After quite a few drama-filled years where it looked like the end was coming soon, it finally looks like alternative rap collective BROCKHAMPTON is done for good this time. Announcing a final album at what was dubbed their last show at Coachella 2022, something a little bit different happened – proving once again that you can never really take BROCKHAMPTON at their word. The day before The Family was slated to drop, it was revealed to be an album featuring only the vocals of founder Kevin Abstract – with fellow member Bearface on production – and a full second album featuring tracks that never made the cut from some of their previous projects. While the circumstances make it so neither of these can display that sense of brotherhood that made BROCKHAMPTON so magical, they still give a lot more satisfying closure and emotional payoff for longtime fans than a lot of other acts would. While TM definitely feels like it’s made up of demos at times, Abstract’s open-book approach to what went wrong and where the members are at, set to top-notch production, on The Family stands out.
With how much The Family jumps around, it’s less of an album to be listened to as music over and over than a final cinematic experience for the fans. Half of the tracks here don’t even hit the two-minute mark, but it’s great to hear Kevin Abstract at his most honest, remorseful about how things turned out but still excited for the future – not just for himself, but for all of the members of the group. “Take It Back” kicks off with some pitched-up gospel choirs as Abstract starts telling the group’s story from its formation, and the chipmunk soul palate he keeps returning to is an appropriate backdrop – after all, the group met through a Kanye West fan forum. It continues on the track “RZA,” and it makes it clear just how much of a perfect protégé Abstract has grown up to be. He really sounds like his idol at times on this project, but interestingly enough, he also sounds like some of the other BROCKHAMPTON members, trying to recapture that dynamic. All of Abstract’s play with different voices on this project elevate things, and demonstrates just how much we can look forward to a solo career from the true creative. “Gold Teeth” could have fit on Yeezus with its echoing drums, while the free jazz and gritty DMX flows on single “Big P****” are a shock to the system.
Abstract continues addressing the band’s problems and stresses on a run from “All That” to “Southside,” speaking about his solo ambitions and close friendship with controversial departed member Ameer Vann over a sunny 90s rap backdrop, touring stresses with some minimal R&B, and parasocial fan relationships going too far on two short but hard-hitting cuts. Abstract continues dutifully telling the group’s story and his conflicted emotions on its ending, from yearning for the simpler days of their artistic peak of the Saturation trilogy on “Good Times” and “37th” – which has a really beautiful soul sample from 1967 – to flipping into more celebratory gospel sounds celebrating their achievements and looking towards the artistic freedom they’ll all have on “Boyband” and “The Ending.” He sings to Ameer Vann, hoping he’ll forgive him, on “Any Way You Want Me,” and on “The Family” he’s talking more than rapping, explaining the struggle that comes with constantly feeling the need to represent such a large group of different perspectives. Things close out with the four-and-a-half-minute song “Brockhampton,” an orchestral track that sees Abstract put the final stamp on the story with a couple more revealing anecdotes, then address each member and wish them well. It fades away with a sample of “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”
Part of me wishes that that final sample was the last we heard of BROCKHAMPTON – it nearly had me tearing up, reminiscing – but it wouldn’t have felt right coming at the end of what is essentially a Kevin Abstract solo album. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of what made the group so special to be found on companion album TM. Opening track “FMG” is one of two truly classic-sounding BROCKHAMPTON tracks here, with its alien spaceship sounds and relentless hi-hats as the other members finally jump into the fray – Dom McLennon matches the track’s wild energy, while Matt Champion is oddly subdued but brings some of the album’s funniest bars. “NEW SHOES” is even better, showing the brotherly interplay that I’m going to miss most of all – from Abstract’s provocative bars and layered vocals up in your face, to Champion offering a more laid-back counterpart, to the pop-oriented hook, to Merlyn Wood sending it home with his boundless energy. “KEEP IT SOUTHERN” tries to reach the same level – Merlyn appears here too, and he can elevate almost anything – but it’s a little disjointed and underwritten through the transitional moments. It sounds like a good idea the group didn’t finish or iron out.
At least a song like “SOUTHERN” doesn’t reach the depths of “ANIMAL” and “LISTERINE,” two overly processed and Auto-Tuned melodic tracks that filter out all of the group’s personality. With uncharacteristically safe and straightforward structure lacking the wild rhythmic qualities that define them, the songs fall apart in the middle. Most of the tracks in the album’s back half fare slightly better, but all fall into the space of underwritten pop-oriented tracks that all feel a little too sluggish to be BROCKHAMPTON. Other than the breakbeat behind “MAN IN THE MOON,” which certainly has a catchy chorus although the rest of it is truly underdeveloped, the run from “BETTER THINGS” to “ALWAYS SOMETHING” is mostly sleep-inducing, featuring hooks that sound like they could have been better used as a part of a more dynamic song and lengthy tracks that mostly just get padded out by instrumental. The closing track “GOODBYE” does leave a nice sentiment, however, as Joba and Champion thank people for embracing the weirdos over an emotional and upbeat synthpop tune.
Over a brief but prolific 6-year career, BROCKHAMPTON’s rise and fall saw them burning brightly as one of the most successful DIY enterprises – and fizzling out just as fast. They certainly made their definitive mark on alternative culture, and I’ll truly miss the unique energy they brought to the table. Hopefully the solo projects get the same amount of love.
Favourite Tracks: Brockhampton, All That, Take It Back, 37th, Big P****
Least Favourite Track: My American Life
Favourite Tracks: NEW SHOES, FMG, KEEP IT SOUTHERN
Least Favourite Track: LISTERINE