What makes a boy band? If it’s synchronized dance moves, frosted tips and syrupy pop, then self-identified “all-American boyband” Brockhampton ain’t it. The crew does, however, sometimes don matching outfits, except its version of the boy band trademark is sporting bulletproof vests inscribed with slurs like “Ni**er” and “Fa**ot,” as it did at Coachella earlier this year. Clearly, we’re not dealing with a group of ramen-haired Justin Timberlakes.
“Just cause we’re not white and some of us rap and like dick and dye our hair and make good music doesn’t mean we’re not a boyband,” rapper and Brockhampton founder Kevin Abstract tweeted last year.
It’s statements like those, paired with moshpit-ready hip-hop, that have won the 13-member collective of 20-somethings—rappers, singers, producers, graphic designers and videographers—a legion of fans. Many of those devotees will flood the Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan when Brockhampton performs on December 6. If you aren’t already planning to be among them, here’s why you might consider joining in.
Brockhampton are the patriots we need. The group’s insistence in referring to itself as “all-American” isn’t ironic or satirical; it’s fitting. While the ragtag crew’s core is from Texas, where it made its home base before moving to LA, its members come from all over the world. Rapper Merlyn Wood was born in Ghana, his accent lingering in his brash delivery. Singer/producer Bearface is from Northern Ireland, and producer Jabari Manwa is from Grenada. Others hail from Florida and Connecticut. Together, they approach topics like homosexuality and open up about their insecurities. That might scare some Americans, and it’s exactly why we need more of it.
Frontman Kevin Abstract is a necessary voice. He has rapped about his sexuality repeatedly, to the point where he had to address it on 2017’s “Junky”: “Why you always rap about bein’ gay?/’cause not enough ni**as rap and be gay.” But he doesn’t want to be defined by his queer status. “In order to make a change, I have to exist in a traditionally homophobic space such as hip-hop. If I were to just be this queer rapper who only spoke to queer kids … I don’t think I could as effectively make a change for another young, black queer kid,” he recently told U.K. magazine ShortList.
Brockhampton won’t tolerate any aggravation, even from its own members. Founding member Ameer Vann was kicked out of the group in June after former girlfriends accused the rapper of sexual misconduct. As a result, Brockhampton canceled tour dates, pushed back its fourth album and took a brief hiatus before returning in September with Iridescence, more in-tune with one another and stronger than ever.
The music is incredible. Whether it calls its music hip-hop or pop, Brockhampton leans more toward the former. There are elements of Southern trap-rap, Odd Future audacity, Pharrell Williams whimsy and Frank Ocean fragility. Songs like “New Orleans” and “Where the Cash At” sound like they’re going to war in a No Limit tank, while “Weight” and “Tonya” reveal tenderness. Be prepared to jump around, and wave your lit cell phone in the air.
BROCKHAMPTON December 6, 8 p.m., $30-$60. The Chelsea, 702-698-7000.