BROCKHAMPTON burst onto the rap scene in 2014 under the guidance of the proudly self-proclaimed misfit Kevin Abstract. Eclecticism has always been the group’s most alluring superpower; their lyrical and visual playfulness made them sonic fodder for a generation of increasingly young and weird hip-hop fans. Eager to fill this insatiable void, BROCKHAMPTON churned out the Saturation trilogy in 2017. The period between GINGER (released in 2019) and ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE marks the longest they’ve gone without making a record since their debut.
The “all-American boy band” were less lethal than contemporaries like Odd Future and way more outlandish than A$AP Mob. Instead, they revel in their juvenescence, energy and eccentricity. Their diverse roster is also a powerful point of intrigue, with Black, white, straight, gay, Asian and Latin members. These perspectives intentionally shape a fun, frenzied and unpredictable sound, with each rapper owning a distinctive style and personality. It can be heard in the wild animation of “BOOGIE,” the haunting dramatics on “WHERE THE CASH AT” and the striking smoothness known as “SUGAR.”
However, on ROADRUNNER, they don’t try to reinvent the wheel as much as they pay homage to it. The album itself is soaked in the kind of gritty percussion and verbal intensity synonymous with hip-hop. But this time around, BROCKHAMPTON brought a few friends outside of their crew along for the ride. “BUZZCUT” kicks off things with a hearty vehemence against rip-roaring production and dangerously accurate one-liners from Abstract like, “A platinum record not gon’ keep my Black ass out of jail.” Danny Brown’s quirkiness perfectly aligns with the bombast of the track—the way he contorts his voice to match the energy of any given song has always been his strongest asset.
BROCKHAMPTON spit bars with laser-like precision on the JPEGMAFIA-assisted “CHAIN ON,” and a sample of Wu-Tang Clan’s infamous money anthem “C.R.E.A.M.” appearing at the end of the track serves as a nod to the greats. The theme of success continues on “BANKROLL,” where cameos from both A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg remind listeners of the unapologetic bravado the pair specialize in. SoGone SoFlexy graces the granular “WINDOWS,” while Charlie Wilson—the most surprising guest on ROADRUNNER—brings his brand of legendary soulfulness to the synthy dream that is “I’LL TAKE YOU ON.”
Baird adds a bit of sonic balance to “OLD NEWS,” a flowy and sumptuous tune. In typical BH fashion, there are moments on “THE LIGHT,” “WHAT’S THE OCCASION?” and “DEAR LORD” that lean into vulnerability, tenderness and slight existential dread. It’s easy to pinpoint BROCKHAMPTON’s growth as evidenced by their latest project, but deeper parts of their creativity are tapped when outsiders—who happen to be insanely talented—are allowed to infiltrate their unit. As the band continues to map out their progression, they also showcase their deep knowledge of and reverence for rap as a whole. This particular album reaffirms an element of hip-hop that the boys have earnestly embraced: There is nothing more important than brotherhood.
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.