The past six months have been dominated by a number of rap-album collaborations that have varied in quality, but could all be characterized as having relied on star-power association to garner listenership. In the fall, rap legends Young Thug and Future dropped Super Slimey, soon followed by Offset and 21 Savage’s hard-hitting Without Warning. 2017 concluded with the release of Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, a stale outing from Quavo and Travis Scott. But outside of this glamorous spotlight, Brockhampton—an eclectic group of rappers, musicians, artists, and producers—has been hard at work.
Brockhampton, in sharp contrast with recent previous rap headliner outings, operates as a single collective. Over the past year, Brockhampton has drawn on their deep talent pool to produce a total of three studio albums. The most recent, Saturation III, is their best yet.
Thematically, familiar Brockhampton territory—drug abuse, teen angst, estranged love—all come to bear on Saturation III. Despite the heartache, Saturation III is often triumphant. Boogie, the first track on the album, is loud, bombastic, and ear-catching. “I’ve been beat-up my whole life, I’ve been shot down kicked down twice,” sings Kevin Abstract, a key member of Brockhampton, on the chorus. Abstract restates his position as an outsider, but quickly reminds us that he’s no longer taking anyone’s shit, singing “Ain’t no stopping me tonight, I’ma get all the things I like.” This is the gist of Saturation III. It’s a chronicle of the struggles of yesterday, bookended by the glitzy promises of tomorrow.
Saturation III is also Brockhampton’s most sonically diverse album. Previous works, Saturation I and II, failed to highlight Brockhampton’s vast skill set both in production and vocals. Those previous albums were primarily walls of sound, full of hard, aggressive, beats and screamed lyrics. They left us hardly any room to breathe. Saturation III breaks this trend. Liquid is a somber call-back to a difficult childhood which centers on members Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, and Dom McLennon. “I was playing rock, paper, scissors, with imaginary friends, imagine having no friends”, Abstract softly sings on the chorus. Brockhampton doesn’t hesitate to immediately pivot from here, dropping into Stupid, a song whose frantic, shouted first verse delivered by crew wildcard Joba is more akin to modern trap music titles. This is the major strength of Saturation III. It bobs and weaves, delivering fresh sounds up until the final track, Team, an alternative, moody slow-dance.
Brockhampton holds a unique place in the rap industry that remains highlighted on Saturation III. This is due to Kevin Abstract’s (the aforementioned frontrunner of Brockhampton) position as a walking rap paradigm shift. Abstract is an unabashedly gay man who, throughout Saturation III, doesn’t hesitate to remind listeners of his sexuality. He reminds us that he likes “taller guys” and asks curiously, “Does anybody have Harry Styles phone number?” on Johnny, and defiantly shouts “I’m a faggot I say it, I scream that shit like I mean it,” on Stupid. Abstract flips the heteronormative lust and objectification of women often found in mainstream rap on it’s head. Interestingly, the rest of Brockhampton often stands in for the misogynistic tropes that Abstract has repurposed.
Ultimately, Saturation III is the complete package. Its 12-track, 46-minute running time, punctuated by a series of 3 skits (done entirely in Spanish), remains palatable and engaging throughout. Each track injects fresh production and lyrical styles that grasp the listeners attention. Brockhampton pulls its strength from it’s deep roster of talent, which ultimately leaves me simultaneously fearing and eagerly anticipating its eventual dissolution. Brockhampton still has so much more to give as a singular crew, yet I feel that nearly every musically inclined member deserves the creative space afforded by a full solo project. In the meantime, before any big changes happen, I’ll be listening to Saturation III.