The untold truth of Brockhampton

BROCKHAMPTON IS A BOY BAND. We're sorry if that seems aggressive, but this collective group has a bombastic personality. Case in point, the band's name and most of its song titles are stylized in all capital letters. Hailing from Texas, Brockhampton officially started in 2015 with its single "Bet I" and released its first three albums two years later. 

This musical crew is comprised of rappers, singers, producers, and a webmaster — all with the same desire to follow in the footsteps of mega boy bands like One Direction, according to The Verge. Despite bringing in more people to an already devoted fan base, not unlike BTS, Brockhampton perhaps hasn't reached that level yet. However, the band is still wildly popular among the Twittersphere for its members' high energy performances, relatability, and a willingness to talk about the mix of sexualities and races within the group. With its fifth record, Ginger, dropping in August 2019, Brockhampton has continually shown its creativity is bursting at the seams.

Whether you're a fan of boy bands, rapping, or even web designing, this group will have something for you. Don't believe us? This is the untold truth of Brockhampton.

Don't you dare call Brockhampton a rap group

Most stories about Brockhampton center around a common theme of the band redefining the traditional concept of a boy band. In the 1990s, dreamy, hair-gelled crooners took over the world. Fans either wanted or wanted to be these superstars. Brockhampton members took notice and found inspiration in this when they were only children. For proof, the 2017 song "Sweet" features this lyric from member Joba: "Listening to NSYNC, saw my name on the CD / Bleach blond tips, wanted to be JT."

In an interview with W magazine, the boys of Brockhampton spoke about the media's tendency to mislabel them. Kevin Abstract, the group's main founder and leader (more on him later) explained, "I don't know who said it, but someone said that we were the 'internet's first boy band' and we never said that." Abstract had previously tweeted to not call Brockhampton a rap collective — like Odd Future or the Wu Tang Clan — but rather a "boyband." While speaking with W magazine, fellow member Merlyn Wood chimed in definitively with: "We're a boy band because we say we're a boy band." Well, okay then.

Most of the Brockhampton guys have been roomies

What's the biggest sleepover you ever had? Were you and your friends writing and producing a No. 1 album together? Kevin Abstract summarized Brockhampton's history of living together to GQ in June 2019. After the group first formed in 2014, he said, "We all moved to Texas and lived together." The team later moved to South-Central Los Angeles and then to North Hollywood, all the while continuing to live together. Even though most members got their own places after the third shared home, Abstract explained that the group got a house dubbed the "Creative House," where members come in and out, often crashing wherever there is space.

As much as it seemed like all fun and games at these various group homes, the boys spoke of paranormal activity when first moving in to the South-Central Los Angeles residence — which they called the "Factory" – during a group talk with Canadian interviewer Nardwuar. Revealing that one of the guys found an Emmy Award at the property, producer Romil Hemnani said that the landlord explained it belonged to the previous owner, an actress who supposedly lost her mind. To this, Hemnani claimed, "There's ghost in the house now." Spooky stuff!

The truth behind Ameer Vann's Brockhampton exit

In May 2018, Brockhampton vocalist Ameer Vann was accused of sexual misconduct on social media. According to Pitchfork, several women who either claimed to have been in relationships with Vann or knew the rapper otherwise took to Twitter with allegations of physical and mental abuse along with other illegal activities. In later deleted tweets, Vann responded that while he admitted to being disrespectful to partners in the past, "I have never criminally harmed anyone or disrespected their boundaries. I have never had relations with a minor or violated anybody's consent."

However, quickly following the accusations — and notably amid the #MeToo movement — Brockhampton announced that Vann had been kicked out of the group via Twitter. Meanwhile, the remaining members canceled the rest of their U.S. tour. In a follow-up piece, Pitchfork further detailed the original allegations and reported on additional stories from other women who had come forward against Vann. While speaking with Billboard that July, Kevin Abstract explained how he and the band spoke internally with Vann immediately following the allegations because a "family's built on trust." Explaining that Vann "broke that trust," Abstract revealed that this is what led to the decision to no longer welcome the accused rapper as a member of Brockhampton.

Is Brockhampton too big to fail?

