In the week since the release of Brockhampton’s fifth studio album, Ginger, a lot has been said of the record. Buzzwords in reviews for the LP include “Rebirth”, “Introspective” and “Maturity”, but it’s important to note that those things don’t come without challenges.
Released in the wake of allegations and the removal of Ameer Vann, the band’s previous release, Iridescence was a raw look inside the state of mind the members were in at that point in time. In the same sense, this record feels like a spiritual successor, with one major change: Perspective.
The boyband followed the Iridescence album cycle with an extended period of time in which they didn’t release music as a group. This gave member Kevin Abstract time to release his solo record, Arizona Baby, and gave members time and space to grow for themselves. Abstract’s solo record featured members of the group, and was finished in the leadup to beginning their work on Ginger. It was a more personal account of his own headspace at the time, and continued his progression as an artist from that personal point of view.
The break gave members a chance to recharge and come back together to continue making the best music they could, something they’ve talked about in interviews before and after the release of this newest LP. That’s on full display here, with many fans saying that Ginger is their best release to date.
The opener, No Halo, begins with the line “I don’t know where I’m going” and offers a snapshot of where the group’s members are. Asked if they had gained any personal clarity following the release of Ginger, Kevin Abstract pointed out a parallel between this line and the closing line of Victor Roberts, “Thank god for me”, as an example of how the record comes full circle when it comes to their overall mood.
The track, as well as songs such as Sugar, a song reminiscent of mid-90s and early 2000s R&B, Boy Bye, and If You Pray Right which bring with it a sound that is unmistakably Brockhampton, and the dark and heavy Big Boy, are all incredibly radio ready without sacrificing the group’s overall sound, which has always been a struggle for artists looking to make their mark on the charts, and shows again how versatile the group can be.
The record also gives previously under-utalized members time to shine and show their growth, with Joba, Merlyn Wood, and Bearface all having multiple standout moments on the record, to go along with some of the best work from other members.
Notable moments are Joba’s verse on No Halo, where he paints a picture of a time he walked into a church drunk and had an intense moment of spirituality, Merlyn’s verse on the same track sees all of his usual bravado stripped away to acknowledge his depression and how he sees himself in the moment. The record continues Bearface’s evolution into a multi-faceted piece of the group, with his rapping verses complimenting his well-known ability as the group’s resident crooner, which rank amongst the best parts of the record as a whole.
While much of the record speaks darkly through uplifting beats, Dearly Departed, which serves as Ginger’s half way point, peels back the layers in a mostly spoken-word tone over a Prince-esque beat that sees the members bare their souls and open up about their feelings on loss and the trappings of fame, which has been taken by many of the group’s fans as a direct response to Ameer Vann’s departure, though notably, Matt Champion speaks about the loss of loved ones that he names in the song.
Dom McLennon is the standout on the track, which he ends the back half of talking about the way that stories have been perceived by fans and media alike, and of personal betrayal, before audibly slamming his headphones down and walking out of the studio, which has been paralleled in the video for the song with him slamming down the camera while the other members watch in surprise. The track is without a doubt the emotional low point of the LP, and is a perfect closer to its first half.
The track that follows is “I’ve Been Born Again” that served as the first single. In the context of the record, the song opens the second half just as perfectly as its predecessor closed its first. Bearface opens with a whispered verse that speaks on how things have turned around for the group, with Kevin Abstract mirroring the verse with his need for self-expression. At the time it was released, many fans were concerned that the song wasn’t “big” enough, in terms of scope and general ethos given their usual opening singles, but it fits perfectly for the direction the group went in with the album as a whole.
Ginger features the group’s first title track, which is a poppy, autotune heavy, up-beat ride, perfect for a drive with the windows down, something that Kevin Abstract talked about as a being a feeling that they wanted to originally capture for the record, and pulls it off with ease.
Big Boy is a somber track that deals with the struggles of getting older, the chorus, sung by Kevin Abstract alludes to a time as a kid when his cousins would pick on him for not being grown up. Joba is the star of the show, talking about a need to rediscover himself and the realization that he can’t make up for his mistakes, only accepting that he can only work to move past them, most apparent in the closing line “Patch me up, and stitch it/make me better” whilst also featuring perhaps what may be Bearface’s best verse on the album, combining rapping with vocal runs in the adlibs. The track is perhaps the biggest sleeper hit of the record and is again an example of the group’s trademark versatility.
The penultimate track, Love Me For Life, is the last track that features the group as a whole on the record, and ends this part of the record on a light note with a bouncy track highlighted by Merlyn summing up the overall mood of the track with “Dirt on me, finna blossom” which shows how hopeful the boys are for better days, something that Joba also touches on in his verse, with “Better days follow me like a sadder song”.
The record closes with Victor Roberts, which features the man the song was named after. In it, he tells a story about something that happened in his youth, at a time when he was living in a motel room with his parents, where the police came in and found drugs in the room that were dropped off by a friend who was trying to get out of that life.
The song is a powerful example of how real the world can be, and is, from a personal perspective, the most important track of the year. Upon hearing the song, Dom McLennon, who had known Roberts for a few years, felt moved enough to pass the mic and let Victor tell his story, which Kevin Abstract felt simply needed to be the closer to the album. After adding their own beats, and vocals from Ryan Beatty and Bearface, the track was ready for release and is one of Brockhampton’s most powerful yet.
Ginger feels like the beginning of a new era for Brockhampton, one that continues their upward trajectory in spite of all the troubles that plagued their 2018. They face the world with a deeper understanding of what it all means, and that’s laid out for all to see, in what is definitely their most self-aware record yet.