Over the past five years, BROCKHAMPTON has become one of the most renowned groups in all of hip hop. From their acclaimed SATURATION trilogy to their commercially accessible follow-ups, the band has constantly continued to make strides and expand upon their catalog. Yesterday, they released their sixth full-length album, ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE. With group leader Kevin Abstract announcing that this will be their second to last album ever, will BROCKHAMPTON kick off their retirement tour properly?
As soon as the explosive intro “BUZZCUT” rejuvenates the group’s aura through hard-hitting verses from Abstract himself and the one and only Danny Brown, it’s made clear that ROADRUNNER will be an LP like no other the group has ever made. Going through the record’s next 12 tracks, we get one of the most free-flowing artistic experiences hip hop’s seen in recent memory. The first half of the album thrives through clever songwriting, diverse soundscapes, and the art of collaboration. Moments such as the heavily layered “CHAIN ON” showcase this at its best with its prolific verses from JPEGMAFIA and Dom McLennon, which come between Kevin Abstract’s solid bridge that talks about the meaning of doing something as simple as keeping your chain on. The best part of this cut comes from its outro, which samples Wu-Tang’s iconic song “C.R.E.A.M.,” which’s purpose is to glorify the track’s idea about the true cost of the dollar. From here, the stakes only rise as we receive these super anthems that show off the groups and others’ profound skillsets. The vibrant “COUNT ON ME” may seem simple on the surface due to its drum pattern, whistle sample, and hook from Jabari Manwa, Ryan Beatty, and Shawn Mendes., but the verses that A$AP Rocky, SoGoneSoFlexy, and group staple Matt Champion spit embed layers of meaning and symbolism into the sonic storm. On the note of A$AP Rocky, ha makes another appearance on “BANKROLL,” which teams him up alongside his fellow A$AP Mob running mate A$AP Ferg where the two fuse their New York roots and trap sound with the upbeat harmonic feel BROCKHAMPTON’s renowned for in this crossover like no other.
From here, ROADRUNNER starts to go in an introspective direction, where we see the group at their emotional lowest since their groundbreaking 2018 effort iridescence. “THE LIGHT” sets the tone for this as its dark guitar and organ-infused soundscape sets the perfect undertone for a pair of verses from Kevin and Joba, which focus on substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and their troubled upbringings. Hearing this quick change of pace isn’t seamless, but the transition between the two halves is done well enough through the instrumental connections that knot nearly every song together. Through its intense songwriting and minimal but effective soundscape, “WINDOWS” only ups the ante in every sense of the word. This six-minute posse cut brings out all the big guns with a whopping six verses that all cover real-world issues and the dangers of our society in 2021 as a whole. “OLD NEWS” elevates the atmosphere even more through its fast-paced lyricism and the constant passing of the microphone between the group members who have perfected their chemistry at this point. Starting to uncover what the true meaning of NEW LIGHT is, we get even more dreamlike collaborations in “I’LL TAKE YOU ON” with Charlie Wilson and “WHEN I BALL,” which features the legendary Chad Hugo of the Neptunes. Between Joba, Don, Matt, and Kevin’s moving lyricism in this section, there’s a handful of times that will have you at the brink of tears. Specifically, “WHAT’S THE OCCASION?” is one of the most moving pieces of music I’ve heard in years. Through its distorted production and guitar melody, the first half paints a weary and uncertain picture with the assistance of Joba and Matt Champion’s breathtaking verses. The ladder portion of the cut shows the duo finally finding the light as an angelic piano line comes in, and Joba’s harmonic vocals intensify through its high-pitched alteration. Ending this moment of sheer beauty off with a triumphant guitar solo, it’s safe to say that if you don’t cry while listening, your probably a robot. In the final three tracks, the group finds three distinct sounds to wrap the grand finale up with. “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY” has a crazed feel, and the elements of g-funk used to heighten the chaos of Abstract’s boasting yet fearful vocals is pure artistic mastery. Champion, Joba, and bearface only make the cut even crazier through unexpected instrumental flips, shocking vocal effects, and the reprise of the same hook that only more of the members join in on as time progresses. Easing the tension from its intense predecessor, “DEAR LORD” is a simple gospel-inspired song that features bearface singing his heart out in thanks for all that God has done for him and his friends. Coming full circle, “THE LIGHT PT. II” serves as the perfect closer with its soulful background vocals, minor guitar chords, and prolific soliloquies from both Abstract and Joba. While Kevin’s verse is brilliant in its own regard, it’s Joba who steals the show with his reminiscent verse about his father who committed suicide. Uncovering these traumatizing thoughts, Job thinks about how he will carry on his dad’s legacy, learn from his mistakes, and emphasize life’s value as a whole.
Overall, the way ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE rebirths BROCKHAMPTON to their careless and fun roots and then transitions the LP into a meaningful piece of art that covers enduring world issues, mental health struggles, and the purpose of our lives on this Earth is truly brilliant, and I’d go as far to say this may be their best LP to date. Every member gets to shine, and the a-list features were able to fit in seamlessly due to the group’s unmatched chemistry. Walking away from this record, and I feel like a changed person. It’s too early to fully break down and understand the full meaning behind the light, but it’s evident that the angelic soundtrack and powerful songwriting that’s healed the group is meant to show us, the listeners, there’s light for all of us.
- Each member is able to shine fully
- Amazing and versatile soundtrack
- A-list features elevate every moment
- Sheer vulnerability makes for some of the most emotional moments hip hop’s seen in years
- Is spiritually healing/cleansing
- Transition from upbeat opening leg to the intense ladder half could have been done smoother
- Tracklist could have been cut down by a few songs to tighten the narrative
Written and Reviewed by: Mr. Fantastic, owner and founder of Fantastic Hip Hop