The 13-member Brockhampton collective are usually described as a pan-racial, non-heteronormative, self-proclaimed “boy band,” a rap group born on the internet and destined for pop domination. All of this obscures what Brockhampton truly is: a savvy, decent alternative rap group who understands the modern cyber-grind. Their output is staggering, a perfect model for the era of content: In two years they’ve released five albums, 20+ music videos, and have starred on their own Viceland TV show. Fifth album Ginger is more proof that they have absorbed all the Very Now signifiers of Very Now rap: tales of depression, melody, occasional SoundCloud distortion, Kanye-style diaristic writing, memes, Three 6 Mafia samples, ASMR and post-Tumblr-era aesthetics.
Their music approach on Ginger is truly omnivorous, blasting out shards of acoustic guitar and sideways techno, murky R&B and bars-centric lyricism, at times evoking artists as diverse as Childish Gambino, Travis Scott, Rex Orange County, Pharcyde, Goodie Mob, Bon Iver and Sage Francis. The group’s vocalists — polyglot/leader Kevin Abstract, the skills-centric Matt Champion and Dom McLennon, the melodic Joba and Bearface and the hyperkinetic wildcard Merlyn Wood — take turns exploring mental health, relationships, addiction, and their faith in God. However, they rarely take these topics too far past surface level brushes, resulting in a lot of talking sad and saying nothing. More than 25 years after Scarface spit scene-setting lines like “I sit alone in my four-cornered room staring at candles,” we get hazy emo sentiment like “Better days follow me like the saddest song” (“Love Me for Life”) and “Trauma the price for the patience/Character shaped like an arc” (“Boy Bye”).
For his part, McLennon is the stand-out MC here, diving deepest into his struggles with mental health and performing the album’s boldest showcases of lyrical rhyme-writing: On “If You Pray Right,” he raps “Sending out projections with prejudice/My attention to detail is in scale with classic impressionists/So the lesson is that prerequisites are irrelevant to my standards/It’s a deficit in your sentiment, you better learn to mind all your manners.” McLennon closes out “Dearly Departed,” a song that the internet seems to agree is about ex-Brockhampton member Ameer Vann, who was booted from the group last year after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. McLennon’s verse is raw and venomous, ending with a voice-cracking “motherfucker” and what sounds like a mic drop or headphone drop. However the rest of the song doesn’t hold the same weight, Joba singing the bathetic cry “Dearly departed/Look what you’ve started/I’ve been so heartless/I try, I try‚ I try” and then belting out “Whyyyyyyyyyyy”
The most evocative moment on Ginger comes from new associate Victor Roberts II, who closes the album with an eponymous story-song about childhood trauma. The lede is absolutely stunning, maybe one of the year’s best: “My fuckin’ Power Rangers couldn’t protect me from that LAPD kick, though.” His first-person narrative hits extra hard after an album of vague alienation.