On Iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON’s Energy Shines
In early May of this year, Ameer Vann, one of BROCKHAMPTON’s members, was accused of sexual misconduct by several women. Two weeks later, the band kicked him out and cancelled their remaining tour dates, leaving them with twelve members, six of whom provide vocals for the group. In the era of #MeToo, these allegations could have meant BROCKHAMPTON’s end—as they did for PWR BTTM—or a long hiatus and severely deplenished hype surrounding their new album—as they did for Pinegrove. Instead, something unprecedented happened: the band dealt with the accusations by kicking Vann out and made their biggest release to date, at number one on the Billboard charts. Vann’s exit may have been direct inspiration for parts of iridescence, their latest release following the Saturation trilogy, released over the course of 2017; the band had a different album, Puppy, planned, but it was cancelled and iridescence was announced once Vann left.
BROCKHAMPTON’s prompt response to the allegations against Vann falls in line with the band’s ethos; they are part of a new wave in rap which is unafraid to buck conventional perceptions of masculinity. This is the side of BROCKHAMPTON which shines on iridescence.
On their major label debut with RCA Records, BROCKHAMPTON seems to have taken the setback of Vann’s misconduct in stride – the production is top-notch, and the band’s members ride the beats with ease. However, the most compelling part of iridescence is the earnestness of its lyrics. Though the album has the requisite party songs, there is an emotional throughline built up in the songs “SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,” “WEIGHT,” “TAPE,” “SAN MARCOS,” “TONYA,” and “FABRIC,” as well as in certain verses of the remaining nine songs. In a genre filled to the brim with masculine posturing and party songs, the novelty of an album with candid expressions of emotion makes it something worth listening to.
The driving force of the album’s emotion is derived from the newly-found fame of BROCKHAMPTON’s members and their methods of dealing with such publicity, which comes across in two respects: the first and more overt comes across clearly on “LOOPHOLE,” the album’s only skit. In the track, New York rapper Cam’ron details his experience with shady record labels’ taking advantage of him and his friends turning their backs on him. This sentiment is echoed throughout the rest of the album, most notably in Joba’s cathartic verse on “J’OUVERT,” where he condemns the people in his life who don’t stick by his side. Though the album frequently deals with how fame affects one’s behavior, the more interesting side of the fame throughline comes from introspection.
Plenty of rap talks about how supposed friends change when the rappers get money, but BROCKHAMPTON does something less predictable on iridescence: the members wrestle with how fame has affected their own lives. On “TAPE,” Joba says “Feel like the light that I was blessed with has diminished // I’m haunted by the visions of my youth turned true.” A stark contrast from his verse on “J’OUVERT” lashing out at others, his verse on “TAPE” details his disappointment in himself. Though relatively uncommon in rap, iridescence is filled to the brim with this kind of self-reflection – this is what elevates it from just a party album.
With new fame as a backdrop, mental health appears as one of the most common topics BROCKHAMPTON bares their soul about. Despite ongoing stigma against illnesses like depression, the band is unashamed to tell their audience that they struggle with mental health. Dom McLennon stands out as the rapper who is most candid about his history with depression. On “THUG LIFE,” McLennon relates his constant dealing with depression as he says “Depression an uninvited guest I’m always accepting // Can’t help but meet the feeling with a familiar embrace.” Much of today’s increasingly social-media-focused society sorely lacks openness about mental health in favor of displays of happiness, real or not – BROCKHAMPTON’s opening discussions in that area is a large step in the right direction. McLennon doesn’t glorify his battle with depression, but, as he says on “TONYA,” “I’m not ashamed, I’m not afraid of who I am.” McLennon’s and others’ highly visible portrayals of intimate struggles serve to resist the unattainable ideal of constant perfection perpetuated by unrealistic social media posts.
Along with mental health, iridescence is wonderfully open about queer identity. Kevin Abstract, BROCKHAMPTON’s founder, is one of hip-hop’s few openly LGBTQ artists. He’s not reticent to broadcast his identity, which is refreshing in a space often criticized as homophobic. As Kevin Abstract says, “just existing and being [himself] is making change and making things easier for other young queer kids.” Being himself is exactly what Abstract does on “SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,” his love song to his boyfriend. The song is one of the weaker tracks, lyrically and production-wise, on the album, but the fact that it’s a queer love song on a chart-topping album is incredible in terms of representation and relatability for queer kids. One might draw comparisons to Frank Ocean, who has also released songs—”Chanel,” for example—about his relationships with men. However, Ocean is a more solitary character than Kevin Abstract, who may be more willing to be the representation he sees as necessary. Like Abstract, Ocean incorporates themes of sexuality into his music, but Kevin Abstract appears in public more often; he’s more visible as a queer man in hip-hop.
Kevin Abstract is comfortable with his identity, but iridescence isn’t an album about self-affirmation; there is an unmistakable tension in many of the songs as they are driven by heavy, almost industrial beats reminiscent of clipping.’s beats constructed from power tools. These are generally the beats to the less introspective songs about making money and partying—and they seem to carry an uneasiness with fame, made explicit by verses like Joba’s on “TAPE” or Kevin Abstract’s on “TONYA,” where he says “I’ll trade fame any day // For a quiet Texas place and a barbecue plate.” These feelings come through most clearly on the album’s two best songs, in terms of production and significance, “WEIGHT” and “SAN MARCOS.” On both, the production eases up to less extreme instrumentals, and the band’s introspection finds its peak. On “WEIGHT,” Kevin Abstract’s expression of nostalgia and struggles with discovering and becoming comfortable with his sexuality compound with his record scratches, panning from left to right, to create the most sincere song on the album. On “SAN MARCOS,” the guitar instrumental—antithetical to the rest of the album’s heavy electronic beats—and the final chorus create the album’s euphoric emotional high as the chorus sings “I want more out of life than this.” If nothing else, listen to these two songs.
BROCKHAMPTON does a lot of things right on iridescence. The production is top-notch, and the ability of the rappers to lay their souls bare for the audience triggers many moments of catharsis. The band has room to grow—the album is somewhat disjointed, dealing with myriad themes that may be more easily digestible if dealt with in separate albums. The many topics may be a product of the number of members in the group, as each one deals with their own themes which don’t always overlap. Despite the album’s jumble of messages, there is real innovation on iridescence. Ultimately, the band’s expression of their hopes and fears is deeply relatable, and “WEIGHT” and “SAN MARCOS” are worth coming back to, at the very least. iridescence is implied to be the first part in another trilogy like Saturation before it, and I eagerly await the next parts.