Brockhampton are changing music - here’s everything you need to know
By Sam Moore, 26 September 2018
It’s been hard to miss Brockhampton lately: their 2017 Saturation album trilogy was named as such because the group wanted to do exactly that - saturate the airwaves until people had to sit up and take notice.
Over the course of the chat, Brockhampton discussed the making of their latest project, their humble beginnings, strong work ethic, how they wanted to inspire the youth of today as well as their love for - and possible relocation plans to - the UK. You can listen back to the interview in full here. [Warning: Programme contains explicit language.]
The US-based hip hop ensemble (and self-proclaimed boy band) have been going from strength to strength recently and are promising a whole lot more. With a growing legion of passionate fans and live performances to match the hype, now is the perfect time to get up to speed with Brockhampton.
Here’s everything you need to know about the group - and some lesser-known facts that even the most committed fan might not be aware of.
1. They formed on a Kanye West forum
Such is the wonder of the Internet, modern bands can form without meeting face-to-face. In previous years you might have put a “wanted” ad in the paper, but these days we see artists collaborate over email, some never actually meeting in the flesh at all.
Brockhampton’s formation is one born entirely online - and with quite a strange backstory too. Many of the group met on a Kanye West forum and their origin can be traced to a single thread on the KanyeToThe fan site, in which a then-14-year-old Kevin Abstract (whose username was "Harry Styles") posted: "Anybody wanna make a band? Who's down?". Abstract may have listed Jimi Hendrix as an initial influence and said he wanted to make "trippy" 70s-inspired tunes, but Brockhampton eventually went down a wholly different musical path.
"I just always wanted to be part of something where I felt like I belonged," Abstract explained to Jamz, while bandmate Jabari recalled what motivated him to team up with a complete stranger: "It wasn't really [about] the music per say, I just believed in [Kevin]. It felt like the right thing to do."
2. Their members hail from all around the world
They may refer to themselves (quite wryly) as "all-American", but that's not quite the case: Brockhampton’s members not only hail from the US, but the Caribbean and Northern Ireland too. The group’s guitar-wielding secret weapon Bearface (aka Ciarán Ruaridh McDonald) is a Belfast native who made the jump across the pond specifically to join forces.
He explained the move in a recent interview with Radio 1’s Annie Mac: "I flew out to Texas to South by Southwest festival and met everyone for the first time, and then kinda stayed friends ever since then. A year after that, [Kevin] was like, ‘I’m starting this new thing called Brockhampton, do you wanna join?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, sure, why not? I like these guys, let’s do it." Bearface now has a three-year visa and has never looked back.
3. They are the "best boy band since One Direction"
When it comes to labels, Brockhampton don’t really want to put be into any box – but if you must categorise them, they’re more than happy to be known as a boy band. "The whole point is to redefine it," Abstract explained to The Guardian in April. "So that a group of kids who look more like us and less like One Direction could be like: ‘I want to be in a boyband. I’m-a do that.’"
Not happy with simply emulating the likes of 1D, Brockhampton claim to be the "best boy band since One Direction". But they're a boy band with a twist, spinning the perception what it means to be a pop star, or a hip-hop sensation. They achieve it via their diverse music (all self-produced, unlike many mainstream pop acts), tackling of important issues like sexuality and mental health in their lyrics (topics historically shied away from in rap, although that is definitely changing) or their espousing of positive messages of self-love and hope on social media.
"We just want to uplift people, inspire people and get people through their day,” Abstract explained to Jamz during their 1Xtra chat, while Dom added of their new record: "It's one of those albums that you should play really loud and get out anything you need to get out while you're listening to it. Whatever it is, let it go.”
One thing they certainly have in common with other boy bands, though, is their feverish and often fanatical following. Through message boards and social media, Brockhampton’s fans regularly enthuse about how they relate to the band’s lyrics, or the connection they feel with its members. The only aspect Brockhampton’s fandom currently lacks is a self-anointed name, although we’re sure that’ll be solved soon.
4. They’ve released tons of albums - and record them very quickly
Brockhampton are incredibly prolific: after dropping their debut mixtape All-American Trash in March 2016 (the record that first grabbed the attention of Jamz Supernova), the band then spent the second half of 2017 recording and releasing their acclaimed Saturation album trilogy, with I (which was announced before they’d even recorded any songs) and III both being completed in just three weeks.
Speaking to Jamz, the band elaborated on the DIY nature of these early recording sessions: "There was no booth, we just put the microphone in the middle of the room. Anyone who had an idea to get out had the opportunity to do so."
