After eight full-length long playing (LP) tracks, record-label woes and internal turmoil, Texas-bred hip-hop collective Brockhampton is officially over. In their final albums “The Family” and “TM,” Brockhampton turns inwards for a deeply introspective farewell that is a mixed bag of tragedy and healing, both in tone and production.
After announcing an indefinite hiatus in January via Twitter, the boy band revealed at Coachella that the final Brockhampton project would be released later this year. The album, titled “The Family,” was released on Nov. 17.
For many fans, the end was always in sight.
The rap group first made waves in the hip-hop scene with their bold, boisterous and rowdy “Saturation” trilogy in 2017. But between signing a deal with Sony’s RCA records, the departure of ex-member Ameer Vann in May 2018 over sexual misconduct allegations and pressure from fans to continuously meet the high expectations set by “Saturation,” the group’s quick rise to stardom ultimately led to their demise.
In “The Family,” lead member Kevin Abstract provides us with insight into the band’s falling out, while reminiscing on their rise. Ironically, the 17-track record is effectively a solo project from Abstract, performed entirely by the lead vocalist. It’s a strong departure from the collective’s cohesive chemistry and unfortunately falls short as a result.
The record starts off with “Take it Back,” a trip down memory lane in which Abstract recalls memories from the group’s origins. The beat is infused with a choir soundscape, setting up the album’s confessional tone.
In “All That,” Abstract compares the band’s scrawny beginnings with their experience of gaining fame. It’s a poppy and joyful tune that juxtaposes the song’s sorrowful lyrics: “The record deal wasn’t helpin’ either / That merch deal ain’t help either, man / It gave me more money for alcohol / I guess blowin’ up ain’t all that at all.”
Tracks on the LP are primarily filled with strong beats and chopped-up soul samples that call back to Kanye West’s earlier albums and a nod to the group’s origin on the KanyeLive forum.
Single “Big P*ssy” is energetic and disruptive, bringing back some of the sound from the “Saturation” era. “Boyband” is the pinnacle of the group’s scrappy spirit. “RZA” is filled with swagger and charisma.
Regretfully, the highlights of “The Family” are not enough to excuse the incomplete project. Songs are delivered to audiences underproduced and unfinished, with almost half of the tracks abruptly ending barely having reached the two-minute mark. At times, the new release is absent in urgency to be a fleshed-out, finalized project.
“(Back From The) Road” is tuneless, discordant and blatantly out of tune. Ironically placed as the rock bottom of the record, “Basement” is as painfully dull and bare as it sounds. The distorted vocal background on “Southside” is irritating and sounds like a mosquito buzzing around your ear.
A large part of the reason why the album sounds incomplete is because “The Family” was made to satisfy Brockhampton’s label deal, which is clearly revealed by Abstract throughout the LP.
“Only made this to get out the deal, partly,” Abstract raps in “Gold Teeth.”
But “The Family” signs off with an honest, heartfelt and deeply tragic eulogy to the group in “Brockhampton.” Beats are turned down for nostalgia-inducing orchestral strings that compliment Abstract’s tear-jerking farewell. It’s here where Abstract individually toasts each of his bandmates, ending with an excerpt from Ruby Winter’s “I Can’t Fake It Anymore.”
“The Family” is a decently written and deeply emotional record, but the one-man show crumbles under the tremendous weight of providing fans with a fulfilling finale. While it might be enough for an Abstract solo project, it’s not enough for a final Brockhampton album.
Much to the surprise of fans — and very much in Brockhampton style — an additional album, “TM,” was released the day after “The Family” with no prior announcement other than a now-deleted Twitter post by Abstract. Unlike “The Family,” “TM” features vocal performances from all members of the group.
The record starts off strong with “FMG,” a banger with warping synths, glitchy instrumentation and heavy bass and snares on a trap-inspired beat. Much of its sound is reminiscent of the bombastic experimentalism from “Iridescence.” Vocalists Dom McLennon and Matt Champion come in hot with hard-hitting verses filled with swagger and charm.
Following tracks “ANIMAL” and “LISTERINE” are perhaps the least Brockhampton-like songs in the group’s catalog. The former slows the disk down to a poppier, ambient trap beat while the latter leans into deep bass and heavy autotune — neither song sounds particularly flattering.
“NEW SHOES” is arguably the standout, with some of the best instrumentals and the cleanest flows on the release. Whether it’s the inclusion of many fan-favorite members, the revival of “Saturation”-era chemistry or Merlyn Wood’s iconic “MERLYN!,” “NEW SHOES” will undoubtedly leave a smile on the faces of fans.
The second half of the LP trades hip-hop for a more R&B and indie pop flavor and is noticeably moodier and mellower — like Brockhampton is realizing the end is near and it’s time to say goodbye.
Fuzzy and soft keyboards lay the ground in “BETTER THINGS” and jazzy piano instrumentals carefully carry the flow in “CRUCIFY ME,” both of which are somber meditations on the past and future.
On the final track “GOODBYE,” the hip-hop collective fully delves into soft pop and lo-fi. Members Joba and Champion sign off, speaking to the idea of not taking the best time of their lives for granted, a fitting end for a group well-acquainted with the dizzying highs and dismal lows of fame.
Lyrically, “TM” doesn’t feel like a final goodbye in the way “The Family” does. It’s not as deeply introspective when it comes to providing listeners with a definitive finale of Brockhampton. But “TM” is still a solid conclusion to the boyband. The Brockhampton signature style, immaculate production and bold genre-bending make “TM” a mending and restorative album that will surely bring closure to fans of the “best boy band since One Direction.”
“The Family”: 3/5