Artistic identity is something that’s always been a complex topic for artists, musicians or otherwise. You need to stand out from the crowd, yet be familiar and recognisable, which can be a fine line to walk. With so many boxes in the industry to fit into, there’ll always be people that deny to conform, and taking this punk aesthetic to an extreme are L.A. based outfit Brockhampton.
“I think what we’re doing hasn’t really ever been done before” frontman Kevin Abstract tells the Fader. He’s not wrong – a focal point of the project for all its members is to challenge the rules and perceptions of what it means to be an artist, and redefining it at every level. That’s also the focus of this feature: why we need artists like Brockhampton to challenge the norm.
It’s not just about being different on its own, it’s the passion and reason to do so. Why not stand out from the crowd by having no discernible style? Why not be a familiar and recognisable by drawing from a wider pool of influences? The group itself doesn’t even conform to a natural membership – currently a fifteen-strong boy band filled with rappers, singers, musicians, producers and stretches to video producers and art directors – anyone with a say in any of Brockhampton’s artistic direction is a member. This is the first quality that gives the namesake for the article, and one that needs to be more widely utilised: recognition for everyone involved. To use producers as an example, often little or no credit is given to them, which is something that artists like Brockhampton are looking to change for the better.
This leads onto the next reason as to why we need Brockhampton. Aside from the usual irregularities of the group, a dynamic that’s rarely addressed in hip hop yet highly addressed by Brockhampton is the questioning of masculinity and sexuality via their lyrical content. “Why you always rap about bein’ gay? ‘Cause not enough niggas rappin’ be gay” frontman Kevin Abstract dictates with snide on Saturation II’s ‘Junky’, and speaks more to the concept of this positive change with Dazed –
“Also just to change what it means to be a man, and be manly and masculine. That’s why I said before it’s OK to get your feelings hurt, it’s OK to admit that, and it’s OK to cry because men can do that too. There aren’t a lot of famous men in the forefront who are speaking towards that.”
Rapper Merlyn Wood creates an interesting point on artistic identity in that same interview, where he speaks of the division between artist and audience. Especially in hiphop, as much as you might like the music, it can be difficult to connect with due to the archetypal lyrical content. “‘I’m not a gangster, I’m not from Compton like Kendrick is, so people aren’t going to think this is hot…’ … And then it was like, ‘Obviously, you can make cool stuff without having to resort to those kinds of cliches.’” The desire to navigate towards more personal music and away from a perhaps played-out cliché is an important and sometimes overlooked quality in the modern day music stratosphere, and just as a basic example, ask your mum what most rappers make songs about and I’m sure she’ll say no doubt at least one of the following: money, women and drugs – it’s about time for this to change.
One final quality to touch on is the namesake of their trio of Saturation albums in 2017; Brockhampton have rapidly risen to the top of the alt-hiphop pecking order by “saturating” the industry with their challenging, no-holds-barred music, releasing close to 50 songs in one year. Not conforming to a stereotypical release schedule is yet another fine line to walk, not something unheard of in the industry although something executed with finesse by Brockhampton. Take Future for example, an artist in a similar arena, who also released three projects in 2017 which charted very well due to his name, but they received middling reviews from critics where Brockhampton retained their acclaim from one project to the next.
The conclusion to this is the same as it opened: we need artists to challenge the norm, and if you’re fuelling the fire with true passion as Brockhampton clearly are, you’ll only see positive results and positive change.