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Album review: BROCKHAMPTON addresses tough topics in album oversaturated with collaboration

(Courtesy of RCA Records)

“ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE”

BROCKHAMPTON

RCA Records

Released April 9

By Laura Carter

April 9, 2021 4:14 p.m.

BROCKHAMPTON is lighting up the world of hip-hop.

The group’s rumored second-to-last album, “ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE,” highlights BROCKHAMPTON’s musical versatility while addressing difficult topics like racism, homophobia and the effects of COVID-19. Though the album, released Friday, successfully features hardships faced by members of the group, the extensive features from various artists and repetitive tracklist take away from the otherwise powerful messages hidden in its lyrics.

Opening track “BUZZCUT (feat. Danny Brown),” sets the tone for the rest of the album in its charged lyrics that outline member Kevin Abstract’s childhood in Texas and his strained relationship with his mother following his coming out as gay. The juxtaposition between simple production and serious lyrics remains consistent through other songs like “CHAIN ON (feat. JPEGMAFIA).” This track leaves the majority of the listening experience to focus on the content of the lyrics, which includes verses like, “Give it time when we catch them cops on cam,” referencing 2020 events involving the Black Lives Matter movement.

[Related: Album review: ‘UNLOCKED 1.5’ is the intergalactic remix sequel nobody asked for]

Unfortunately, the third song in the album, “COUNT ON ME,” begins the record’s decline into unnecessary collaboration. By including artists like A$AP Rocky and Shawn Mendes, the vocals sound chaotic and add excess voices to an album created by an already large group of 13 members. This poorly compiled smorgasbord of artists detracts from the rest of the record’s more resonant content.

The descent continues with “BANKROLL (feat. A$AP Rocky & A$AP Ferg),” which stands as an odd addition to the tracklist. In an album that addresses heavy issues like social unrest and intrafamilial conflict, a song that highlights the life of the super-wealthy feels disingenuous and like a poor excuse to include a rapper of A$AP Rocky’s caliber.

Luckily, the following track, “THE LIGHT,” revives the album as it opens with member Joba speaking candidly with the same timbre of a phone call. The song touches on Joba’s father’s suicide and Abstract’s relationship with his family over a backdrop of an electric guitar melody, which is the first instance of significant musical depth in the album.

Immediately following the heavy lyrics of “NEW LIGHT,” the next song “WINDOWS (feat. SoGone SoFlexy)” reminds listeners yet again of the past year’s difficulties, most notably in reference to COVID-19 with the lyric, “We plague our society, like COVID-19.” But this allusion feels like BROCKHAMPTON is overusing references to 2020 world events and, like “BANKROLL (feat. A$AP Rocky & A$AP Ferg),” adds yet another unnecessary collaboration to an album already saturated with artists.

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In contrast with the repetitive nature of previous songs, however, the final tracks resurrect the album into a new tier of symbolic meaning. With “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY,” the title alone brings the somber mood of the record to an all-time low. The song leaves a feeling of distress through a percussive track that beats down on listeners and lyrics that cut off midsentence following a shooting noise. However, this intensity is immediately remedied with “DEAR LORD,” which plays like a prayer and soothes the listener from the trauma of the previous song.

By the final track, listeners have waited through the whole album to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. “THE LIGHT PT. II” readdresses both Joba’s father’s suicide and Abstract’s broken relationship with his mother, providing a level of hope to close out the album. Repeating the lyric, “The light is worth the wait, I promise,” the track revises its previously bleak mood and ends on an optimistic note.

Despite being an album full of musical inconsistencies, “ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE” maintains similar lyrical themes. Difficult topics including the aftermath of COVID-19 and the personal struggles of the group members act as an invisible string holding the album together. But unfortunately, the numerous unnecessary collaborators and repetitive content aren’t enough to render this album flawless.

Regardless, BROCKHAMPTON has shown it is prepared for what faces it on the road ahead – and its ready to run toward it.

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Laura Carter
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