The B Side: Brockhampton breaks the hip-hop mold

Brockhampton self-proclaimed itself as the “best boy band since One Direction.” Its quick rise to fame and early success proves the group earned the title.

The hip-hop collective set a new career milestone when its first major label album iridescence claimed the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart only one year after the viral success of its Saturation trilogy.

In the first week following its Sept. 21, 2018 release, iridescence sold the equivalent of 101,000 albums—full album sales accounting for 79,000 of them— to beat out pop star Josh Groban for the No. 1 spot. Brockhampton spearheads more than the Billboard charts. Brockhampton leads the changing tide in hip-hop, opening opportunities for the genre’s progression.

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The group began after de facto band leader Kevin Abstract inquired if anyone wanted to start a band on a Kanye West fan forum website known as ‘KanyeToThe.’ This incited AliveSinceForever’s formation in 2010, which featured current Brockhampton members Kevin Abstract and Dom McLennon. Later disbanding in 2014, the group rebranded themselves as Brockhampton.

Brockhampton consists of 14 members in their early 20s that serve as rappers, singers, producers, and designers. Brockhampton earned a cult following through its unique artistic approach to hip-hop and progressive lyrics, and its fight against some of the most controversial aspects of hip-hop.

People know Abstract, for example, for his honest lyrics, which often focus on his life as a gay, black man in the U.S. One of his most famous verses features on the song “JUNKY,” where he raps of his experience being one of the only LGBTQ+ figures in the hip-hop community and calls out his critics who often dispraise him for rapping about his sexuality.

Abstract is right—hip-hop culture benefits from his presence. Given the genre’s troubled past with homophobia, it’s difficult to find any LGBTQ+ personalities in hip-hop. Nevertheless, Abstract and the rest of Brockhampton do not shy away from tackling homophobia and because of that, instead of losing fans, they’ve only garnered more success. Abstract provides a rare voice for LGBTQ+ hip-hop fans.

Brockhampton also fights against themes of toxic masculinity. Bravado defines hip-hop, but on songs like “WEIGHT” in iridescence, Abstract and McLennon open up about their mental health and Brockhampton’s struggles with depression and self-harm. In a genre typically filled with macho men, the members of Brockhampton openly share their feelings.

Despite the group’s progressive message, they are not immune to controversy. In May 2018, several women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Brockhampton founding member Ameer Vann. Rhett Rowan, a singer-songwriter who previously dated Vann, detailed how the Brockhampton rapper emotionally manipulated and mentally abused her. The issue divided fans. Some defended him while others called for his removal from the group. 

Shortly after the allegations, the group performed at Boston Calling without Vann, and then posted an announcement on their social media the following day that Vann was no longer a member of Brockhampton. They canceled the last dates of their tour and postponed their upcoming album, PUPPY, which remains unreleased. 

By removing arguably the “face” of its early success, Brockhampton remained committed to its message of progress. Some fans lamented his removal since problematic hip-hop figures like XXXTENTACION and 6ix9ine still enjoyed successful careers despite countless allegations. XXXTENTACION, despite his charge of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, posthumously won Best New Hip-Hop Artist at the 2018 BET Hip-Hop awards and received support from famous rapper Kendrick Lamar. Rapper 6ix9ine, who pled guilty to one felony count for the use of a minor in a sexual performance in 2015, remains a successful artist and is even set to collaborate with Kanye West—a hip-hop superstar with his own long list of controversies. Brockhampton could have easily ignored the allegations against Vann—like West did with 6ix9ine—and continued on with him in the group.

In the end, the group wisely removed Vann. For too long, hip-hop allowed problematic figures to succeed despite their actions. While Vann’s removal is only a small step in ending the industry’s rampant misogyny, it’s important to see problematic figures held accountable for the actions, especially in a genre where they often remain successful despite allegations.

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