BROCKHAMPTON perversely insists on being called a "boyband" (all one word, please), but no one will ever mistake the Texas-spawned rap collective for the Backstreet Boys, One Direction, or BTS. Often performing in prison-issue orange jumpsuits and Blue Man Group face paint, the group doesn't necessarily have the look of an act that's gunning for mainstream acceptance. Thanks to slick singles like "Sugar" and "No Halo", though—to say nothing of recent appearances on Ellen and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon—that's exactly what Brockhampton is achieving BROCKHAMPTON plays the PNE Forum on Saturday (October 26).
WHO'S WHO. Wu-Tang Clan, eat your heart out. Good luck figuring out how many people are in BROCKHAMPTON at any given time. Even the group's own website doesn't have an official list. Wikipedia currently lists 16 members, but a Rolling Stone profile from two months back named 13. If you think that's a lot, consider that several of the band's future members, including Kevin Abstract and Dom McLennon, were previously part of AliveSinceForever. Depending on which source you trust, AliveSinceForever had somewhere between 30 and 40 members, all of whom were recruited via an online Kanye West fan forum. As far as finding a complete personnel list for AliveSinceForever goes...well, good luck with that one.
THE FORGOTTEN SONGS. Once something is on the Internet, it's out there for good. That's why, in a matter of seconds, you can find videos for Brockhampton's first two singles, "Bet I" and "Hero", on YouTube. If Kevin Abstract had his way, though, those 2015 tracks would be consigned to the memory hole, never to be heard again. You won't find them on Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music, or any other streaming service. Why did these early efforts get pulled? Kevin Abstract has been vague on the matter, stating simply that they aren't representative of where BROCKHAMPTON is at now. If this seems like a disingenuous argument—after all, artists evolve, and the Beatles who made "I Am the Walrus" didn't try to round up and destroy every copy of "Love Me Do"—consider that the lyrics to "Bet I' include a lot of pro-drug talk for a boyband with aspirations of commercial success.
THE BLUEPRINT. It’s what every aspiring artist has to, at some point, ask themself: do they want a dream job or guaranteed financial security. Ghana born and Austin, Texas rooted, Merlyn initially went a route almost guaranteed to put craft cocktails and bluegrass-fed rib eye's on the table (assuming you're not one of those people who has trouble building a gingerbread house at Christmas). Pushed by his parents he enrolled in architecture school after graduation, with every indication being that he was something less than an honour-roll student. Told that he was guaranteed to fail unless he started nailing perfect scores on every assignment until the end of the term, Merlyn instead packed up his shit and headed to the coast, joining BROCKHAMPTON in California. The extent to which he regrets not being the next Frank Gehry or Antoni Gaudí is dealt with in both "Swamp" (“Always planned to be a rapper when I failed at life/Luckily professor failed me at the proper time”) and "Milk" (“Walking through the pit falls of a college student/Crazy how you get them letters and that make you feel accepted/Til you walking ’round the campus and you the only African/Nobody with passion, just cats that take direction well."
LOW-KEY CHAMPION The problem with being in a band the size of an NHL hockey team is that standing out can be hard away from the stage and the studio. The fascinating thing about Matt Champion is that he couldn’t be bothered. The Woodlands, Texas native who stars on tracks like “Junky”, “Sweet”, and “Stupid” has never sat down for a one-on-one interview, which is part of the reason that digging stuff on him isn’t easy. After surviving Tough Elementary in Texas (yes, that’s an actual school), he proved something of a model citizen in high school. In 2013 he was cited as a Highlighted Highlander at Woodland High School, the honour handed out to those who demonstrate “outstanding citizenship, achievement, or service”. After, according to his Twitter feed, dropping out of college and moving to L.A., Champion began carving out a career in music. straddling hip-hop and cognac-and-candles soul with early Soundcloud tracks like “You’re Too Cool For Me” and “Burn”. One of Abstract’s earlier collaborators—dating right back to 2014’s solo debut MTV1987—Champion has also proven a moral centre for BROCKHAMPTON. If you want a good idea who was impacted most by the Ameer Vann debacle, consider Champion lyrics like “Where the respect? Is your ass human?/I look you in your eyes, say “fuck you, are you fuckin’ stupid?”/Respect my mother, ‘spect my sister, ‘spect these women, boy”. Oh, and he also rides a skateboard good enough to hold his own at China Creek, Hasting Park, or the half-pipe at the Vans Warped Tour.
ARCADE FIRE ANGST Hip-hop artists have minor obsessions with iconic rock stars isn’t as rare as one might think. Rico Nasty’s fascination with a one-time Runaway has led her to suggest her ultimate career goal is to be the Joan Jett of rap. Post Malone sports tattoos of Curt Cobain, Dimebag Darrell, and John Lennon on his fingers. And Tech N9ne has called working with Slipknot’s Corey Taylor a legitimate dream come true. Ranking right at the top of Kevin Abstract’s list of favourite rock acts are Montreal-spawned indie darlings Arcade Fire. While doing press for his 2017 solo debut American Boyfriend, Abstract recalled how being raised in the suburbs, just outside of Corpus Christie Texas, shaped who is today as a person. “The worst part was definitely being black,” he recalled. “The best part was maybe also being black. Just having that perspective, being on the outside while also being on the inside. That’s kind of how I’ve felt my whole life.” No album, Abstract suggest, capture the alienation of being bored and restless in the shadow of a big city than Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, to the point where his main goal with the song “American Boyfriend” was to match the brilliance of the album. “I just really wanted to write something about the suburbs that was conceptually as good,” he said. Indeed, scroll through Abstract’s Twitter feed, and you’ll find shoutouts to the Montreal music scene’s greatest export since Leonard Cohen.