“It was a very weird year,” Romil told Jamz of this whirlwind-like period. “For some reason, every piece of the puzzle happened to fit: so the title fit, and the three albums just worked out. Everything started clicking.”
5. A new album just dropped - and another could be coming very soon
Iridescence, released earlier in September, saw Brockhampton up their game further. Despite the shoestring budgets of their early records, this new 15-track album was recorded at London’s famed Abbey Road studios, which has housed artists ranging from The Beatles to Adele.
Although, in true Brockhampton fashion, the project was still completed during a hectic 10-day stint. The band ultimately enjoyed this change of scenery though, with Kevin telling Jamz: "We're so used to making music at the crib, so it was cool to be making music in an actual recording studio."
Iridescence is the first part of a new trilogy (titled The Best Years Of Our Lives) and, judging by their previous work ethic, fans should expect even more music in the coming months. We’re pumped already.
6. They're probably the first band to include a webmaster and graphic designer
Brockhampton is a keenly DIY enterprise. They comprise of 14 members in total, but the ones that take much of the spotlight - Abstract, Matt Champion, Joba, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon and Bearface – are those you hear on record and see live on stage. But there’s a whole cavalcade of characters working behind the scenes who are just as integral to the Brockhampton set-up.
There’s charismatic producer Romil Hemnani, graphic designer/creative director HK, photographer Ashlan Grey, production duo Q3 (Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley), manager Jon Nunes, VFX engineer Kevin Doan and web designer Roberto Ontenient. Such is the inclusivity of Brockhampton that all these lesser-known figures are all regarded as fully-fledged and viral to the group.
"I don't make music, but everything visual I'm a part of,” HK explained of his role to Jamz. Meanwhile, Roberto in particular has become like a cult figure among the Brockhampton fanbase, even making his way onto the band's records with spoken-word skits uttered in his Spanish mother tongue.
7. Their members nearly went down some very different career paths
Brockhampton might be enjoying the perks of their growing stardom right now but moving to Los Angeles to form a band with online pals was always something of a risk, and things could have turned out a lot different for some of its members. For example, before joining Brockhampton, Q3 producer Jabari used to work in a bank. “I was a working man, an auditor at a bank, 9-to-5, waking up every morning to go to work and making beats when I came home,” he explained in an interview last year.
Energetic MC Merlyn, on the other hand, was studying to be an architect at the University of Texas before giving up his studies to join Brockhampton full-time. “I could have been carrying a briefcase,” Merlyn has previously said about his decision. “But instead, I’m here rapping. I’m fulfilling my dream, and that’s a personal choice I made.” It may not be a risk every student should take, but it’s definitely working out so far for the Brockhampton lot.
8. They used to live in a haunted house together
Brockhampton’s close-knit nature and sense of togetherness can be seen as a product of sharing a house for such a long time. After forming the group, their first decision was to move to Texas together. Kevin explained to Jamz: "I think we just wanted to live together because we didn't have people in our hometowns that were into the same stuff as us. So the first step was to get out and go somewhere random, to work on music and perfect our craft.”
Spending some time in Los Angeles, the band recently shared a house allegedly haunted by an Emmy-winning star. As producer/DJ Romil told esteemed interviewer Nardwuar earlier this year: "There was an Emmy award at the house, and we asked the landlord, ‘What’s up with the Emmy?’ And he told us about this actress that used to live there, and she just kinda went off the walls and nobody lived in the house for six or eight months after her - and then we moved in!" Spooky stuff.
9. Jaden Smith is an honorary member (sort of)
When it comes to cosigns, you could do a lot worse than having the effusive son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on your team. In recent months, Jaden Smith has proved himself to be a pretty big Brockhampton fan – so much so, in fact, that he’s achieved unofficial membership status in the band’s ranks.
Earlier this year, Jaden appeared in a short clip announcing Brockhampton’s new record deal, before then turning up to deliver a quick vocal spot on Iridescence opener New Orleans.
“I feel like I know them from a past life,” a typically lofty Jaden said earlier this year. “The vision that they have is what really sets them apart.” Jaden also joined Brockhampton for their debut Radio 1 interview with Annie Mac in August, just so he could “support my guys”. Classic Jaden.
10. As well as Jaden, Brockhampton have some very famous fans
Brockhampton have been attracting some pretty big-name admirers over the past 18 months. Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things) has publicly proclaimed his love for the band, The 1975’s Matty Healy changed his Twitter pic to mark the release of Iridescence, while the group also hung out with Rex Orange County recently ("He's super awesome. Really nice guy," they told Jamz).
