On Brockhampton’s “iridescence” and the band’s rapid climb to fame

Brockhampton came out of nowhere. In the past two years, the group has rapidly risen to fame with the release of three back-to-back albums, plus a mixtape in 2016. Earlier this month, they dropped their fourth album, iridescence, which comes at an interesting in-between phase for the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest boy band”. Before delving into their most recent album, it is crucial to consider the full scope of their origins. 

Formed in 2015, Brockhampton united over a post on an online Kanye West fan forum by the self-appointed frontman, Kevin Abstract. Abstract posted to the thousands of users, asking who would like to form a band. The post resurfaced with many replies; the group now consists of fourteen members, most of which connected via the forum.

Brockhampton isn’t just a rap group. They are a collective of like-minded artistic individuals. Only seven out of fourteen members are involved in the true performance side. The other half is the glue that holds the band together. They are graphic designers, producers, creative directors, managers and web designers who tend to the visual side of the project—if sometimes floating in and out of their recordings. Web designer Robert “Roberto” Ontenient can be heard speaking Spanish on their skit tracks and at the beginning of their Saturation-era music videos.

When looking at Brockhampton’s discography, there is a clear aesthetic decision that the group has made. Brockhampton recorded and released their Saturation records in a trilogy along with a carefully thought out design and PR strategy. They plan to do this again with iridescence in “The Best Years of Our Lives” trilogy. Their first set of albums in the Saturation trilogy follows a clear aesthetic pattern. All of their singles and EP’s released follow the same design trend. This creates a unique branding opportunity for the group as it is. Every visual at their shows reflects their album artwork as well as promotional material. Their websites color scheme and layout also reflects their most recent album. Two more albums can be expected to follow iridescence to complete the trilogy.

The Saturation trilogy was no doubt Brockhampton’s claim to fame; it put them on everyone’s radar in a post-Odd Future world. In some sense, they have filled the vacancy that Odd Future left when its group members split off to do their own thing. Brockhampton is certainly filled with the same caliber of talent as the edgy Odd Future, but Odd Future had years to mature. Brockhampton is still growing. This growth period, however, was not a clean rise to fame for the collective.

In May of 2018, allegations against group member Ameer Vann began to surface around reports of alleged sexual and emotional abuse. Brockhampton then decided that the best move would be to kick Vann out of the group. They also canceled their then-ongoing tour to have “time to regroup”. Vann was a driving force for the collective and was a key focal point on the Saturation Trilogy. With this decision, Brockhampton felt that they had made the right choice. This left the future hazy with uncertainty as to what was next. They then began to write iridescence without Vann.

This fourth album, iridescence, comes at a very critical point for the group. They have already signed a fifteen-million-dollar record deal with RCA and established their name and sound. With all their success, they appear eager for change. In an interview at Abbey Road Studios, where the group wrote and recorded the album, Kevin Abstract compares their creative process for this upcoming trilogy to Radiohead’s decision to branch out of their sound with Kid A. After the album’s release this past month, iridescence has already hit millions of plays on streaming services. 

In the breakaway of the previous Brockhampton albums, iridescence still draws homage to boyband aesthetics on tracks like “Thug life”.  The album also makes a point to incorporate explosive modulated bass lines on tracks like ”New Orleans”, “Berlin” and “Where the cash at”. The album is a mix of unorthodox methods of stringing tracks together.

This album alternates from boy band-esque tracks with string sections to drum ‘n bass blast beats accompanied speaker blowing basslines; drum tracks that could have even made their way onto Radiohead’s Kid A.. Iridescence, on the other hand, is stripped down and polished. Brockhampton was able to hone in on the quality of their sound and incorperate a level of lyrical vulnerability that wasn’t necessarily present in the Saturation trilogy. This vulnerability can be attributed to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Vann’s departure from the group. 

Early Brockhampton was progressive. The mixing of styles and creative shifts within songs on iridescence may have proven to be detrimental to the group. After all, people do like bands that stick to their “original” sound. While iridescence is still Brockhampton, there is a clear shift from the previous trilogy. This creates room for speculation surrounding the remaining two albums in the upcoming trilogy. 

This is a group that will warrant change socially and musically; their future is truly bright. We have seen them make drastic changes sonically with their new album as well as socially with the decision to drop Vann from the group. While iridescence may come as a shock to the system that is their previous sound, the group is just getting started and has infinite opportunities ahead of them.

You can see Brockhampton at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium on Nov. 1. 

Contact CU Independent arts writer Zack Cohen at zachary.w.cohen@colorado.edu

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