After a tumultuous nine–month break, hip hop’s foremost boy band is back for more. Led by founder Kevin Abstract, Brockhampton released its fourth studio album, iridescence, on September 21, its first release since Saturation III last December. Between releases, a number of shifts occurred: the group signed with RCA Records, member and lyricist Ameer Vann was kicked out after sexual misconduct allegations, and the album experienced numerous delays and name changes. Given the success of the Saturation trilogy and the recent drama, there was greater interest in how Brockhampton would follow up its meteoric rise to stardom and exposure to the mainstream media. So, let’s dive into iridescence with a track–by–track review—each song introduces fresh perspectives from different combinations of members on a wide variety of topics, forming a cohesive theme that can only be understood from the sum of its parts.
From the moment Dom McLennon opens “New Orleans,” it sounds as if the group is picking up right where it left off with Saturation III, with a beat reminiscent of trap mixed with middle eastern music. The track is a thumping celebration of Brockhampton’s success, accompanied nicely with a cameo from collaborator Jaden Smith on the chorus.
“Thug Life” is short and sweet—Bearface’s melancholy vocals and McLennon’s self–reflection on depression are heartbreaking and serve as a polarizing transition from “New Orleans.” It’s a shame that it’s only two minutes in length.
Three songs in, and it’s not clear if this is a Brockhampton album or a collaboration between McLennon and Bearface that happens to feature the rest of the group. Each continue to be the stars of the show, a particularly welcome change for Bearface, who was relegated to the outros of the Saturation trilogy. Matt Champion has a brief but slick verse, although Joba’s vapid lyrics and smarmy flow don’t quite fit with the rest of the song.
“SOMETHING ABOUT HIM”
A solo effort from Abstract, “Something About Him” is a beautiful tribute to longtime boyfriend Jaden Walker. There’s a feeling of inner peace as Abstract croons “There/s something about him/Yeah his attitude is like magic,” sharing his feelings of love with the listener.
“WHERE THE CASH AT”
Merlyn Wood and Champion take over the mic for this angry, politically–charged banger—and “Where the Cash At” is all the better for it, as the emcees deliver blistering commentary on urban violence. So far, iridescence seems to be alternating between fiery tracks and sad soliloquies, an enjoyable dynamic effective in allowing each member to play to their strengths.
The centerpiece of the album, “Weight” is a work of art. Abstract’s introspection on a diverse range of issues is heartfelt, whether it be the band’s mental health, the pitfalls of stardom, or his struggles with opening up regarding his sexuality. Joba and McLennon share similar worries, highlighting the “weight” of their experiences. You have to appreciate their openness—it allows far more listeners to relate to the content.
In contrast to “Weight,” “District” is a disjointed conglomeration of noises, featuring six different members and alternating between orchestral and robotic production. However, lack of cohesiveness doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the song. Wood, McLennon, and Joba’s fleeting appearances complement Champion’s smooth wordplay and Abstract’s gloomy chorus.
“Loophole” is a short interlude featuring a 2016 interview between DJ Whoo Kid and rap veteran Cam’ron, where they discuss an unfair record deal the latter had early in his career. It’s a unique insight into Brockhampton’s mindset as they approached their own deal with RCA Records as well as their view on fake friends.
“Tape” features Abstract, Joba, Champion, and McLennon at their lyrical best, full of multisyllabic rhymes and meditation on past regrets. The track is a profound lesson on the importance of maintaining relationships with family, friends, and lovers as life changes.
It’s unfortunate that Champion is relegated to the opening eight bars on “J’ouvert,” because Joba’s chorus and verse are the sole misstep of the entire album. He comes across as whiny as he vents his frustrations, while punchlines like “I’m feeling sick, b****, call the doctor” fall painfully flat. With Wood and Bearface unable to resuscitate the track, “J’ouvert” is forgettable.
Perfect for getting the adrenaline pumping, “Honey” is the archetype of a Brockhampton song. Abstract’s groovy intro sets up a powerful analysis by McLennon on the survival struggle in impoverished city neighborhoods, before a soothing auto–tuned outro that has you feeling like you’re floating.
The scintillating “Vivid” is a nice segue between “Honey” and “San Marcos.” Champion and McLennon’s braggadocio is infectious, as the latter declares “Every little moment I step in, might shift the planet’s direction.” Bearface’s pitched–up vocals are similarly entrancing, as he asserts that “Even though my teeth not gold, baby girl know our pockets drip folds.”
“San Marcos” is emotional in all the right ways: besides being a reference to the Texas city where the band formed, the song serves as an opportunity for Champion, McLennon, and Joba to examine and accept their own fragility. Given how little the topic is addressed in hip hop, it’s refreshing and cathartic to hear Joba state “Suicidal thoughts, but I won’t do it/Take that how you want, it’s important I admit it.” As the choir closes “San Marcos” chanting, “I want more out of life than this,” it’s difficult not to hum along.
An allusion to former figure skater Tonya Harding and the related biographical film I Tonya, “Tonya” centers around the theme of the instability of fame. As the members take turns shedding light on their opinions of success and excess, the song evokes the image of a group therapy session. It’s as if the band members are trapped in a different world, trying to escape with the listener.
Although it’s scarcely over four and a half minutes in length, “Fabric” is a gargantuan conclusion to iridescence. Featuring five separate performers and three separate beat changes, the song is a fitting conclusion to the record, as the artists embrace their broken psyches and vow to make their sequel trilogy the “the best years of our lives.”
In the first installment of The Best Years of Our Lives trilogy, Brockhampton matches the depth and emotion of the Saturation records, overcoming the departure of Vann and the burden of media expectations. While iridescence isn’t perfect, it’s awfully close—tracks such as “Weight,” “San Marcos,” and “Fabric” shine as the band delves into the effects of its rise to success and how their lives have changed as a result. I look forward to the sequel.