Brockhampton Continue to Push Hip-Hop Forward on 'Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine'
Published Apr 12, 2021Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine is reportedly Brockhampton's penultimate album, with the final album due for release sometime later this year. The past few years have been complicated for the group after Ameer Vann's ignominious dismissal. Despite the challenges, Roadrunner is a concise and focused musical statement that explores nearly every corner of what hip-hop has become in recent decades.
The production is made memorable by its innovative use of instrumentation. Decorations of jazzy saxophones, sexy synths, and warm piano are strewn throughout the project with every song giving the listener a completely different experience. The track "Dear Lord," in particular, departs from the aggressive rap preceding it, giving the listener a jolt of hymn-like choral singing to console a grieving Joba reeling from his father's suicide.
Despite the seemingly chaotic sound of this album, it never feels incoherent. Opener "Buzzcut" best typifies the chaos with a feature from the energetic Danny Brown. The track begins unsettling and restless, with reverberating bass and Brown's strained vocals, but is later juxtaposed by its denouement into a meditative vocalization with soulful saxophone. With constant ups and downs in energy throughout the project, the meditative voices make a return in the album's closer "The Light Pt. II" as Joba and Kevin Abstract share introspective bars reliving childhood memories.
There are a number of important features on this album. "Bankroll" revives A$AP Mob with features from its two most prominent members, A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg, with production reminiscent of the Mob's Cozy Tapes series. Roadrunner is all over the place, in the best way. The song "What's the Occasion" showcases heavy rock guitars, "I'll Take You On" features R&B vocals from Charlie Wilson, and "Don't Shoot Up the Party" includes a West Coast, G-funk baseline with drums that sound as if they were produced by Kanye West circa My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. These styles shouldn't work together in theory, yet the particular combinations of sounds are expertly crafted and purposeful.
The lyrical content varies as well, ranging from topics related to race, COVID, suicide, childhood trauma, and more. Upon contemplation of Brockhampton's legacy, especially as their final days are apparently upon them, their greatest contribution to hip-hop has been their LGBTQ representation. It is no secret that hip-hop has been a hostile place for members of the LGBTQ community. Toxic masculinity and homophobia have gone hand-in-hand with the popular hip-hop persona. Gatekeepers have routinely castigated artists who did not possess the requisite machismo. On "Don't Shoot Up the Party," Kevin Abstract takes aim at outdated preconceptions about his sexuality that are prevalent in his community: "N***** think I think these thoughts on purpose / But I knew 'bout *NSYNC 'fore cash could rule me."
In recent years, artists like Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and Young MA have changed how hip-hop talks about LGBTQ artists. Brockhampton, however, not only deserves credit for buttressing LGBTQ artists, but in also addressing America's fraught history with homophobia, a plight that sometimes feels forgotten in the American cultural milieu. Abstract discusses the unique intersectionality of being Black and gay in America: "And these days no license, only take the Jeep if my boyfriend is drivin' / Plus he got the kinda skin that make the police like him," he raps on "The Light Pt. II."
Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine achieves artistic exploration while maintaining the unmistakable hip-hop aesthetic without it feeling pretentious or forced. Experimental hip-hop projects tend to subvert the genre to the point of unrecognizability, which might be the point. Brockhampton's latest project pulls from varied sources of inspiration to make an undeniably hip-hop record.
Given that this is set to be one of the last releases under the Brockhampton name, the sentimentality is setting in for fans. In what appears to be one of their final outings, Brockhampton is giving their listeners the best they have to offer, which makes anticipation for their next album even stronger. (RCA)