Brockhampton may sound like the name of a golf club, but is actually a large rap group from Los Angeles. Its second album, “Saturation II,” which was released at the end of August, is described as the second part of a trilogy, which is appearing in an unusually tight schedule. This is a stunt that’s been pulled in the past, to a certain degree, both by rappers identified with the southern trap style (Gucci Mane, Future) and by The Weeknd.
The idea is apparently reflected in the trilogy’s title, “Saturation,” evoking the hope of rapidly consolidating a market presence that will generate media resonance and bridge the gap between the new players and better-known artists. The second part of the trilogy, at least, is definitely successful. The multiplicity of rappers in this collective – I counted at least seven, with others listed in areas from production to styling – is already generating comparisons with the most famous and probably most successful rap group of all, Wu-Tang Clan. I find that to be a wild exaggeration. There’s little similarity between the tough New York group that fomented a revolution in rap in the 1990s, and the new collective, whose founders came to from Texas and whose ambitions, at this stage, appear to be more modest.
In fact, Brockhampton’s sources of inspiration lie elsewhere. There’s a huge debt to Kanye West, a nod to another California-based rap collective, Odd Future (whose central figure, Tyler, the Creator, released quite a good album last summer), and above all there’s a chain of influence that starts with older groups from California, such as Freestyle Fellowship from the 1990s and Jurassic 5, from the early 2000s.
The attempt here is to create a kind of intermediate style: a California rhythm that’s a little more pop-oriented and relaxed, which is compatible with relatively sophisticated texts and a performance style close in spirit to East Coast rap. Actually, I find barely anything in the album that evokes Texas, where the group started out – not the rhythms of southern rap nor even in the nasal twang that characterizes so many southern rappers, from Outkast, who come from Georgia, to the UGK duo from Texas. (The distinctive twang is heard even in rappers whose parents came from the south, though they themselves were born elsewhere. Listen to Snoop Dogg, for example, who’s lived in Los Angeles for his whole life, but apparently inherited the sound from his parents, who moved there from Louisiana.)
The rapid release of the material – the first album came out in June, and the third is expected to be out within a few months – appears to carry with it a certain compromise in production values. At times, the second album tends to recall a mixtape, whose sound is deliberately less “edited” and where not all the tracks are of uniform quality. A few of the tracks – “Jello,” “Gamba,” “Swamp” (Brockhampton, like Kendrick Lamar in his latest album, prefers one-word song titles that are printed in large fonts) – are standouts.
Brockhampton’s first two albums present a strong collective of rappers, who don’t hide their desire to make the leap into the big leagues. They’re young and exude self-confidence, and a beneficent spirit pervades the whole album. On the assumption that they generate a strong enough noise around them and manage to stay together – a difficult task for large groups, which Wu-Tang Clan is almost alone in achieving – it looks as though they are definitely on the way up.
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