Boy bands are cookie cutter: a top producer grabs a bunch of cute boys and sets them up with a sweet record deal, tons of promotion, and ultimately, success from the get-go. And as much as everyone loves New Kids on the Block or *NSYNC, the days of boy bands past are over.
Brockhampton, a collective of 17 rappers, singers, musicians, producers, artists, designers (and even a few web developers) aren't about trying to be a poster on the bedroom walls of preteens—they're pushing to become the first hip hop boy band of its kind.
A few of its members (whom are nearly all under the age of 24) met through previous rap groups, and the rest met online on an Internet forum dedicated to Kanye West, KanyeToThe. Eventually they realized they all lived in fairly close proximity to each other in San Marcos, Texas, and began crafting their unique persona as the first hip hop boy band.
The group has grown nearly exponentially since 2016: They’ve released two records this summer alone, with plans for a third to drop later this month. And their popularity shows. The line to get into their sold out show at Chop Suey on Thursday night wrapped almost entirely around the venue. It took me over an hour to get inside, and by the end of the night the crowd inside the venue was overflowing into the street.
As the group started filling up Chop Suey’s tiny setup, Kevin Abstract, the ringleader, shouted, “Brockhampton is the greatest boy band in the world because we got this song right here,” and the angelic set of string instruments that signal the intro to “GUMMY” began.
Kanye’s influence on Brockhampton is strong. “JUNKY” is Brockhampton at their hardest, tackling rape culture, drug addiction, and masculinity in rap in separate verses.
While previous boy bands relentlessly battle rumors of being gay, Brockhampton discusses the impacts of actually being gay in rape. Abstract says, “Why you always rap about bein’ gay?” in a question to himself, before saying that there aren't enough gay rappers in the industry. Later on, he gets personal, saying his mother never accepted him once she found out about his sexuality.
Songs like “QUEER” and “SWAMP” also critique stereotypes of success, as well as being famous, why people feel the need to be rich, and what makes them “weird.” This is what makes Brockhampton feel so refreshing. They're real. They're rapping about what makes them real, and they're doing what they want with no regards to what is normal in hip hop culture or boy band culture.
Brockhampton is opinionated, and they’re pretty facetious about it. About halfway through the set, Abstract started chanting, “Fuck Pitchfork!” over and over again for a solid few minutes, alluding to their first record, Saturation, which received a 6.5 rating earlier this year from the website. The rating led to a tweet from Abstract, who told Pitchfork to never review their records again. And now on tour, Brockhampton is selling merch with images of both the rating and the tweet.
The best part about Brockhampton is that they’re able to be so many things at once. Slated with a slew of producers, artists, web developers, and videographers, Brockhampton does everything in-house, from photos to videos to album artwork in addition to the music.
And music-wise, they're able to have pretty, quiet moments, like when Bearface steps up with his guitar, and they’re able to have hard, loud haunts when nearly all 17 members are chanting on stage. At times it got awkward with more than 10 people aimlessly standing while just one person was actively doing something, but the music really speaks for itself.
Brockhampton can be overwhelming, but they’re creating the most exciting new hip hop out right now. They’re asking real questions about being a twenty-something in today’s world, and they’re creating a community on top of it. They’re relatable boys from Texas in a redefined boy band—go ahead and dive in.