A decade ago, self-described boy band Brockhampton would’ve remained tucked away in an obscure corner of the Internet, critical darlings only your very coolest friend knew about. It’s 2018, though, and the 13-member hip-hop collective that was conceived on a message board in 2010 — capturing the lonely hearts of not-so-hip-kids across the country — is one of the biggest breakout acts of the past few years. This week, they scored their first No. 1 album with major label debut Iridescence.
“We were excited and shocked and proud,” says de facto leader Kevin Abstract, about the chart-topping news. “It felt like the biggest accomplishment because we made something that was very personal to us, and a lot of times when you make something that personal, it’s probably not gonna be the most successful thing you’re making.”
“Grime and electronic music out of London inspired us, but it’s just new,” adds 22-year-old rapper Merlyn Wood, of the group’s sound. “The music we’re putting out right now gives me the same feeling of newness that I felt when Kanye was putting out GOOD Friday [songs].”
Brockhampton’s ambitious and raucous multi-genre output, energetic singalong shows, and Abstract’s blunt lyrics about being openly gay — a rarity in rap — have sparked breathless profiles of the new sensitive and evolved “boy band of the future.” In March, they announced a year-long world tour, a 10-day recording stint at London’s Abbey Road Studios, and their first major label release, due as part of a deal with RCA that Billboard reported was worth more than $15 million.
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But this May, their charmed existence was threatened. Several women tweeted accusations of sexual misconduct toward founding member Ameer Vann, and the news rocked the close-knit crew of guys, who left stages in tears and cancelled their summer tour after ousting Vann. The tumult would’ve sunk most newcomers, but Brockhampton did what they do best — bared their souls not only on a new record, Iridescence, but also Longest Summer in America, an illuminating documentary film about its making. “I like that people can have the context of everything that went into the album and what led up to it and what we went through,” says the 22-year-old Abstract. “Listening to the music afterwards makes way more sense.”
In Longest Summer, the group delves into the making of Iridescence and the new-found freedom of recording an album outside the confines of the Saturation trilogy. “It makes it feel fun and fresh again,” says HK, the group’s creative director. “Versus making a third album in a trilogy where you’ve already set parameters and guidelines of how things should be. Having that open canvas again and taking it where we want to go has been the most eye opening and refreshing thing.“
Still, adds Wood, “Doing a documentary was a new type of vulnerability. It’s a radical shift to go from expressing yourself in the music to being vulnerable on camera. There’s no music behind you — it’s just your voice and your truth.”
If any group was up for that challenge, though, it was Brockhampton, not least because they used the doc to shore up their relationships and build an even more united front. “A lot of this felt like therapy,” says Joba. “It helped us break down barriers within ourselves that we didn’t know existed.”
“Seeing how we got through what we got through? Most people would’ve just quit, given up, gone back to the [job at the] bank,” says Abstract. “This was really scary. I think we’re always scared, but we have each other to lean on, so we’re not being extremely vulnerable in front of the world by ourselves. We have each other.”
The guys have long maintained Brockhampton is more family than band; indeed, when they first moved to Los Angeles from Abstract’s native Texas, they all piled into a single house. Inspired by the incubator he saw in the movie The Social Network, Abstract envisioned the space as a place to further bond as the group worked, played, and sat down to dinners of ramen or Postmates’ deliveries together. His instinct was right — the ordeal with Vann seems to have resulted in a surge of creativity and a cementing of their crew. “When you go through something with a group of people and you’re the only people who go through it, it brings you closer,” says producer Romil Hemnani, 23. “I’m super thankful.”
But even after navigating those early struggles and nabbing a No. 1 album, Abstract knows there’s still plenty of work left to do. “There’s so many goals we have, so it’s kinda hard to sit down and have a proper celebration,” he says. “I just know we all wanna be way more successful. I know that sounds kinda weird, knowing that we have the number one album in the country right now, but I still know that the possibilities are endless and limitless. There’s so much more work that we need to do to be considered one of the greats.”
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly called the Brockhampton documentary Longest Summer Ever. It has since been updated with the correct title