BROCKHAMPTON challenges modern artwork design.

Creating a visual identity is a new think piece series in which I explore and highlight people who create interesting branding strategies. Today, the focus is on BROCKHAMPTON’s single releases.

If you follow hip hop closely, you’ve probably heard of the rap … ahem … boy band called BROCKHAMPTON. They are one of the most talked about alternative rap groups, following collectives like Clipping and Death Grips. There’s a lot to cover in BROCKHAMPTON’s releases from a designer’s perspective, and it’s difficult to know where to start.

So, let’s start with a distinction. In my view, their releases can be divided into a first generation and a second generation. The first generation includes their two first singles, “Dirt” and “CANNON”. Their remaining seven singles will be categorised in the second generation. Why this distinction? It has something to do with their choice of style, which I will comment on throughout this think piece.

First generation

“Dirt” and “CANNON” do something that’s not done often enough in cover artwork. They explore the vertical direction in terms of typography. The names of the singles are both written from the top-down; “Dirt” on a purple strip, “CANNON” in front of a duo-toned model. This might seem like an insignificant gimmick, but I argue it’s quite special.

Fundamentally, having the text going from top to bottom creates a more dynamic work. Going from left to right is static, it’s how we usually read texts whilst the other approach seems more attractive because it breaches our usual visual pattern. Molly Bang said it best; vertical shapes seem more exciting because they rebel against Earth’s gravitational forces. They reach for the sky and that’s what makes them so poignant to viewers of a work.

BROCKHAMPTON is known for coming across as raw and grimy in their artwork, but this seems almost too subtle for them. Would this be a good choice for you as a business owner? Ultimately, yes, I believe it would. It creates visual interest, but it’s not too outrageous and can be paired with mellow design elements, like soft colours, neutral grids, and inoffensive fonts.

Second generation

BROCKHAMPTON’s seven latest singles all follow a formula, a repeated visual identity, which is a juxtaposition of irony and abrasiveness. They feature a black and white photograph ranging in intensity with the name of the track in bold, in-your-face fonts resembling ’90s Microsoft WordArt.

But what I mean by the photographs range in intensity is that some depict whimsical activities, like people riding a rollercoaster (“FACE”) whilst some depict a man wearing a glassy mask with a scar across his face (“SWAMP”). Where the “FACE” artwork is fun and charming, the “SWAMP” artwork is absurd, eerie, and uncanny.

This constant is seen, too, in their singles artworks featuring portraits. The model on the cover of “JUNKY” is stoic, unafraid to stare directly into the camera lens. On the other hand, the model on “SWEET” is closed-off, almost in despair. And that goes for the model on “HEAT”, too.

What the photographs do is set the darker mood of the artworks; the photographs depict something uncanny, are oddly placed on the cover (usually in one of the upper corners), and are in black and white. This design quaintness justifies the second part of the formula; the text.

What’s amazing about the “FACE” artwork is the phenomenal colour gradient of the title, which goes from blue to dark red, light red to an almost complete white tinged with a bit of orange. The letters are huge, in 3D, and all have a bend, or a noticeable shift in direction. Go up and look at the title of “HEAT”; it mimics the classic fire colours of red, black, and yellow, but finishes off with blue.

BROCKHAMPTON switches between the gradients of “FACE”, “HEAT”, “GOLD” and the Jell-O-esque rubberised text of “JUNKY”, “SWAMP”, and “GUMMY”. The juxtaposition between the photographs and the text is weird, but it is damn near impossible not to keep looking. It’s beautifully composed and packs a lot of attitude.

And you already know the answer; no, I would never recommend you or your business giving the second generation of BROCKHAMPTON artwork a go. It’s too messy for the ordinary business and it requires an approach to things that’s different in almost every way.

But what the second generation does is to inspire us to try a bit harder. To create our own styles. To not be afraid to show people out there who we really are, exemplified through graphic design. And this is important; you will always be able to identify the artwork of BROCKHAMPTON and never doubt this process, which is a fantastic accomplishment in and of itself.

Simon Obirek