But the roll call doesn’t stop there. Pharrell is a notable fan, with the N*E*R*D supremo inviting Brockhampton onstage during sets at Reading Festival and Paris Summer Jam this summer. Tyler, the Creator has become something of a mentor to the group, too. Brockhampton will play at the Odd Future rapper’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival for the second successive year in November, which is being headlined this year by Kanye and Kid Cudi - maybe they’ll win over those two rap mega-stars in the process as well.
11. Some of the members used to be in a grunge band
Their music may be diverse, but grunge isn’t really a genre you would usually associate with Brockhampton. Believe it or not, four of the group’s members (Kevin, Bearface, Romil and HK) once formed a reverb-heavy side-project called NOWIFIII.
The quartet assumed different identities for the project (going by the names GI, Milo, Cain and Cohen) and released the one-off Memorial Day EP in May 2015. The self-release came with this very angsty note from the fourpiece: "We made this album in a week in Cohen’s parents’ garage. We hate Cohen’s parents. We hate ourselves. The only thing that matters is the summer. Here’s our album."
12. Kevin Abstract is also a solo star
De-facto leader Kevin Abstract was actually enjoying a flourishing solo career before Brockhampton began to capture everyone’s attention in 2017. Abstract released two solo albums, building up a sturdy fanbase in the process. His latest solo release, 2016’s American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, was a tender coming-of-age record labelled "nuanced and touching" by critics.
As for his stage name, Abstract (real name Ian Simpson) came up with the moniker at the age of 12 after borrowing the name of someone he thought was cool (Kevin) and combining that with the description offered by a friend when he asked them to describe his style of music (Abstract). It may have been 10 years since then, but the name has lasted the test of time.
13. They enjoyed the UK so much that they might be moving to London
Brockhampton’s debut European tour this summer included two shows in London as well as headline-grabbing sets at Reading + Leeds. While they were relishing things on the stage, the group appeared to enjoy everyday life across the pond too.
During the tour, Kevin regularly tweeted about his love for London in general and suggested that the band could be moving to the English capital. Explaining that they felt "burned out" after making three albums in Los Angeles last year, Abstract said during the 1Xtra interview: "Everything feels better in London. And if my life feels better, then it’s easier to make music."
Their stay in the UK worked its way on their new album in a peculiar way too, describing being inspired by London, 90s rave and Nando’s, where they had a “wholesome” meal together after recording. "[The album] is much like piri piri sauce," Dom joked to Jamz.
Abstract doesn’t appear to be the only Anglophile in Brockhampton either, lyrical mastermind Dom McLennon recently rocked a Newcastle United shirt in their Radio 1 interview with Annie Mac. Might we spot him at St. James’ Park cheering on the Toon Army this season? With Brockhampton, we wouldn’t rule anything out.
14. Despite their love for the UK, they are not named after a National Trust property
Mention Brockhampton to your parents and their first reaction might be to ask why you’re so interested in the picturesque Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire. But, rather than naming their band after the National Trust-owned 14th century manor house, the name Brockhampton actually refers to the street that Kevin grew up on.
Brockhampton hasn’t been the group’s only moniker, though: an early and much looser version of the collective went by the name AliveSinceForever.
15. They're obsessed with numbers and letters
Brockhampton’s Saturation trilogy certainly got the more nerdy, numeric-loving faction of their fanbase excited. Ready to find out why? Deep breath now…
The first Saturation features 17 tracks, with all the song names in upper-case and consisting of four letters - except for the final song Waste, which has five letters. The next album, II, features 16 tracks, also all in caps and each song title containing five letters - apart from closing track Summer, which has six. Finally, all 15 tracks on III have six letters in their capitalised song names, with the exception of four-lettered closer Team.
Is there a big, symbolic reason for this? Well, Brockhampton aren’t letting on if there is – especially now that Iridescence has bucked that trend with its sequence-breaking tracklist (though the upper-case lettering remains…). Such mystery is all part of the Brockhampton intrigue.
16. Finally, Brockhampton have big plans for the future
What does the future hold for Brockhampton? Kevin Abstract told The Fader last year that he wanted to start a "dynasty" and create "all types of content".
In their 1Xtra interview, though, they outlined their biggest intent as inspiring the generations that follow. Romil told Jamz: "Our job is to continue doing what the people before us did, and what the people that inspired us did, keep passing that positive energy and freedom on. The future of music is up to the kids." So far, it's been a job well done.
Listen to Brockhampton on Jamz Supernova's 1Xtra show. [Warning: Programme contains explicit language.]