It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for hip-hop’s foremost boy band, BROCKHAMPTON. After a wildly successful 2017 in which the group dropped three albums of essential material with the SATURATION trilogy, the boys signed a huge deal with RCA Records with plans to produce multiple albums in 2018. Shortly after signing however, BROCKHAMPTON was clouded with controversy as founding member Ameer Vann was removed from the group due to sexual misconduct allegations.
Things quickly began to spiral out of control for the band, as two different projects, PUPPY and The Best Years of Our Lives were delayed and then ultimately cancelled. Some of the songs from this period eventually made it out in the form of the 199X singles, but the material was definitely missing something without Vann, who had become a major figure for the group, with his face literally plastered on the covers of the SATURATION albums.
The group attempted an initial response to their issues with September 2018’s iridescence, an album that, despite being more experimental for the group with more departures in R&B and even some softcore guitar rock, was ultimately a mixed bag, albeit with a few notable highlights.
This brings us to 2019 and BROCKHAMPTON’s most recent album, GINGER. The new album serves as a return to form of sorts for the band, but is also BROCKHAMPTON’s most mature and depressing material to date. The band has clearly gone through a lot in the time since the SATURATION days, with much of the album dedicated to the whirlwind of emotions that came after Vann’s departure and the band’s newfound fame.
This is best exemplified in the songs “NO HALO” and “DEARLY DEPARTED,” a pair of lowkey tracks that contain a sense of yearning for the time before signing. “DEARLY DEPARTED” is especially powerful, as it contains lyrical content from many of the group’s founding members that tackles the Ameer situation in excruciating detail. Dom McLennon’s verse sticks out in particular, as he describes Vann’s attempt to orchestrate a hit on the group after falling out. Newcomer Victor Roberts also delivers an emotionally potent verse on his self-titled track, describing his rocky road to joining the group and the tough childhood that formed the man he is now.
Love is also a prominent theme on the album. “SUGAR” and the title track are very sweet ballads, giving members like bearface and Ryan Beatty an opportunity to showcase their beautiful singing voices. These more intimate moments in the tracklisting are perfect moments on the album, as it allows the band to combine their tact for melody with the sharp, personal storytelling that made their earlier work so profound.
But even with all the heaviness, the band is still able to pack in a number of bangers. “BOY BYE” and “ST. PERCY” are two of the hardest tracks I’ve heard all year, with the latter containing quite possibly the best verse Matt Champion has ever recorded. There’s also an absolutely fire verse from British rapper slowthai on the song “HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU,” which attacks the motifs of religion that come back on songs like “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT” and “I BEEN BORN AGAIN.”
If there is one negative thing I can say about this album, it’s that I feel like the album begins to run out of steam near the end of the tracklisting. It ends on a bang with “VICTOR ROBERTS,” but the two previous tracks BIG BOY and LOVE ME FOR LIFE feel like leftovers from the iridescence days, and probably could have been left off the album.
The best thing I can praise about this album is that it feels like BROCKHAMPTON’s most cohesive work to date. The themes of love, religion, betrayal, and loss interweave with one another beautifully, complementing each other both in terms of lyrics and musical motifs. It feels like BROCKHAMPTON were in a very centered place when writing and recording the album, fueling their shared feelings on their situation into one emotionally impactful product. It may not quite reach the highs of the SATURATION trilogy, but it definitely feels like the group is back to what made their material so interesting to begin with.