A collective of rappers, vocalists, producers and designers, Brockhampton became more than just a “boy band” during their brief and prolific run.
After forming on an online forum dedicated to Kanye West fans, Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, Joba, Ameer Vann and Bearface went on to release their debut mixtape “All-American Trash” in 2016 before shaking up the hip-hop world the following year with the critically acclaimed “Saturation” album trilogy. Brockhampton became known for their eccentric personalities, energetic live performances and hyper-stylized music videos and merchandise. Plus, in an age before Lil Nas X, bandleader Kevin’s casual, humorous and sometimes graphic lyrics about being gay were a refreshing novelty in hip-hop.
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In 2018, Ameer, whose face adorns all three “Saturation” album covers, was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct and was subsequently booted from the band. In the wake of Ameer’s removal from the group, Brockhampton would go on to release 2018’s “Iridescence” and 2019’s “Ginger,” with the song “Dearly Departed” centered on the loss of a friend and band member.
Over the course of eight studio albums, a show on Viceland and a number of documentaries, Brockhampton created their own ecosystem and fostered a rich fan community that obsessed over the band’s lore.
In October, Brockhampton announced its final record as a group, “The Family,” which was released Thursday alongside another surprise album, “TM,” out Friday. In celebration of the band’s farewell outing, Variety ranked the top 15 Brockhampton songs, from “Saturation” to “Sugar.”
Honorable mentions: “Queer,” “San Marcos,” “No Halo,” “Infatuation,” “Dearly Departed,” “Sweet”
Joba can unleash so much frenzied energy onto a track that Brockhampton sprinkles him in strategically. On “J’Ouvert,” he’s let loose and goes berserk, a rapping tea kettle that builds up steam until he erupts. We’ve never heard him go off like this, spitting — no, shouting — deeply personal bars about his mental health issues and drug use. The peak, “Misunderstood since birth,” strains his voice and elicits goosebumps. The other verses aren’t as memorable, but the synth, sirens and reverb build tension effectively in this odd, powerful track.
“Junky” has each member tackling huge topics, with Kevin addressing homophobia, Ameer getting real about drug addiction, Merlyn reflecting on family ties and Matt speaking out against misogyny. This results in what is arguably Matt’s best verse of all time – a pressure cooker of lyricism that finally explodes with “Where the respect? Is your ass human? / I look you in your eyes, say, ‘Fuck you, are you fuckin’ stupid?’ / Respect my mother, ‘spect my sister, ‘spect these women, boy.” All of this is matched by an insane beat by Romil, communicating a feeling of impending doom with wobbly synths and reverse effects.
“I coulda got a job at McDonald’s, but I like curly fries,” Kevin raps in “Johnny,” and — in case you didn’t get it — “That’s a metaphor for my life, and I like taller guys.” Trading bars with Dom, Kevin is at his funniest and most playful, once reclaiming the mic by asking, “Anybody got Harry Styles’ phone number?” Toward the end of the song, Joba is given plenty of space to deliver one of his strongest and most confessional verses. With a chaotic intro and crowded beat marked by jazz guitar, drum samples and saxophone licks, “Johnny” shouldn’t work, but instead it easily snaps in place like a jigsaw puzzle.
Featuring Brockhampton in its feels, “Face” is perhaps the group’s most tried-and-true love song. It’s Joba’s moment of glory, showing off his whispery falsetto on both the song’s catchy chorus (“Tell me what you’re waiting for / I just wanna love you”) and soaring bridge. Dom, Matt and Ameer deliver some of their gentlest verses over Kiko’s simple yet effective beat, each coming up with standout lines like Dom’s “they don’t know how to ride the tidal waves that crash in your thighs,” Matt’s subtly sexy “what’s your motive with me, baby?” and Ameer’s double entendre: “I love when you come / I still feel alone.”
11. 1999 Wildfire
“1999 Wildfire” features one of Brockhampton’s catchiest choruses, but the highlight of the song is Joba’s “medieval flow,” which conjures images of a hip-hop “Lord of the Rings.” “I heard a call from the mountain top (Joba)” he begins, launching into a tale of wizards, peasants and castles in the Shire. Brockhampton may have started out as “just a group of outcasts with the gift of hope” but “now we’re eating grapes, and the finest cheese,” he raps. Matt and Dom bookend Joba with solid verses, but Bearface closes out with one of his signature angelic melodies that puts you in a front seat at the Church of Brockhampton. Even though it’s not featured on an album, “1999 Wildfire,” which released just two months after Ameer’s departure as fans were unsure of Brockhampton’s future, is one of the group’s enduring hits.
Brockhampton proves R&B is in its arsenal, too, on “Rental,” a downtempo jam from “Saturation III.” Showing his melodic prowess, Dom glides on top of a minimalist electronic beat like a seasoned pop heart-throb (“I want a love that make me feel like I ain’t breakin’ ya heart”), while Matt’s smooth, falsetto pre-chorus (“Throw me in the fire, baby, I’ll survive”) is the perfect tonic to Kevin’s more jagged hook (“Ridin’ on the roof with a dollar sign attached to my head”).
Joba does his best Justin Timberlake impression on “Tokyo,” a weightless and ever-changing cocktail of wobbling bass, fluttering synth and soaring woodwinds. “She hit me with the ‘what-ifs’ and the ‘what-whens’ and the ‘what thens’ / Wonder where my life went, living in the moment,” he spits with tongue-twisting ease. Plus, Ameer sounds slick as ever over an arpeggiated trap segment. Whereas most beats feel like a canvas, the instrumental on “Tokyo” feels like an active member of Brockhampton, engaging with rapper with an intricate and wonderfully wacky flow of its own.
