Hip-hop is slowing down. Not all of it, obviously. For every trapped out Migos or Lil Uzi Vert you’ve got spitfire rhymes from Kendrick blasting through the Grammys or Amine dancing across bars, but it’s hard to feel like the locus of the movement isn’t shifting. Keen Americans will tell you that this is somewhat geographical. For the past few years at least, the biggest sounds have come from the South, primarily from the same city that gave us Outkast, T.I. and Killer Mike. It’s been a gradual decline into codeine soda and trill cymbals and entire choruses that say them same three words over and over again. But every mainstream has a fringe , and the people on that fringe can be lunatics. Also from the South (well, Texas), but seemingly aesthetic-agnostic comes Brockhampton; enviably prodigious, young and willing to throw enough words and sound at a wall until something sticks. In 2017, they put out over 40 songs over 3 records. And their batting average is insanely good. I know that, because ‘Boogie’ came out at a time of year when it should have been treated as an afterthought. Instead it’s a certified banger, flipping that riotous Bomb Squad sound of late ’80s New York. I haven’t had this much fun since Odd Future started threatening to burn everything to the ground.
I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that I love most about this collective, who like to bill themselves as a boyband and actively reject every rule in the book. Stylistically, they seem to take inspiration from everywhere. One joint will sound like vintage Eminem/Dr Dre (‘Sweet’), another recalls The Pharcyde (‘Johnny’) and then there’s ‘Boogie’, which is essentially a DJ Premier roof-shatterer taken over by fifty Beastie Boys. Perhaps it’s the irreverence. Brockhampton is a group that trades vocals like they’re on a Lazy Susan; every time you spin it round, there’s a new surprise. That’s because their various MCs really play up their multi-faceted Hydra persona. Some sing, some shout, some sound like they’re having a seizure. On first listen, the verses don’t seem like they hang together, just rear-ending into each other after a few lines. But further spins (and you won’t be able to stop at just one) reveals a well laid-out plan in which every vocalist is placed just so. Much as its a party-starter, ‘Boogie’ is a song about fighting to earn your place at the party. Here, we are presented with rappers who really use their voices as instruments, wildly varying in tone and offering enough variation that three minutes doesn’t seem long enough.
Brockhampton is as much a curation project as it is a musical one. Half of their members are producers or creative directors, which is fair enough, because there are like 20 of them. What unites them is this streak of deliberate anarchism, present in their artwork, videos and production. ‘Boogie’ pushed so far to the limit that it actually distorts in your ears. At first I thought it was a mixing issue, that they’d rushed the thing out too fast. It isn’t. The potent cocktail of screaming sax, crunching bass and that whooping car alarm prove too hot to handle. Relentlessly pushing forward, the beat explodes above a pressure cooker of its own design. As one of my favourite line screeches ‘Break necks, I’m a chiropractor/ Come on down you know I got ya’; ‘Boogie’ is not something to be experienced sitting still. By the same token, Brockhampton is not a collective that does, either. It’s been a while since hip-hop has cut the brakes so gleefully that I can’t help but pay attention.