Brockhampton’s farewell projects depart from the group’s unique, creative sound that launched them to fame and ends on a dull and lifeless thud.
Texas-bred musical collective Brockhampton released their final two projects, “The Family” and “TM,” on Nov. 17 and 18, respectively, bringing the beloved hip-hop group’s six-year musical run to a rather flat end.
“The Family” was first announced as Brockhampton’s final album during the group’s 2022 Coachella set in April, shortly after they canceled an international tour and announced their indefinite hiatus. “TM”, on the other hand, came as a surprise to fans as it was announced on social media less than 24 hours before it dropped and mere hours after “The Family” was released.
The self-proclaimed “best boy band since One Direction” began back in 2011 when frontman Kevin Abstract posted on a Kanye West fan forum asking if anyone wanted to join his band. He ended up with an array of creatives from vocalists to producers, and in 2016, they released their debut album “All American Trash,” recorded in their shared Los Angeles home. The album was accompanied by a YouTube documentary that captured the group’s raw and organic musical process.
The album was followed in 2017 by “The Saturation Trilogy,” a collection of three albums that were released over the span of a year. The trilogy established the group’s cathartic and experimental sound, with threads of R&B and pop rap tying the projects together and earning the band critical acclaim. Fresh off of the success of the trilogy, the band signed to record label RCA Records in 2018 and put out three albums in the following three years, “Iridescence,” “Ginger,” and “Roadrunner,” under the label.
Compared to earlier projects, “The Family” and “TM” are too blatantly underwhelming to serve as their musical farewell. On “Big [P—-],” the lead single from “The Family,” Abstract implies that the album was made primarily to conclude obligations to RCA. He raps, “The label needed 35 minutes of music,” and this is blatantly evident in the music. Both albums, although starkly different, shed the distinctive sound and unpredictable nature of previous Brockhampton projects, making for a rather dull and dispensable listening experience.
“The Family,” essentially a Kevin Abstract solo project, is full of reminiscent raps and reflective verses that delve into the hardships that Abstract and the band have endured over the years. Although the soulful choirs and cheery production package the album as a stroll down memory lane, it is more of a breathless jog. From kicking out Ameer Van, one of the group’s founding members, after he was accused of multiple counts of sexual assault, to going viral on TikTok with the song “Sugar,” “The Family” is a confessional farewell, a retrospective on all that the band has been through.
While this makes for somewhat of an interesting listening experience for those who have been following the group for a while, the fact that such reflection only seems to be coming from Abstract is a little puzzling and almost detracts from the purpose.
From his self-awareness on “Any Way You Want Me” when he interjects with “that’s such a toxic bar” while singing about changing himself for a lover, to his introspection on “RZA” where he sings “All of the songs where I dissed my mom helped me help her stay in her home,” Abstract is brutally honest on “The Family.”
While this would be wonderful had it been marketed as a solo album, it seems to contradict the family-oriented atmosphere of the album that Abstract established. “The Family” tackles the raw repercussions of being launched into fame, from the commodification of passion to contemplating material wealth, and it would have been neat to hear the rest of the group’s perspectives on these topics.
On the other hand, “TM” is composed of shelved Brockhampton demos from 2021, so although, it was the band’s final album, it was technically recorded before “The Family.” This is evident in the production quality and lyrical arrangements throughout. Even “The Family,” despite its flaws, had a crisp and polished feel to it. The tracks on “TM” just sound messy.
Admittedly, “TM” is a little closer to Brockhampton’s overarching sound and aesthetic than “The Family,” with its hazy electronic production and drowned-out falsettos that feel like “All-American Trash” and “Iridescence” mixed together. But the tracks almost feel like they’re spilling onto each other, leaving the album as a whole rather washed out.
There are some high points on the album, like the track “New Shoes,” which features rap verses from Meryln Woods and Matt Champion and a catchy ‘90s-style beat, and “Keep it Southern,” which has an almost industrial feel to it.
As stand-alone singles, the tracks aren’t terrible, but in the context of the entire project and the weight that this project carries as the group’s final, they are not as elevated or unique as would have been expected.
While the lyrics on “The Family” felt pointed and relevant, the lyrics on “TM” made me genuinely question why the tracks were on the album. Tracks like “Man on the Moon” and “Better Things” are sickeningly sweet and rather mediocre, far from the sonic enigma that Brockhampton once was. Others like “Duct Tape” and “Goodbye” feature drowned-out vocals and low-fi beats that honestly sound more like background music than a poignant, powerful farewell.
The band initially made waves in the industry for the way that they were ditching labels and defying taboos, from embracing openly queer members (and making music about the queer experience) to rejecting traditional genre constraints. Given their groundbreaking trajectory over the years, “The Family” and “TM” just fall short.
“The Family” makes it clear that the band has been on a downward trajectory for a while, with Abstract rapping, “We said we’d do this [s—] for life now I’m the last one tryin,” on the titular track of “The Family.” And “TM” seems to support that with its lackluster production and redundant beats. It very much felt like the band was done.
The group officially came to an end on Nov. 19 with Brockhampton’s final show, which was held at the Fonda in Los Angeles for free. The show was broadcast on Amazon Music’s Twitch channel for fans to tune into, and the group played a slew of tracks from each of their albums, thankfully omitting most of their newer songs.
Many members plan on returning to their solo careers now that the band has split, and it will be interesting to hear if and how being part of this collective influences their individual sound. The end of Brockhampton is truly the end of an era. Although it’s bittersweet, the release of “The Family” and “TM” ever so slightly softened the blow by reassuring that the group’s best days truly were behind them.
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