For a boy band that has been through everything in their short existence, ‘ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE’ is one hell of a comeback for Brockhampton.
Starting their life on a Kanye West fan forum in 2011, Brockhampton are the collective who dropped everything to move in under the same roof in the make-it-or-break-it world of Los Angeles.
Where plenty has failed, the band – currently sporting a 12-piece line-up of hip-hop and production talent – succeeded; finding their big break after the 2017 release of a trilogy of cacophonous albums under the titles Saturation I, II and III.
Rarely far from drama, the band began touring and earned a $15 million record deal, before losing one of their founding members to a sex scandal and falling into a spiralling depression.
In 2019, they responded with ‘GINGER’, an album forged out of unadulterated, raw emotions extracted by no other than actor-cum-spiritual-guide Shia LaBeouf.
But even the success from that record – which went platinum in the US in 2020 – couldn’t stabilise the band, as later that year they began planning their endgame.
When Roadrunner’s lead single ‘Buzzcut’ dropped almost a month ago, it marked the band’s first release after a year-long hiatus – discounting the rough-around-the-edges mixtape ‘Technical Difficulties’, essentially a collection of their quarantine live streams.
Brockhampton are a band whose success has been driven by the internet, but with news of Buzzcut’s release, the viral response was like nothing before.
Social media went mad, generating a buzz that is only comparable to when the Reddit page r/WallStreetBets broke the stock market.
Being relatively new to Brockhampton, ‘Buzzcut’ still tingled the same parts of my brain that only a freshly-opened can of Coke (non-diet, please) can satisfy. Or, for that matter, any sound that Kendrick Lamar makes.
In short, it made me excited about an album that I didn’t even know I wanted.
Of course, by teasing everyone with a banger of that quality, combining their own bars with those of fire-spitting Detroit rapper Danny Brown, the rest of the collective’s album could have gone one of two ways. It could fail to live up to expectations or be so hot that audiences have to jump into fireproof suits just to listen.
Spanning 16 tracks and including features from names that the most casual rap fans will be familiar with (A$AP Rocky, JPEGMAFIA, etc.), ROADRUNNER feels and sounds a lot more of what loyal fans were expecting from the band’s last project, ‘GINGER’.
Alas, for every ‘Buzzcut’ and ‘Don’t Shoot Up the Party’ – which almost instantly became my favourite track thanks to a dirty intro and similar vibe to Kendrick’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ – there are less appealing entries, such as ‘Old News’ and ‘I’ll Take You On’.
While these may not be bad tracks, they confuse the audience’s perception of what Brockhampton are. From the first listen, they backtrack from the harder edges of the band, instead screaming and shouting ‘boy band’ – a tag that lead member Kevin Abstract has previously been keen to avoid.
Between these entries and the earlier highlights, the process of nailing Brockhampton to a particular sound in this album is akin to capturing a typhoon in a bottle.
Then again, give the entries ‘Windows’ or ‘The Light’ a few listens and you’ll hear how the nebulous collective matured. During the former, you’ll be shaking your head uncontrollably as six verses as hot as molten lava punch so hard that even an opponent like Rocky Balboa couldn’t make it to the last round.
Following this is ‘The Light’; ROADRUNNER’s most personal track, where key members Abstract and Jabari Manwa spill their guts and wrestle their demons.
Contrary to the song’s title, it gets dark pretty fast. With vocalist/producer Russell “Joba” Boring given more leeway on this album as a whole, his trauma is evident in tracks such as this. For me, though, Joba’s presence can sometimes be off-putting, as rhythmically and lyrically, he’s on the weaker part of the gang.
When listening to the album, it’s also hard not to reminisce for the early days of the band. Even for fans like me who missed out on those times, just streaming earlier albums leads to comparisons against the band’s ability to capture the zeitgeist back then.
Those were the days of the band following Mark Zuckerberg’s now-famous motto “Move fast and break things”; pumping song-after-song faster than New York rapper A$AP Ferg can spit bars, no matter the roughness and DIY aesthetic of the final product.
And I mean that as a compliment. It’s only been four years since the Saturation trilogy, after all. My guess; it’s the embrace of sage-like producer Rick Rubin that helped Kevin Abstract to channel the band’s scattered energy into their most polished and refined album to date.
Just listen to the song ‘Umbrella’ (below) that was scrapped from the final album, and you’ll see what I mean.
At this stage, it’s too early to say if ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE will become a fan favourite. While the overall project didn’t win me over as much as certain tracks within it did, ROADRUNNER is at least a solid piece of evidence that Brockhampton, as a collective, have rediscovered their groove.
The boys are back, and they finally sound famous.
By Ignas Vieversys
Feature Image Credit: RCA Records