The lights had already dimmed and the crowd was shifting restlessly. This group of concertgoers was overwhelmingly teenaged, the majority dressed in thrifted corduroys, denim jackets, Vans and beanies. But that’s not to say that every member of the crowd was a carbon copy, as the diversity of the audience was notable: People of many races, ethnicities, genders and sexualities were all present. Yet everybody was waiting for the same thing.
And then it happened: in an extremely calm manner, Kevin Abstract wandered onto the Terminal 5 stage in New York, NY singing the opening verses of “WEIGHT,” a track off of Brockhampton’s newest album “iridescence.” The crowd surged forward in excitement. Then the beat dropped, the other members of Brockhampton came on stage and the audience became a swarming mass of jumping, dancing bodies.
So how did this distinct collection of young men become arguably the most revolutionary group in the current American music scene? Brockhampton was formed in 2015 in San Marcos, TX partially through a Kanye West forum entitled “KanyeToThe.” Led by Kevin Abstract, the collective also includes vocalists Matt Champion, Merlyn Wood and Dom McLennon; vocalists and producers Joba and Bearface; producers Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley; graphic designer Henock “HK” Sileshi; photographer Ashlan Gray; website designer (and skit actor) Roberto Ontenient and manager Jon Nunes. Although only the vocalists are onstage when performing, the entire collective is imperative to the chemistry of the band and all members are known (and adored) by the fans.
Perhaps one of the most incredible things about Brockhampton is the sheer amount of music and art they’ve produced in such a short amount of time. In 2016 Brockhampton debuted their first mixtape entitled “All-American Trash” and released an accompanying documentary that gave an insider’s view on the way the mixtape was created, with all members living in a house together and working on both their individual and group parts. In 2017 they released the “SATURATION” trilogy, three full length albums that went along with a plethora of well-directed music videos and even a short film. The “SATURATION” trilogy was visually appealing and cohesive and was unlike anything that had been seen in popular music before.
During this earlier period in Brockhamton’s legacy, vocalist Ameer Vann was part of the group. Vann had known Abstract in high school and the two were founding members of the collective: Vann’s face is on every album in the “SATURATION” trilogy. However, in 2018 Vann was accused of verbal and emotional abuse. Vann responded via Twitter, saying in a series of tweets on May 12 that, “I’ve been in relationships where I’ve fucked up and disrespected my partners. I’ve cheated and been dismissive to my exes…In response to the claims of emotional and sexual abuse: Although my behavior has been selfish, childish and unkind, I have never criminally harmed anyone or disrespected their boundaries. I have never had relations with a minor or violated anybody’s consent.”
While abuse of any kind has never been acceptable, it’s publicly been denounced more and more in this era of the #MeToo movement. On May 26, 2018 Brockhampton was set to perform at Boston Calling music festival. However, much to the shock and disappointment of the audience, when the group came out there was no Vann with them. During his verses on the setlist, the other members of the band were quiet, wandering around the stage and looking uncomfortable while the music played. The very next day, it was announced that Vann would no longer be part of the band and that they were canceling the rest of their US tour dates, which included an upcoming performance at the Governor Balls Music Festival in New York, NY.
Many fans were worried after this news broke and Brockhampton took a step out of the spotlight. The collective had been skyrocketing to popularity in the mere three years it had existed: would it be able to recover from a such a scandal? And perhaps even more importantly, if it did, what would it sound like without one of its most prominent members? All worries were alleviated in July 2018 when the band announced that there would be “new music all summer” and released the trio of singles “1999 WILDFIRE,” “1998 TRUMAN” and “1997 DIANA” throughout July. “iridescence” was then released towards the end of September.
Brockhampton’s ability to continue riding a wave of success even after the loss of Vann has been incredible. While “iridescence” has a completely redefined sound and differs stylistically from the “SATURATION” trilogy, it’s still clear that this album is coming from the same group. Brockhampton has been able to adapt and create in high-risk circumstances without losing their original sound. Furthermore, Bearface, who was formerly only a producer on the “SATURATION” trilogy, became a vocalist on “iridescence.”
Brockhampton describes themselves as “America’s boy band,” humorously referencing in their music that they are “the best boy band since One Direction.” While they’re mainly hip-hop based, their interdisciplinary use of genres, instruments and singing styles is what makes them so innovative and unique. Their serious lyrical content is also key to the sound of the collective.
Each member sings about issues they have or have had, whether it be depression, self-hate, the difficulties of being black and gay, family issues and many others. This vulnerability and relatability is another big pull for Brockhampton fans and what makes their music so important.
What was most striking about Brockhampton’s performance this past Monday was the positive and open environment it created. The crowd was one of the most diverse I had ever seen at a concert, yet everybody was welcomed. When thinking about Brockhampton’s rise to popularity, it’s nearly incredible: a group of friends, some meeting through a Kanye West fan forum, have suddenly become the most exciting and important thing to happen to music in a long time. It’s impossible to define or categorize Brockhampton, and perhaps that’s why they truly are America’s boy band, representing diversity and choice, two things that are imperative to both music and the country.
Lucie Turkel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.