From the Beatles to Odd Future, when a beloved, successful, and ceiling-shattering group parts ways, it always feels bittersweet. Since arriving in the early 2010s, Texas-bred alternative hip-hop crew Brockhampton have been one of rap’s most artistically and socially progressive groups. But considering their record-label woes, the 2018 sexual-assault allegations against founder Ameer Vann (who subsequently left the group), and the unruly creative climate of a relentlessly evolving, 13-member musical collective, the group’s breakup isn’t a shock. Still, on their final album, The Family, they’re going down swinging in the most refreshingly honest way possible, and they’re having a great time doing it.
What allowed the self-described “boy band” to stand out was their DIY approach and the uniquely personal, unflinchingly vulnerable content of their music, which deals with themes like self-discovery, sexuality, and their overall brotherhood. Brockhampton served as a breath of fresh air for hip-hop fans who felt shut out from the overly misogynistic and homophobic tone of some rap. On The Family, they stay true to this independent vision, surveying their own rich history while in no way scrimping on self-analysis and interrogation. (They’re also releasing another new album, TM, just one day after putting out The Family.)
The Family comes in hot with “Take It Back,” as frontman Kevin Abstract takes listeners through a two-minute trip down memory lane, recalling the highs and lows that Brockhampton experienced from the very beginning. It’s a poignant moment that perfectly sets up the confessional tone of the whole album.
“All That,” Brockhampton’s emotionally riveting take on the theme song from the 1990s Nickelodeon sketch comedy of the same name, is the most captivating song here: Abstract somberly explores the experience of having money and fame while batting addiction (“The record deal wasn’t helpin’ either/That merch deal ain’t help either/It gave me more money for alcohol/I guess blowin’ up ain’t all that at all”), while producers Bearface and Romil Hemnani and singer Caitlyn Harris add a perfect note of haunting nostalgia.
Musically, Bearface and Hemnani provide a rich soundscape of Kanye-esque chipmunk soul samples and a variety of lush, immersive sonics, creating an electrifying playing field on which Abstract can spill his truth. Abstract’s brutal honesty challenges the conventions of what a closing album from a groundbreaking group should sound like. He addresses his relationship with the ousted Vann and how that impacted the group (“I missed Ameer so me and Dom kept fightin’,” he notes on “All That”), and he gives an honest update on where they are on the closer, “Brockhampton” (“Niggas mad Ameer and me started talking again”). On the darkly dreamy “Prayer,” Abstract talks about how difficult it’s been for him to move forward with the group in today’s media world; “Reddit, please, you gon’ make me throw up,” he sings as a droning church organ drowns his sorrow.
Like a final episode from a beloved sitcom, The Family does its best to tie up deep, loose ends while taking both new and old fans alike on a somber yet fun ride. And despite the internal and professional turmoil that the band has gone through over the years, as laid out on the album, The Family is a brutally honest high-point to cap an amazing body of work. When you hear Wu-Tang Clan founder/producer RZA pay homage to them on “RZA,” it feels like a torch is being passed, from one extremely populous group of rap innovators to another. Brockhampton ended up not being able to carry the burden. But judging by Abstract’s own standout performance throughout the LP, there are signs of new beginnings here, too.