Keeping My Ear to Grindstone: Saturation II by Brockhampton

Brockhampton, a self-styled boy band of enigmatic American misfits, has released the follow-up to their June album Saturation,which features Romil Hemnani production. Brockhampton II sets the mood for another 16 tracks of earnest, biting verses from the talented slate of Brockhampton emcees.

Ameer Vann, Kevin Abstract, and Dom McLennon are the most impressive rappers on the album; Matt Champion and JOBA, however turn in compelling verses as well. The album is delicately tethered together and pulled in many different directions by the individual talents of each rapper, but it manages to stay mostly cohesive.

Saturation II – just like its predecessor – is fueled by raw energy and rebellion. In its best moments, Brockhampton’s rebellion speaks of real, unresolved pain. Without using a XXXtentacion consumer-warning on Track 1, the group spits a message of family pain, personal strife, and anger.

Cartoon by Lo Wall

The project is not without its redundancies and missed opportunities for creativity, but it does reward repeat listens with layered lyrics and many narratives running through the album. However, with upwards of eight members receiving vocal credits on the project, it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly whose narrative you are listening to.

The pace at which Brockhampton releases projects – two full-length albums in two months – is not unheard of in the modern landscape of rap. Lil B paved the way for this type of high-volume production when he was cooking Wonton Soup back in 2010.

Though Brockhampton may spring from the Lil B’s and Odd Future’s of the internet, it is building a fresh and genre-pushing flavor. The overall quality of Saturation II is impressive, considering the album is coming out only a little more than two months after its predecessor. This quick turnaround has built considerable hype, helping to sell out a national headlining tour; however, it also produces occasional space-filling, non-starter lyrics and forgettable hooks.

The high points on the album come when songs build on the sounds that caught Saturation listeners. “JESUS” features a lonely Kevin Abstract verse that channels the energy of his solo projects MTV1987 and (his most recent) American Boyfriend. His strongest verse and most memorable moment on the album comes on “JUNKY” when he spits: “Why you always rap ‘bout being gay?” ‘Cause not enough niggas rap and be gay.” It’s a relatively simple assertion, but an important one for a genre that is trying to shed the ever-present cloak of homophobia, perhaps most notably in early 2000s Eminem.

A particularly weak aspect of the album, its repetitive production, could have been avoided by cutting the three filler tracks, “SWEET,” “FIGHT,” and “CHICK,” whose elimination would not hurt the listening experience. In addition, there is an over-use of an MIA-influenced Persian backing sound, which is one of Hemnani’s idiosyncrasies, but its recurring, whiny sound can be noisy and annoying, not hitting the ear with the same power as the refined piano production on “JESUS” or “TEETH.” Brockhampton’s style is flashy and syrupy, smelling at times like Late Registration. As Ameer Vann raps on “JELLO,” the group is “turning rap into the new pop.”

The youthful outrage on the album is either directed at an imagined and non-specific “they,” reminiscent of Khaled’s “they don’t want you to win,” or it is pointed at the racist school systems the Brockhampton members endured.

The track that most effectively channels this anger is “FIGHT.” Vann raps, “I was born with a target, and it stuck to my skin. And I learned in social studies I was one of them men who were locked in the chains, but not locked in the pen. But I’m bigger than that, I’m the beginning and end.”

Is Vann saying he is the beginning of a conscious wave of young black artists? Is he saying that he is the end of the cycle of black artists exploited for their culture without receiving any of the benefits? Vann, when addressing social issues, is an intriguing voice on the album and one that could have a future beyond a member of the rap world’s hottest boy band. At other times, however, he turns in half-baked verses about whipping cars and drinking fifths of insert-alcohol-here.

The largest vision that becomes apparent from analyzing the album’s lyrics is that the group is finessing money for themselves from the pockets of white music executives. The group is at a stage in their career where, as Abstract and Champion chant on “SWAMP,” they are “fuckin’ commas up from the outside.”

The members are putting commas in their bank accounts and don’t have to appear on Jimmy Kimmel to reach a wider living room audience, which is a unique moment in any rap artist’s career and one that is proving extremely productive for Brockhampton.

David Andrews

David Andrews

David began his time with the Catalyst in the Fall of 2014 as a first-year. After two blocks as a writer he became the Sports Editor and continued in this role for the spring and fall semester of 2015. Beginning in the spring semester of 2016 he took over as Editor in Chief of the newspaper. Andrews is majoring in English-Creative Writing-Poetry and loves the Catalyst.

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