Is Brockhampton the best boy band since One Direction? Perhaps outside of K-pop, they have a real shot at the honor, and “Boogie” is a prime reason why. It doesn’t just open “Saturation III” with a bang, it drops a bomb. Within seconds, the track blasts off with a raucous brass section that’s hopped up on adrenaline and Red Bull, along with sirens blaring every couple of seconds. Everyone cranks it up to 11 here. “Who got me riled up?” the normally reserved Matt belts out halfway through the song, followed by Joba’s comically chaotic “Break necks, I’m the chiropractor!” After the first two “Saturation” albums, “Boogie” immediately set the tone for “Saturation III” to further push the envelope.
In this dreamy ballad that caps off “Saturation II,” Bearface is a hopeless, guitar-shredding romantic. “In the heat of the summer, you’re so different from the rest,” he sings, over and over again, yearning for a crush over a sparkling piano loop and distorted guitar. “You know that you should be my boy.” A festival setlist staple, “Summer” is also a left-field crooning indie tune that proves it’s impossible to put Brockhampton in a box.
The beginning of “Bleach,” “Saturation III’s” standout track, can only be described as an instant rush of dopamine. “Who got the feeling? Tell me why I cry when I feel it,” guest Ryan Beatty croons in an autotuned falsetto before a tape-rewind switch-up segues into a smooth verse from Matt. A true team effort, everyone grabs a verse on this track, with Kevin taking a rare step back and only appearing on the pitched-up refrain. Indeed, Brockhampton is best when everyone gets a chance to shine, and they all deliver thought-provoking and catchy verses over Romil and Jabari’s nostalgic beat, including one of Merlyn’s best (“I wanna die during sex or religion / God and pussy only know my intentions”). Joba takes the track to angelic heights with the bridge, where his upper register blends with itself in stunning harmony, and Bearface joins Beatty to finish out the track.
As the track that kicks off Brockhampton’s debut album “Saturation,” “Heat” comes in hot with something to prove. The track plays like a confessional, with each member delivering verses detailing their sins and deepest, darkest secrets. Though this makes for a compelling and intense listen, Ameer’s portion — in which he says he “loves when bitches bleed” — now has a more haunting effect after he left the group following allegations of sexual abuse in 2018. The song reaches a fever pitch at the bridge, with Joba delivering a hot-headed “Fuck you!” as Romil’s industrial beat becomes increasingly frenetic. Matt Champion finishes out the track with one of his best outings, fantasizing about “pissing off the yacht with my bitch on me” with his signature sedated swagger.
After Ameer left the group, Brockhampton needed to find a way to move forward. The aftermath resulted in “Iridescence” and its standout track “Tonya,” a song about their slingshot to fame and picking themselves up after the Ameer drama. A heart-wrenching piano melody opens the somber song, and the hook (“I’ve been feelin’ like I don’t matter how I used to”) rings out while the guys process their emotions. It’s clear they still miss their ex-friend Ameer — “Maybe it means nothing but I have to say I think about you often,” offers Joba — and they pour out their hearts and frustrations on the track named after disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding. The 2017 film “I, Tonya” even gets a shoutout in this deep, mournful, yet still endlessly catchy song.
On “Boogie,” Kevin declared Brockhampton as the “best boy band since One Direction,” but it wasn’t until two years later that the group put out their first real pop hit. An autotuned Dom and laid-back Matt deliver the first two verses of “Sugar,” while Kevin and Bearface weave effortless melodies between a moody acoustic guitar loop. Everyone is in their right place, but ultimately “Sugar” belongs to guest singer Ryan Beatty, whose harmonized hook is so maddeningly, irresistibly sweet, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the song is.
The third track off of “Saturation,” “Star” exhibits Brockhampton’s lyrical finesse at its very best, name-dropping the likes of Beyoncé, Barack Obama, Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins at a rapid pace. Featuring only Dom, Ameer and Kevin, each rapper showcases their signature flair over Jabari’s whirring beat — and therefore asserting their own star power. Though 40 names and cultural touch points are mentioned in the span of two minutes and forty seconds (yes, that’s roughly one reference every four seconds), each one is connected to the next seamlessly. For example, take Ameer’s “John Travolta when I take off, Brad Pitt, start a fight club / Turn the trap into the nightclub, I’m like Prince with the white doves.” And who could forget Kevin’s iconic Shawn Mendes line?
“Gold” is Brockhampton at their finest: A hypnotic, catchy hook combined with some career-best verses from each member (sans Joba, sadly) over an intoxicating beat. Like a mission statement kicking off the “Saturation” trilogy, Kevin’s “Keep a gold chain on my neck / Fly as a jet, boy, better treat me with respect” reads like a warning to the hip-hop world: a new powerhouse group was on the rise. Meanwhile, each verse puts a spotlight on the rappers’ strengths: Matt drips understated swagger; Ameer and Merlyn bounce off each other with raunchy bars that are pure fun; and Dom finishes strong with clever lines, like the memorable “I feel like Ratatouille when I’m whippin’ that cheddar.” It’s impossible for one song to perfectly encompass all that is Brockhampton – with their fluid roster and dynamic, genre-defying sounds – but “Gold” is an early-days classic and a great primer for what they set out to be.
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