Brockhampton on Going Out on a High Note—and What Comes Next

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Back in March, Kevin Abstract, the young leader of Brockhampton, dropped a tweet ahead of the band’s latest album that left fans shook: “2 Brockhampton albums in 2021—these will be our last.”

It’s rare for a band to go out just as their popularity is surging. It’s rarer still that a band would be so at peace with the end.

It was only a decade ago that Brockhampton was born out of a simple vision. Abstract wanted to redefine what it meant to be an “all-American boy band,” to make something ambitious and bizarre and new. So he did what any kid growing up in the digital age would do and hit the Internet, posting a query on a popular Kanye West fan forum he frequented daily. About 20 guys responded, and in 2010, a band that called itself AliveSinceForever formed in Abstract’s hometown of The Woodlands, Texas.

The members would rebrand as Brockhampton (the name of a street that Abstract grew up on), and together they would go on to capture a generation of young fans with cross-disciplinary work in music and art that harnessed their collective ambition, business acumen, and DIY spirit. Brockhampton’s underground success, which culminated in a multimillion-dollar record deal with RCA in 2018, upended the way we saw rap groups and boy bands, with music that centered a crew of thoughtful, multiracial, and multinational young guys, both queer and straight, who were figuring out life in real time, together.

It’s the middle of May, a little after dawn in West Hollywood, and I’m huddled at a table in a soundstage parking lot with a few of Brockhampton’s members, including Dom McLennon and Jabari Manwa. Romil Hemnani and Merlyn Wood are playing with Wood’s schnauzer-poodle mix, Energy, while Abstract and Russell “Joba” Boring are inside getting styled for this photo shoot. Bearface, the group’s elusive, cherub-faced vocalist, put the dissolution of Brockhampton to me matter-of-factly: “We didn’t have that many more albums in us.”

The men of Brockhampton—now in their mid to late 20s—are understandably ready to move on from the whole boy-band thing. And they’re especially eager to tackle projects without having to compromise for their brothers in the band. “My goal for us was to be a rap group who called themselves a boy band,” Abstract says, “but now a lot of rap fans look at us like a boy band—or like soft music—so they write us off. We’re always overlooked in that way. And I want to be respected in the rap world more, ’cause that’s the shit I listen to. It’s made me feel like, ‘Damn, people still don’t really view us as true MCs. True rappers.’ ”

That Abstract feels the group hasn’t been given a certain level of respect within the hip-hop community is surprising, especially considering that rap is the foundation of their music. Even when they flirt with pop hooks or make soulful R&B joints, Brockhampton albums have always been, at their core, rap. In that way, they capture so much of what today’s pop landscape looks and sounds like, as identity-fluid as they are genre-fluid.

One of the criticisms often levied at Brockhampton is that their voracious appetite for new ideas has made their work feel structureless, as if they’re trying a million different things in a million different directions. The guys were already living together when COVID hit, which allowed them ample time to experiment and dial in their sound. During jam sessions, they would often try on new roles within the band. Producers would try singing and vice versa, which led to Manwa stepping into the spotlight as a vocalist for the first time. “I wasn’t feeling 100 percent happy with what I was doing as a creator,” he says, when I ask what prompted him to be more visible. “I knew there was another level, other stuff that I had to do. COVID, more than anything, forced you to be like, ‘Okay, you said you want to do this thing. What’s stopping you?’ ”

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