Led by self-proclaimed pop star Kevin Abstract, BROCKHAMPTON is one of the most exciting groups in hip-hop today. Not only has the Southern California-based 15-man (and counting) collective of misfits and outcasts redefined the perception of what a boy band is supposed to look like in this day and age, but their music is filled with captivating and thought-provoking hooks and verses, and layered with creative details that can be explored over countless listens.
BROCKHAMPTON’s formal debut, the recently-released Saturation, was met with praise from critics and fans alike upon its release, but perhaps the most creative layer of the album has gone largely overlooked—the track titles.
For many musicians, choosing a song title is often a simple process, wherein the most notable or memorable hook lyrics are used to name the record (see “One Dance,” “Humble,” “I’m The One,” etc...). While Saturation tracks like “BOYS” and “GOLD” are both a reflection of each song’s respective chorus, dig a little deeper and you’ll notice the easy choice isn’t always the road most traveled. Just like the last name of the group’s founder, quite often BROCKHAMPTON song titles are abstract.
For example, take track 15, “MILK.” Even after scouring over the song’s lyrics on Genius, not once could I find a reference to the popular dairy beverage over the course of the track’s 3:33 run time. What can be found are lyrics centered around the themes of self-acceptance and more importantly, self-growth. Over the course of “MILK,” we listen to BH members Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, and Dom McLennon trade verses about life and their own images of themselves. The entire sentiment of the song can be summed up in the Abstract-sung hook, “I gotta get better at being me.”
So, how does a title like “MILK” tie into all of this? Despite what the Netflix documentary What The Health would have you to believe, drinking milk regularly supports healthy body growth—especially during our younger adolescent years when our bodies are growing and maturing more quickly than at any other period of our lives. Written and performed by a bunch of 20-somethings who are just now exiting their adolescent years, it’s fitting that a song revolving around self-growth would carry the title “MILK.”
And then there’s track five, “2PAC,” which doesn’t once mention the name or legacy of the late, great Tupac Shakur. What the song does include, though, is a verse from Ameer Vann in the form of a touching tribute to his mother. The song strikes an emotional cord that is eerily similar to Tupac’s classic ode to his own mother, “Dear Mama.” The correlation between the two is impossible to miss. Immediately following Ameer’s verse, which finds the 19-year-old longing for his mama and her chicken nuggets, Kevin Abstract breaks into the song’s outro which adds another layer of similarity. With a distorted voice full of emotion, Abstract croons, “Trouble keeps following me,” an unfortunate reality that 2Pac was aware of while he was alive and, tragically, is what ultimately led to his death. It is the love a son has for his mother and the pain that his troubled past brings her that is the driving force behind “Dear Mama,” allowing the former to be gifted the name of the latter’s creator.
For “FAKE,” not only do the lyrics help us decipher the motivation behind the title but so does the song’s unique performance. Let’s start with the lyrics. Over the course of three equally fire verses from Ameer, Dom, and Merlyn, there’s one phrase that shows up on the track consistently in response to the content of their 16s—“Don’t say that.” With bars that discourage stunting, oppose chasing the almighty dollar, and declare that you shouldn’t let any person have control over you, the song at its core is anti-industry, anti wave-riding, and anti current trends.
The devil, of course, is in the details. Each verse on “FAKE” is drenched in Auto-Tune, making it nearly impossible to tell who is actually rapping. The use of vocal effects is a tactic often employed to mask a lack of real vocal talent. Basically, fake talent. Thus, the juxtaposition is created between the overall message of the song and the vessel through which it’s delivered. “FAKE” is a modern day Trojan Horse meant to disguise anti-industry lyrics within an industry-approved style of delivery.
There are other examples to go along with “MILK,” “2PAC” and “FAKE” (see “SWIM,” “STAR”), but cryptic song titles aren’t the only constant. Excluding the project’s final track, “WASTE” (which I’ll come back to in a second), every song title on Saturation is only four letters long. While the reason behind the decision to use four letter titles has yet to be revealed by any of the group’s members—Is it an aesthetic choice? Did one of the group members wake up one morning with a case of the fuck-arounds and birth the idea?—it only adds to the group’s uniqueness and creates an air of intrigue that has fans looking forward to what's next.
As for the significance of the one five-letter title, “WASTE,” we must look forward to Saturation II. Since June, BROCKHAMPTON has released three singles off of the second installment: “GUMMY,” “SWAMP,” and most recently, “JUNKY.” Yup, all five letters long. Abstract first planted the seed when he tweeted, “YES, 5 LETTER TITLES,” and BROCKHAMPTON hasn’t deviated from the plan yet.
So far, everything has pointed to Saturation II following the same format as its predecessor except with five letter titles this time around instead of four. It’s been speculated that since “WASTE” is the final song on Saturation and it is five letters long, the track will serve as an intro or bridge of some sorts to the next project. Whether that is accomplished content-wise or simply aesthetically remains to be seen.
Really, though, the only thing we know for certain is that BROCKHAMPTON is exciting, BROCKHAMPTON is creative, and their music is really, really good.