BROCKHAMPTON reemerges with ‘iridescence’

Hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON overcomes domestic abuse scandal and loss of member Ameer Vann in new album ‘iridescence.’

“Iridescence,” the fourth studio album from hip-hop collective and all-American boyband BROCKHAMPTON, was released worldwide on Sept. 21.

The 15-track album, recorded at the world famous Abbey Road Studios in London over the course of 10 days, is the first from the group since being signed to RCA Records on March 30 and losing rapper Ameer Vann due to allegations of domestic abuse. Arguably one of the most talented members, Vann was the face of the group’s “SATURATION” album trilogy, which brought the group public recognition and triggered their rise to stardom in 2017 after independently recording and producing “SATURATION,” “SATURATION II” and “SATURATION III” in less than a year.

The now 14-member group handles all aspects of their image and sound, from vocals, music and production to styling, photography and web design. The most featured members are vocalists Kevin Abstract, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, Russel “JOBA” Boring and Ciarán McDonald aka “Bearface.”

The first track, “NEW ORLEANS,” starts off “iridescence” with high energy and features the vocals of Jaden Smith on the second chorus.

Despite its name, second track “THUG LIFE” is surprisingly mellow as the main melody is played by a piano. The song is sandwiched between Bearface’s sweet, non-lexical crooning of “La-da-da-da.” He repeats his verse from “NEW ORLEANS,” with words of “Boy you know you don’t look fly / Dem gold chains turn your neck green, bye,” and ridicules the idea of pretending to be someone you’re not in order to impress others.

“BERLIN” is characterized by its grimy production and wicked beats that sound as if your speakers are about to blow out. Much like the backtrack, JOBA is unapologetic and harsh as he raps, “Where the hell is your back bone, ducking me like Whac-A-Mole / Looking like an inflatable at a car show; a spectacle… You hung yourself, that’s not my fault, I just supplied the rope.”

“SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,” on the other hand, feels upbeat and lovesick. The minute-and-34 seconds track, with lyrics “There’s something about him / Yeah, his attitude is like magic,” is an ode to Abstract’s long-term boyfriend Jaden Walker, which he clarified on Twitter. It serves as a brief intermission between the darker themes of the album.

In “WEIGHT,” Abstract reflects on his past. He raps, “And I was pressed because my shorty gave me cold signs… And she was mad ‘cause I never wanna show her off (scared) / And every time she took her bra off my dick would get soft / I thought I had a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming,” detailing struggles with his sexuality.

“DISTRICT” goes hard from the very beginning. The production is deliciously bazaar with violins, manipulated video game sound effects, distorted vocals and police sirens. The song is fascinating as it jumps around in an unpredictable manner, changing with the appearance of each member.

“TAPE” is somber as the members take turns rapping about their inner battles. JOBA comments on his own insecurities, saying “All my life I’ve felt inadequate / And through the years I’ve dealt with / Tragedy after tragedy… I’ve come to expect my expectations aren’t true / But I’m a master at believing my lies.” Champion, in his verse, mentions feeling like he’s not able to voice his “pains” due to his success, as people will always answer him with “you lucky where you at,” and “quit complaining ‘bout all that.” McLennon raps about his experience with mental illness, with lines “Brain disease, parasite, eating me from inside / Emotions bleed, I can’t believe / How I’m slipping through the night.” String instruments bring the song to an emotional ending.

“J’OUVERT” calls out the pressures of fame. The music video for the song, filmed with infrared thermography like the album cover, was released on Sept. 20. It opens with Champion’s low drawl. JOBA takes on his signature psychotic persona during the second verse and begins what becomes a crescendo of words, with lyrics “Couldn’t last a day inside my head / That’s why I did the drugs I did… Pray for peace with a knife in my head / Speak my piece like a gun to my head.” Wood takes the third verse and raps, “Fans with cameras in the bathroom, man that’s difficult / I just wanna smoke a Backwoods by my lovely self.”

“HONEY” is epically bouncy and changes tone halfway through. The song samples Beyoncé’s “Dance for You.” Her velvety vocals transport listeners into a remix of “BUMP,” from “SATURATION.”

“SAN MARCOS,” named after the city in Texas where the band was formed, feels sentimental and bittersweet. JOBA, with his voice distorted, sings, “Suicidal thoughts, but I won’t do it / Take that how you want, it’s important I admit /… I know that I’m selfish, do my best to be selfless.” The hopeful singing of the London Community Gospel Choir closes the song, with harmonies of “I want more out of life than this.”

“TONYA,” named after Tonya Harding, debuted on “The Tonight Show” on June 20 in the group’s first public appearance following the Vann scandal. Harding’s story mirrors that of BROCKHAMPTON, as she was a famous figure skater who broke records and became a household name before her ex-husband went behind her back to injure her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan – an action that would sabotage Harding’s career and cause the public to forget her accomplishments. After the loss of a pivotal member, BROCKHAMPTON felt as though their careers would be marked by the actions of Vann. The song, featuring vocals from serpentwithfeet, is nothing short of heartbreaking and feels like the band’s way of addressing their own feelings about everything.

“FABRIC” follows the same theme. Abstract raps about BROCKHAMPTON releasing three albums in one year without being signed to a label. However, BBC only covered their story “when it came down to controversy.” The song ends with a brief silence, followed by the beating of a drum and the words, “These are the best years of our lives.” This foreshadows future releases, since “iridescence” is part of BROCKHAMPTON’s next trilogy, entitled “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

“Iridescence,” with its seamless transitions and diverse sounds, feels like a story that can only be told when listened from start to finish. It’s the tale of a band overcoming the loss of a member, growing together as individuals and proving that it will continue on, stronger than ever before.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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