Brockhampton regroups in new album ‘iridescence’

 Brockhampton’s fourth album, “iridescence,” was released Sept. 21. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Brockhampton’s fourth album, “iridescence,” was released Sept. 21. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

By Maggie Medoff, Staff Writer

The 14-member hip-hop group Brockhampton has faced a lot of backlash within the past year after ex-member Ameer Vann was accused of emotional and sexual abuse by several women.

His absence from the stage during Brockhampton’s recent live performances is noticeable, as he was kicked out in May following the accusations. But Vann’s absence from the group’s latest effort, “iridescence,” can easily be forgotten.

In the band’s fourth effort, released Friday, the group matures — and instead of hiding from issues with mental health, fame and the music industry, Brockhampton openly addresses them.

Brockhampton’s most recent performances were more somber, as the band went silent during Vann’s verses in songs and chose not to acknowledge his absence onstage during shows. Instead of making up for the awkwardness by adding new vocals or ad libs, they let entire verses of instrumentals play while they stood together, waiting for Vann’s old verses to end.

Vann was the face of three previous Brockhampton albums — “Saturation,” “Saturation II” and “Saturation III” — and many fans wondered how his absence would alter the group’s sound, content and album art.

According to an article from Pitchfork, Brockhampton cancelled their upcoming tour dates after removing Vann in May. The remaining members of the band shared a statement on the controversy.

“Ameer is no longer in Brockhampton,” the band said. “We want to sincerely apologize to the victims affected by Ameer’s actions. We were lied to, and we’re sorry for not speaking up sooner.”

After months of reflection, regrouping and hard work, Brockhampton released “iridescence.” This is the first album of their second trilogy, “The Best Years of Our Lives.” With new sounds and dramatically different album art, the group confidently and successfully faced its fans’ ambivalence head on. They created a whole new body of work and they didn’t need Ameer Vann in order to do it.

Brockhampton has never been afraid to share more vulnerable lyrics or themes — namely Kevin Abstract, the band’s leader who openly discusses his sexuality and trauma caused by gang violence and drug addiction. But “iridescence” takes that vulnerability to an entirely new level. Their past albums were known for their catchy beats and clever lyricism, but this new project allows listeners to get to know the group’s identity in a much more honest way.

Much like their other albums, “iridescence” offers a lot of versatility when it comes to sound and mixing genres, including Caribbean-influenced samples and slower melodies of R&B. This may be one of the benefits of having such a large group –– collaboration comes naturally, as everyone is familiar with a range of different styles and cultural influences.

The 10th track, “J’ouvert, is named after an annual Caribbean street carnival. Jabari Manwa, a producer and member of the band, used this track as an opportunity to incorporate his own cultural background in the album. The song samples a Grenadian soca song, something that is not usually embedded in rap music — a decision that brought diversity and excellent rhythms to the album.

The art for “iridescence” is covered in psychedelic colors and thermal-filtered images of skin and bodies. These images present a stark contrast to the art of their past albums, as Ameer Vann was the face of all three albums in their “Saturation” series. The singer’s face was masked in blue paint for “Saturation” and “Saturation III” and was photographed behind the wheel of a white car in “Saturation II,” dressed in a blue hoodie and bucket hat.

As a lead singer and rapper, as well as one of the most famous members of the group, using Vann as an artistic symbol for their body of work seemed fitting. But because of recent events, that line of thinking has obviously changed.

Thematically, the songs discuss stories of vulnerability, mental health and the messiness of fame and identity scrutinized by the public eye. The abstract qualities of the album art symbolize this unpredictability and confusion concerning mental health and identity.

The vulnerability of this subject matter is shown most heavily in songs like “HONEY” and “WEIGHT,” which grapple with the decline of mental health and the emotional turmoil that fame can produce.

In verse two of “WEIGHT,” Joba raps, “Life is a dish served cold most times / And all my life I’ve taken handfuls, force-fed by the hand that feeds us / But not all hands created equal / I stand by waiting for something good to come / In due time, the skies will split for the sun to smile.”

The imagery in these lines has the potential to feel intangible at times, but Brockhampton does a masterful job of painting scenes with their lyrics that produce visceral, relatable, emotional responses, even if the listeners don’t quite know why they’re able to relate them right away.

“LOOPHOLE,” the only skit in “iridescence, adds a layer to the discussion of fame and identity within the world of hip-hop. The interlude is an interview with artists DJ Whoo Kid, host of the radio station “The Whoolywood Shuffle,” and Cam’ron, member of the East Coast hip-hop group The Diplomats, in which they go back and forth about their naivete and desperation when they first got a taste of success –– they were willing to do anything to get their songs on the radio.

In the skit, Cam’ron says, “Yeah, you know that’s what I was explaining to somebody, I said I didn’t mind getting jerked, because I was like, I just want my record on the radio, I just wanna shoot videos.”

Even though most listeners might not have experienced fame or the politics of fame before, Cam’ron’s words still point to something that is entirely human and relatable for almost everyone –– the desire to succeed and to be noticed, heard and appreciated.

While the news about Vann was devastating and left many fans questioning their commitment to the group, the controversy isn’t enough to tear down Brockhampton’s art or their ability to appeal to a large and diverse group of fans.

Although Brockhampton isn’t coming to Pittsburgh anytime soon, they are on tour right now and will be performing in Philadelphia on Oct. 17 and 18.

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