Brockhampton defines itself as an “all-American boy band,” a label that could initially be read as a glib in-joke were it not for the LA-based collective’s earnestness.
Certainly, the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they hear “boy band” isn’t a 14-strong crew of mixed-race queer and straight rappers, producers, and creatives, living together under one roof, making genre-bending hip-hop about marginalized identity and self-acceptance.
But that’s the whole point, Brockhampton’s members argue — persuasively — across “Saturation III,” the final installment in a trilogy of albums that have brought the group from relative obscurity to widespread recognition in just six short months. While the disc is unmistakably theirs, it’s much wider-reaching than the past two “Saturation” releases, more sonically experimental and lyrically dexterous, less easily confined to a genre box and undoubtedly the work of artists who want it that way.
“Saturation III” traverses fuzzed-out electroclash (“SISTER,” which evokes early-era Sleigh Bells) and nostalgic R&B (bouncy, sun-soaked “HOTTIE”) as eagerly as it does rap rhythms, even going so far as to employ two songs on opposing extremes of Brockhampton’s range — raucous, horn-heavy victory lap “BOOGIE” and swirling, delicate “TEAM” — as bookends.
In branding themselves a boy band, then delivering a disc that exhibits such versatility, Brockhampton are at once flexing musical muscles and challenging historical ideas of what a group bearing that label can sound and look like. There’s a raised-eyebrow rhetorical question implicit in this: Who are you to tell us who we are or are not?
In that sense, “Saturation III” is entirely of a piece with its two predecessors; the disc exudes confidence on every front, though the group’s ambitions seem scaled up to world domination. “I’ve been shot down, kicked down twice,” sings group ringleader Kevin Abstract on “BOOGIE.” “Ain’t no stoppin’ me tonight/ I’ma get all the things I like.” Ameer Vann, far and away the group’s breakout rapper, weighs in next: “My [expletive] takin’ over/ Brockhampton, call your momma/ My [expletive] goin’ platinum.”
If there’s been a unifying quality across the group’s discography, it’s a central ethos of inclusion, the sense that Brockhampton’s creative energies thrive most when every member’s strengths, and stories, are being utilized. On “Saturation III” — whether it’s Roberto Ontinent’s Spanish-language “CINEMA” interludes, the darkly poetic verses from Vann and Dom McLennon on “BLEACH,” or Abstract’s confessional lyricism on “STUPID” — the collective’s greatest triumph remains how frequently they bring out the best in each other.Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.