One of the first things most people notice about Brockhampton is the number of group members. This boy band varies in size, depending on when and who you ask, but the core group has always started with band creator and informal leader Kevin Abstract, as outlined by Complex. Ameer Vann was a key vocalist — plus the face on Brockhampton's first three album covers — until being kicked out of the group due to his alleged involvement in a #MeToo scandal. Matt Champion, Dom McLennon, and Merlyn Wood round out the remaining pure rappers. Russell Boring, who goes by Joba, is a producer, sound engineer, and rapper/singer with the unofficial award for most hairstyles since the inception of the band. Ciarán McDonald — a.k.a. Bearface — mainly plays guitar and sings, notably on the last track on the band's first three albums.

The remaining members may not sing or rap, but are just as equal in the band, appearing alongside the rest of the Brockhampton crew in public appearances. Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley collectively call themselves Q3 and run production. Robert Ontinient started as the band's web developer and later added production work. Ashlan Grey is the group's photographer and cinematographer, while Henock Sileshi (a.k.a. HK) is the creative director and graphic designer. Finally, Romil Hemnani is Brockhampton's lead producer and one of the more outspoken members during interviews. Oh, and don't forget tour manager Jon Nunes.

Now, who's your favorite?

It all started on a Kanye West fan site

If you can believe it, there actually used to be more boys in Brockhampton. The first group iteration was a band called AliveSinceForever, which consisted of 40 (!!) members, according to Complex. Though Kevin Abstract was a main part of the original band, he explained in an interview with The Fader that he wanted more creative power. With his own vision of a band, Abstract reached out to other AliveSinceForever members to branch off and try something new. 

At some point in this process, Abstract took the internet to find like-minded individuals who wanted to make music together. In 2010, Abstract — under the username Harry Styles — posted a simple question to the Kanye West forum website Kanye To The: "Anybody wanna make a band?" Abstract posted a note saying that he was leaving the band and starting Brockhampton four years later. In response to Abstract's search for members, The Verge reports that some 40 people ended up joining Brockhampton. After several cuts to reduce the number of members, the group was finalized and moved to Los Angeles to begin its music career on the West coast. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Fans are interested in more than just Brockhampton's music

Gaining celebrity status after starting off as a humble musician seems fairly common, and yet Brockhampton's rise to fame really does stand out for its vast mix and number of group members. Viceland producers took notice of the boys' charm and created the mini-series, American Boyband, in 2017. The show follows Brockhampton in its early days, that is, soon after the boys moved and started living together in Los Angeles (via The New Yorker). Across eight episodes, the series documents Kevin Abstract's first headlining tour across the U.S. and the rest of the Brockhampton members joining him along the way. In the finale, the boys are back together and making music videos.

A year later, the group decided to release its own documentary, The Longest Summer Ever, directed by Abstract. Billboard reports that the film focuses on a hectic few months for the band, including the allegations against Ameer Vann. The boys emotionally describe watching the situation unfold, wondering if it was "the end of everything [they] had worked so hard for." Cue Ansel Elgort to the rescue! The Baby Driver actor invited the band to Hawaii for a much-needed rejuvenating vacation. The documentary — or, maybe Brockumentary — ends with the band returning to form and recording its fourth album, Iridescence, at the famed London recording space, Abbey Road Studios.

Brockhampton's leader is out and proud

Apart from being Brockhampton's founder and unofficial leader, one thing that immediately sticks out about Kevin Abstract (real name Clifford Ian Simpson) is how open he is about being a queer rapper. He often raps about his sexual identity and struggle to come out in both his solo recordings — as reviewed by The New York Times — and in Brockhampton's songs. As he once tweeted in reference to the group's second album, Saturation II, "I say I'm gay on every song." While speaking with GQ in June 2019, Abstract explained, "I came out through my music before I came out through myself."

Ultimately, Abstract's musical goal is to address difficult topics while packaging his lyrics inside a danceable tune, citing his "favorite song ever" — Outkast's "Hey Ya!" — as an example. Indeed, the artist's music is all about meaning … and he sometimes goes to pretty extreme ways to show it. When Abstract released his solo album, Arizona Baby, in April 2019, he tweeted that he was going to run on a treadmill for ten hours in front of his childhood home. A fan who viewed the stunt asked him about it and later tweeted, "He said it was to teach empathy," because the record "is about empathy and vulnerability."

The Brockhampton crew puts on wild live shows

While some artists thrive on studio recordings, others make a name for themselves as amazing live acts. Brockhampton falls into both categories, but its live shows are epic and sometimes used for music videos, like this one-take shot for "New Orleans." A writer from the New York Daily News once praised the band's high energy and ability to "seamlessly weave sing-song choruses with bada** rhymes and tight choreography." In 2018, the annual Pitchfork Readers' Poll placed Brockhampton as number four in the "Best Live Act" category.

