While The Family is a fascinating experiment into seeing what an album would sound like if it was the most open and honest work an artist ever made (and was also their most mailed-in), TM is a snoozer that could have almost entirely been abandoned. If this is actually the end of BROCKHAMPTON, I can safely say they’ve chosen the right time.
Release date: November 17-18, 2022 | Question Everything/RCA | Website | Instagram | Stream
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – this is the final album from hip-hop boy band BROCKHAMPTON. The group has been discussing their inevitable breakup since 2017, but none of the discussion has ever felt as pressing as it does now. Before, BROCKHAMPTON’s collective skill had been able to power through any issues the band faced, but now it’s clear there’s too much weighing them down.
If there was any room for doubt as to the future of BROCKHAMPTON, The Family – the first of the group’s going away presents – ends it. Instead of the group’s usual team-effort approach, the album is almost entirely performed by frontman Kevin Abstract. Kevin has never been a spiritual lyrical miracle individual, but his ability to create earworms has been one of the group’s pillars from the jump and every bit of his writing talent is on full display here, airing his family’s dirty laundry. You can write as many bars as you want to try and set the stage of a relationship, but less will always be more if you can write something as immediately relatable as ‘We hate each other just to hang out’.
Kevin’s writing on “All That” is gripping and his willingness to be honest about his alcoholism, the strain his attempts to go solo put on the group, and missing former group member Ameer Vann is incredibly unique. “My American Life” is a short but bleak track that really hammers home how separated the group has become and how hopeless Kevin feels about their situation. There’s some great early Kanye-esque production on “Good Times”, and it’s worth mentioning that The Family is the first BROCKHAMPTON project not produced by the group’s stellar in-house producer, Romil Hemnani.
The Saturation trilogy frequently had Kevin take aim at his mother over difficulties between the two over his sexuality, but Kevin seems to have made some real strides in their relationship on “RZA”. “37th” is both the album’s best track and one of the most interesting. Ameer being as big a topic as he is on The Family is genuinely surprising and could go a long way to explaining why Kevin’s on his own on this one, as Kevin details again going out of his way to see Ameer and acknowledging he’s letting down his friends in doing so.
‘Linked up with Ameer to see what he been up to
I praise God for the days that we been through
Some days, I face God, some days, I see the devil too
I was nervous, ain’t know what I was gettin’ into
Dog, I seen growth, dog, I seen change
Wasn’t like the old days, it fеlt different, man
My heart skippin’ again, my thoughts driftin’ again
Can wе get the band back together and be civil again?
Empathy’s a bitch, man, mix that bitch with some shame
And some weed and champagne, you end up like me
Tryna make everybody happy when I’m only there for me’
As apparent as the album’s strengths are, so are its flaws. On “Big Pussy”, Kevin plainly states that his label RCA needed 35 minutes of music (I’ll give you one guess what the run time of the album is) and it is abundantly clear everyone involved was on a mission to hit that quota. There are several appearances from Kevin’s Wu-Tang counterpart RZA and more excerpts than I care to count – mostly just to add time. Several of the 17 tracks are also clearly half-baked ideas at best. “Any Way You Want Me” could have easily been left off the project in exchange for fully fleshing out one of the higher quality tracks. The Family starts strong and ends strong, but the middle of the album is filled with forgettable tracks; their best quality is that they don’t last long enough to get annoying, looking at you “Southside” and “Basement”.
Kevin’s writing is some of the most interesting you’ll hear on an album this year, but the concept is not without its flaws. Kevin is the most capable artist in BROCKHAMPTON and the only one that has proven he can make solid solo material, but this is a group and his is only one of several opinions. There are frequent half-jokes about toxic relationships, which might not be as cringey if he wasn’t so open about his own toxicity. The track “The Family” is mostly a great track including an appearance from Bearface (who carried much of the weight in producing the album), another actual member of the group, but it’s impossible to ignore that, instead of Bearface doing cool shit, he instead chooses to stroke Kevin’s martyr complex, ‘So why won’t you listen, baby/You tried to keep it alive/But I’ll be fine/Oh, yes, you did’. It’s just gross.
‘As the checks grew, it became harder to leave
Everybody got an ego now, imagine bein’ me
Competition started off so healthy
‘Til one day I looked up like, “Damn, you almost better than me”
I don’t feel guilty for wakin’ you up when you sleep
I don’t feel guilty from cuttin’ your verse from this beat
I don’t feel guilty for heat you caught from my tweets
Dead projects I teased from my lack of empathy
I feel free when I drink, you don’t know shit about me
Y’all don’t know shit about me, y’all don’t know shit about me’
After releasing nine projects since 2016, BROCKHAMPTON’s final album, and the second of the pair, is like none they’ve released before, and not in a good way. TM is the first album in the group’s discography to truly be a miss and the effort is by far the electrifying group’s blandest release yet. While Kevin is still very much around on TM, it’s impossible not to notice that he clearly drained himself of ideas creating The Family, and unlike prior BROCKHAMPTON albums, no one rises up to help. “Duct Tape” would have been a great Deb Never track but, as it is, it’s a nearly five-minute track with a solid concept on burnout let down by overbearing autotune and no direction that TKO any potential the track has. “Man On The Moon” should work. The track is close enough to “BLEACH” and some of the group’s other autotune-filled hits that the formula should snap into place; Ryan Beatty even delivers the album’s best hook, but there’s just nothing else here. “Goodbye” will likely be the last track the group ever releases and it has the emotional weight of writing ‘Have a great summer’ in a yearbook.
Beyond just the bland music, TM and The Family could not be more different in openness. Matt Champion, Joba, and Dom McLennon do delve into personal issues like burnout in a very general tone, but there is nothing on this album even close to matching Kevin’s openness on The Family. You obviously cannot force the other members to speak on the issue if they don’t want to, but for a group with over ten members and multiple vocalists, it’s very unsatisfying to only receive one point of view on how and why things went wrong.
Fortunately, there are a few moments of light to break up the malaise of TM. The opening track, “FMG”, is a banger and brings all the energy that fans have come to love: Matt’s southern drawl is ensnaring, the trio of Matt, Kevin, and Dom are fantastic, and Dom’s ’40 acres and a mule on my neck’ line is the best on the album. Sadly, the album never reaches these highs again. The rap tracks are scarce on TM but “New Shoes” is another return to form. Almost every rapper the group has left appears and Matt steals the track, effortlessly flowing through the track talking about his Cthulhu diamonds. “Crucify Me” is the album’s only non-rap track that works; Joba’s lounge singer style is fantastic, Kevin and Matt give emotionally compelling verses, but even the highlights are weighed down by an instrumental that unnecessarily drags for almost two minutes.
‘Lay on the beach in the Caymans for summer
And I want a spot where my neighbor’s Obama
Sipping on something extra juicy
Man, you call it that citric fluid
AC off, this bitch so hot
I think she need some premium coolant
Hit your block, call me (Been around the world)
Eating that good good (Michelin star)
I’m so high, I been out of my mind
On a pillow checking out property on Mars
Oh, man, oh man, them old blocks can’t slow me down’
Watching one of your favorite groups break up is always difficult, but after listening to both albums there’s no other way to say it. It’s time. The Saturation trilogy earned the boy band one of the best years in recent music history, and they powered through the exodus of one of the group’s most popular members without missing a step, but these two final albums will do their legacy no favors. TM and The Family show just how deep some of the wear and tear has eaten away at the group. Rest in peace BROCKHAMPTON, hip-hop’s best boy band.