Whoever coined the phrase quality over quantity likely never recorded or released an album. Oftentimes, even on albums that are widely considered to be classics, quality can only be born from sheer quantity.
Take, for instance, Kanye's masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a prime example of the necessitation for quantity. Over the course of several months, Kanye enlisted the help of dozens of artists in a Hawaii recording studio, creating material in bulk. In the distillation and crystallization of the MBDTF, tens if not hundreds of beats, verses, and even entire tracks fell by the wayside.
Along those same lines, Questlove recently revealed that The Roots have recorded 263 songs for their forthcoming, final full-length album, but only 14 will ultimately make the cut. That means that in the process of forming the album, 249 songs (!!!) will be ruthlessly locked away, potentially never to see the light of day.
There isn't a name for this practice—at least not one that I'm aware of—but let's go ahead and call it the Tip of the Iceberg Syndrome.
In theory, while the tips (a final product like MBDTF) can be quite dazzling, they also make us curious and mournful of the bulk (everything that was cut) that lies in the depths, discarded and forgotten. And although we as listeners occasionally do get a glimpse of these leftover works (thanks again for untitled unmastered., Kendrick), they are often too rare and come either via tragic circumstances in the form of a posthumous release (see Tupac's Loyal to the Game) or as a pure cash grab by a washed artist and/or greedy label.
Which brings us to BROCKHAMPTON and, more specifically, their new album, Saturation II, the second edition of what was recently announced as a trilogy. When BROCKHAMPTON announced Saturation II before the release of Saturation, and then did the same again with Saturation III, they essentially said ‘fuck it’ and turned the idea of the iceberg on its head.
Instead of hoarding a countless number of songs and then slowly separating the cream from the crop in the form of singles and then a shiny, refined album, the “American Boyband” decided to simply release a wealth of music (admittedly not everything they’ve recorded) as it is made in real-time—or at least what feels like real-time.
Instead of hearing all of this material at the inevitable end of BROCKHAMPTON, when its members’ branch off and pursue solo careers over the next decade, we get to witness the actual weaving of the cloth from which classics are cut and how stars are born into the world, rather than settling for glimpses in retrospect or out of context.
In a musical climate where anything from PR strategies to memes can often overtake the actual art, Saturation II and its siblings are as much a depiction of how art is made as the art itself. While the final product is far from perfect, what is made clear, however, is that the members of BROCKHAMPTON are moving toward stardom and supreme quality with all the momentum in the world, even if they are not quite there yet.
And, despite the wild, creative energy Saturation II embodies as they charge toward their final destinations, the album is far from slapdash, is mostly cohesive and has certainly yielded some diamonds.
Let’s dig into three of them...
3 Standout Tracks
In a somewhat similar vein to tracks like “XXX.” by Kendrick Lamar, “QUEER” is a record that masquerades as a prototypical “tough” rap song with a hidden, gooey, emotional nucleus. Matt Champion and Merlyn Wood kick off the track with two defiant, chest-puffing verses that push back in the face of adversity. Then beat switches to a synthy, airy quilt of sounds where Dom McLennon, and later Ameer Vann, rap uplifting lines like “I’m black and smart and sexy, universally appealing / Genius what I’m dealin, something ain’t sealin'” and “My whole life slowly turning to a daydream, I hit the bank with a smile on my face mask.” And as the hook details, no matter what comes your way (maybe insults like queer?), you always have friends you can fall back on.
Over a beat that’s somehow both minimal and all-out, each participating member respectively brings their very best effort. Kevin Abstract raps about how his unapologetic sexuality allows him to “do the most for culture by just existing.” Later, Matt Champion brings in hard bars about respecting women and getting consent. “JUNKY” solidifies BROCKHAMPTON as renegades that only march to beat of their own drum, and in the right direction at that. Whereas other rap groups have had trouble ousting members that have been accused of sexual assault (see A$AP Mob), here BROCKHAMPTON makes a proactive statement against these issues without even been urged to do so. And they do it with style as well.
In what opens like an extra cut off Frank Ocean's Blonde, a floating voice (almost definitely Kevin’s) croons painfully, “You know that you should be my boy-yy-yy.” A heavily instrumentalized track, "SUMMER" beautifully groups layered vocals with spacey guitar riffs and haunting piano chords. Outside of the lyrics, the track seems to manifest itself as a brief respite for BROCKHAMPTON in their mad dash toward the future. As summer is ending, they seem to take a quick rest stop and, in doing so, let wash over them all that has happened on their journey so far. When it’s over, it’s back to business, but sometimes you have to look back on the path behind to know how to proceed on the one ahead.