inbetweeners. The white teenagers who were raised on rap, for example; the black kids who grew up with skateboarding and Nirvana; the sole gender non-binary person in a right-wing town; or the depressed, lonely kid wandering the high school corridor with little more than than their favourite album pumping through headphones into their ears. Balancing on this precipice between places can be awkward, but when people come together on these fringes it can also be a lot of fun. More importantly, a bonding of misfits breeds comfort – it creates a way to ease into our true selves.

Brockhampton – a 15-piece boyband from Texas, now located in Los Angeles – are born from this world. Like the titular Warriors or the group of kids in Stand By Me, they're a group of outsiders bound together by a shared passion – in this case creating music, short films and art. They live together in a house, they're white, black, straight and gay, and they're testament to the fact that our quirks are a beautiful thing and we all should let our nuanced flag bravely fly.

By now you've likely heard of the group. They have, after all, clocked up play counts in the hundreds of thousands for their most recent singles; they're managed by Christopher Clancy, who looked after Odd Future; and they're headed up by Kevin Abstract, who wrote one of the best overlooked albums of 2016. But in case you haven't heard, a quick re-cap. They all met on an infamous Kanye West fan forum. At the time, their members worked as auditors in banks (Jabari Manwa) or in car shops (Ameer Vann) while some were getting fired from jobs at Walmart (Ashlan Gray). United by a common cause, they moved into a house in Texas – with some members flying from outside of the state – and set up shop to focus solely on writing music.

By reining in their focus, Brockhampton have become a creative powerhouse. In the two years since their inception they've made that move across the country to LA, released debut mixtape All-American Trash and launched a television show with VICELAND US – all while staying fully independent. But Saturation, their latest release, is the one that's caught the most attention. That wild multi-genre debut album gives weight to the importance of being yourself – of rolling with a crew of social miscreants, wearing your colours boldly on your sleeve and letting everyone else catch up later.

"STAR", the album's third track, perfectly captures this approach. "High school, they ain't fuck with me / Now the critics don't fuck with me / My own fam ain't fuck with me", Kevin Abstract raps, before closing: "But VICELAND did fuck with me" (and yes, before you ask, this piece would still be being published if this wasn't the case). He then details how he can't drive, has no money, is spending all his show money on Uber – and is therefore broke as fuck. It's the same relatable approach that initially made the likes of Kanye West and Kid Cudi such interesting propositions.

Like Odd Future before them, Brockhampton have excelled in creating their own world – a 360-degree package where they direct their own videos, draw up their artwork, produce all their music. In doing so, each release benefits from burrowing deeper into the Brockhampton core, bringing light to certain brands of humour, realities, mind-states. For example: watch one video and you'll be impressed. Watch two and you'll realise there's a trend, as each one begins with a slightly altered, Johnny Knoxville-like statement spoken directly to camera: "Este es mi amigo Jabari. Nosotros odiamos a la policía" (This is my friend Jabari. We hate the police). And this shit is funny, too – the kind of weird yet comic humour that can only come from a group of friends being comfortable around each other. Check "STAR" for the proof.

By creating in this way, the listener becomes more invested in Brockhampton – we come to learn about each character and personality. And there are lots of stand-out talents here, too; as well as Abstract and the aforementioned members, there's Bearface, Dom McLennon, Matt Champion and a whole host of others. These musicians all create on their own but by coming together as Brockhampton, they've created something both rounded and unique. We hear of prescription pill addiction ("2PAC"), applying for food stamps and being hella poor ("MILK"), lost love and pain ("FACE"). The combination of members and their individual stories allows for a realistic portrait of what it means to be young, to be somewhere on the outside looking in, to be in-between.

All of which is to say, in spite of some of their subject matter, Brockhampton are overwhelming positive. "MILK" captures this approach perfectly. Although it speaks on the pitfalls of no-longer being a teenager yet not quite being an adult, the track is ultimately one of acceptance of self, personal growth – and how everything works out in the end. Speaking about the song in an interview with Pigeon and Planes, Dom McLennon said: "We're not telling anyone to go out and go to the next protest or march. We're telling you; exist in this shitty, fucking crazy, terrifying socio-political climate and be yourself unapologetically because that's what we're doing. I don't know how, but it fucking worked for us."

And as Ameer Vann says on "FACE"... "I need a friend / And you need a home" – maybe Brockhampton can be yours too. If "GUMMY" and today's release "SWAMP" are anything to go by, they're gearing up to release the album of the summer all over again with SATURATION II.

You can find Ryan on Twitter and Kayla on Instagram.