The boy band showed no signs of slowing down the following year. According to Stereogum's performance review of Brockhampton's Governors Ball set in 2019, the boys "strutted around the stage with a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of energy" while performing hits from their four-album discography. All this while wearing matching space suits and surrounded by a gold airplane set design, no less.

The untold truth about Brockhampton's music videos

Most of Brockhampton's early music videos were filmed at the band's Los Angeles home. This once included working with an alpaca for "Gummy." While speaking with GQ in June 2019, Kevin Abstract explained the music video making process during the group's Saturation era: "That's kind of when I decided to really direct our own stuff. We would normally put out a song, see how people responded to that song, and then have a week to make the next video." 

Using this feedback "as inspiration on how to make the next video better," the artist went on to reveal the impact of meeting filmmaker Spike Jonze through the American Boyband series. In addition to giving Brockhampton helpful notes and critiques of its video clips, Jonze had encouraged Abstract to make the most out of filming around their neighborhood. "That honestly changed everything for me," the rapper said. "It made me reimagine the stuff that was right in front of me."

For a visual frame to give their videos a more personal feel, Abstract found further inspiration in the 4:3 aspect ratio used in the 2016 film, American Honey. To give the viewer the feeling of being there with the band, he decided to incorporate this into the Brockhampton video universe.

What's up with Brockhampton painting themselves blue?

If Brockhampton's on your radar, you might have noticed that the boys are often painted in blue body paint. This trend began with the band's "Star" music video in 2017, which Kevin Abstract revealed was his favorite to GQ. As for that blue body paint inspiration, he explained that the idea was inspired by Hype Williams' music videos, particularly the one for Busta Rhymes' "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See," in which the iconic rapper wore red tribal paint. However, Abstract changed it to blue because, as he put it, "Blue is also less problematic, if you want to be painted a color."

Later that year, the cover of Saturation III featured a saturated photo of Ameer Vann wearing blue face paint. In support of this album, an all-painted-in-blue Brockhampton stormed into Times Square in New York City by way of jumping out of a van for a high-profile street performance of "Boogie" outside of MTV's famous TRL studio. Since then, this has evolved to others being painted in blue, such as in the 2019 music video for "If You Pray Right" from Brockhampton's fifth album, Ginger.

The Brockhampton universe is kind of cryptic

There's no doubt there are a lot of weird things about Brockhampton, but it's difficult to tell whether or not this is on purpose. For example, the band's name is usually stylized in all caps — BROCKHAMPTON — as indicated on its Twitter page. The same is true for the group's song names and album titles, with the strange exception of Brockhampton's fourth album, which is styled in all lowercase: iridescence. On a similar note, JOBA stylizes his name in all capitals, but no one else in the band does. Meanwhile, singer Ciarán McDonald goes by "bearface." — all lowercase letters with a period at the end.

As for why, it's hard to say, considering even the band's Instagram feed — mostly featuring headshots of different members with no captions at all – doesn't provide any clues. However, Complex perhaps put it best with, "No one knows. It may or may not be important."

Can anyone else make sense of this all? Well, Brockhampton's fans have definitely tried. The boy band's fervent fan base have shared some interesting discussions on a subreddit where Brockhampton memes and theories run wild. Here's an example: NSYNC, one of the biggest boy bands ever and an inspiration for Brockhampton, often stylized its band's name in all capital letters, too. Coincidence? Feel free to debate.

Brockhampton introduced themselves with a ton of music

Many musicians spend the first part of their career putting everything into their debut album, which often creates that "sophomore slump" effect for their follow-up effort. According to LA Weekly, this is when an artist is forced to start the songwriting process all over again with time constraints based on the first album's popularity. Yikes.

Clearly having none of this, Brockhampton decided to go on a creative blast to introduce itself to the world. The band dropped its debut album, Saturation, in 2017, plus another two for a trilogy of full length albums that same year. However, these records were anything but filler. As reviewed by Consequence of Sound, each album received even better critical reception than the last. Despite the internal difficulties the group faced over Ameer Vann's exit, Brockhampton was at it again less than a year later with the release of its fourth albumIridescence. Due to the fans' continued support, Billboard reports that the boy band got its first number one album on the Billboard 200. No big deal.

Having released their album, Ginger, in August 2019, the boys of Brockhampton completed the almost absurd pace of dropping five albums in less than three years. It's Brockhampton's world, y'all, and we're apparently just living in it.