Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine
Photo Credit: RCA Records
Texas is the birthplace of a plethora of world renowned musicians, primarily black RnB & hip-hop artists; notable acts from the Lone Star State include Megan Thee Stallion, Travis Scott, and Beyoncé. In 2015, the self-proclaimed boyband, Brockhampton (BH), emerged from San Marcos, Texas after meeting on a Kanye West online forum. There isn't enough space in this article to name all the members but the main ones you need to know are Joba, Dom McLennon, Jabari Manwa, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, Bearface, and the leader of the band, Kevin Abstract.
Brockhampton’s first mixtape, All-American Trash, released in 2016, was disjunct and quirky. The following year would see the band grow into their sound with the Saturation trilogy. Saturation (SAT 1), Saturation II (SAT 2), and Saturation III (SAT 3), all released in 2017, garnered recognition in smaller circles of listeners looking for the revival of the hip-hop group, something that listeners hadn’t really seen since Odd Future. In 2018, Iridescence was released, their first album released under a record label, RCA. The album that led to their sudden rise to popularity was Ginger (2019), which featured “SUGAR,” a song that went viral on Tik Tok and Billboard.
Both before and after Brockhampton became mainstream, the band has been mired in controversies. The most notable occurred in 2018, when rapper Ameer Vann was kicked out of the band due to sexual abuse allegations. BH members’ close friendships with Shia LaBeouf and Ansel Elgort have also been a point of contention, as both have had sexual assault allegations brought up against them. Additionally, in 2020, rumours circulated about a few BH members having had relationships with minors.
After a year-long break since the release of Ginger, the boys are back with a new album––Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine. According to Kevin Abstract, this album will be the first of two albums released this year, which will be the band’s last releases ever.
Just as the album’s name entails, this project is definitely a “new machine,” featuring an array of experimental sounds and thrilling new collaborations. Before even beginning to listen, a glance at the tracklist reveals quite a few impressive features: JPEGMAFIA, A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg being the most notable. The band has worked with dozens of artists in the past, but they have not typically included the names of their featured artists on the songs. The choice to include features is a departure from their typical tracklist aesthetic and is symbolic of their shift from unknown rap group to world-famous boyband. This decision was also possibly made to help the album’s commercial success. By including names that other rap fans are familiar with, they could reach a larger audience.
Another noticeable difference is the progression of the album. In the past, the first half of a BH album was light and fun, featuring most of the album’s singles and “hype” songs. The second half was where things started to feel more pensive. Roadrunner reverses this standard. From “Buzzcut” to “The Light,” the album is mature and somber, touching upon themes of death, family, and reflection. Things lighten up with the tracks “I’ll Take You On” and “Old News,” which see the band leaning into a pop aesthetic inspired by their boyband roots. On the remainder of the album, BH returns to its grimmer themes, ranging from Kevin’s thoughts on homophobia and racism in “Don’t Shoot Up the Party” to Joba opening up about his father’s suicide on “The Light Pt. II.” This thematic and sonic shift from lighthearted instrumentation and lyrics to dark and tragic themes left the mood of the album feeling less cohesive than prior records.
Although Brockhampton is showing listeners a new side of their musicality, there were a few elements of the record that were classically BH. “Count on Me,” the second single from Roadrunner, features a corny little hook that they managed to make enjoyable, similar to what they did with “Gold” on SAT 1 and “Boogie” on SAT 3. Songs such as “Chain On” and “Bankroll” have strong roots in SAT 1, with the melodies, flows, and overall vibes taking listeners back to BH’s early sound. In the aforementioned “I’ll Take You On” and “Old News,” keen listeners will notice the iconic record scratch that was laced throughout SAT 3 and Ginger. Furthermore, Bearface gets his own ballad “Dear Lord,” an acapella, gospel-inspired track reminiscent of his work on “Summer” from SAT 2. This song, like many others on the record, features religious themes perhaps as a tribute to the present gospel stylings and religious lyrics of Kanye West, the man that brought the band together.
It seems unfair to take every record that BH puts out and compare it to the SAT trilogy, but this comparison is necessary to contextualize their new releases. The album is a tribute to SAT-era BH, but is also interlaced with new influences, features, and sounds. One key element of BH’s appeal is their unpredictability and experimental nature, but in early 2020, it seemed like the band was beginning to sell out. Appealing to the general public with songs like “Sugar” and their lackluster collaboration with Dua Lipa on the “Sugar” remix, it seemed like BH had lost their edge. But they’ve since returned to their roots on Roadrunner in a more mature and self-aware way. This album doesn’t have as many iconic tracks as anything on the Saturation trilogy but Roadrunner may grow on fans with time. For any former diehard fan that has finally escaped their Brockhampton phase, the more mature direction, odes to previous albums, and vulnerability on every track might suck them right back in.
Dube is a Commentary Editor and a Freshman in the College studying Sociology.