On Brockhampton’s latest album, “Ginger,” the rap collective and boy band pen their most personal set of lyrics yet. Unfortunately, the songs are often marred by spotty production choices and inconsistent performances.
The band primarily consists of various vocalists and producers: Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, Bearface and Joba. They skyrocketed to fame following the release of their first three studio albums in 2017, dubbed the “Saturation” trilogy. The consistency of the albums in spite of their close release dates, as well as the streaming success of singles like “Bleach” and “Sweet,” drew in what would become one of the most fervent fan bases in music.
As the follow-up album 2018’s “Iridescence,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, “Ginger” had a lot to live up to. The album kicks off strong with “No Halo,” the best of the four singles. It’s a signature Brockhampton ballad in which the group divulges their flaws and failures as individuals. The song introduces the more personal lyrics surrounding depression and discontent that the album focuses on throughout, and it also features some of the project’s most passionate performances.
The follow-up track “Sugar” makes several callbacks to “Bleach” from “Saturation III” with its heavily auto-tuned vocals and its reuse of that song’s tape rewind sound effect. While not as catchy as its reference point, “Sugar” still features a memorable hook from pop singer Ryan Beatty and strong verses from Champion and McLennon. It’s followed by the single “Boy Bye,” which is easily the most fun and light song on the album. Though it’s not a genre Brockhampton have drawn from often in the past, the trap influence on the track is clear — with triplet flows, ad-libs and prominent hi-hats — and even extends to other songs with more minimalist beats, like “Love Me For Life” and “Victor Roberts.” It’s almost the exact opposite of “Iridescence” stylistically, as that album’s instrumentals were heavily layered and at times too jumbled.
The album’s streak of hits ends with “Heaven Belongs To You,” a track that features British rapper Slowthai on vocals. Slowthai is a talented up-and-comer in the rap game, but he isn’t a member of Brockhampton, so it’s odd that he’d be the sole vocalist on one of their songs. The track is paired with “If You Pray Right,” as both songs share samples and get their names from a Nina Simone song. However, the songs are not back-to-back in the tracklist, and the appearance of “St. Percy” between them makes for an odd detour.
On “Dearly Departed,” the group finally addresses ex-member Ameer Vann, who was removed from the band following allegations of sexual misconduct in 2018. Although the band had talked about the departure publicly, stating that they “were lied to,” it was an issue that had not yet been mentioned in their music. The song sees Abstract, Champion and McLennon pen verses about their former band member and how his actions affected them. Abstract reflects on how the scandal destroyed their friendship, Champion on how Vann lied about the situation and McLennon on how Vann was involved in other heinous acts, including the robbery of one of McLennon’s friends. It’s a tough song to listen to, especially for longtime fans, although the fantastic lyricism makes it a definite standout.
Aside from “Dearly Departed,” the second half of the album is significantly worse performance-wise, as it features only one single and a number of tracks that hardly distinguish themselves from one another. This is largely a result of the group upping the melancholy tone even further in this section, which leads to even less passionate performances. The title track is the best of the bunch, and it both interpolates the “Saturation” demo “Gemini” and features tasteful production defined by its uplifting synth leads. Even still, the vocal effect on Bearface’s voice doesn’t go over well, and the only member who really shines on the track is Champion. This point in the album is also where Abstract and Joba’s performances truly begin paling in comparison to their fellow members, especially on tracks like “Big Boy” and “Love Me For Life.”
The last three songs don’t end the album on a high note. Despite some striking lyrics about police issues and betrayal of trust on “Victor Roberts” and a strong verse from Wood on “Love Me For Life,” the spacy production and downtrodden performances only accentuate the problems that some of the earlier tracks suffer from.
While “Ginger” is certainly Brockhampton’s most mature album lyrically, I can’t help but feel let down by the project overall. Champion and McLennon often outshine Abstract and Joba, and Wood only has verses on four of the 12 tracks. Brockhampton went for a much more emotional and gloomy aesthetic, but they need to commit; it feels like they compromised by trying to also retain their pop appeal. And while this sound can certainly work for them, as it does on songs like “No Halo” and “Dearly Departed,” spending more time refining each song to ensure consistent quality would have served the band well. For all its inconsistencies, “Ginger” still has something to offer most listeners, and fans will surely get a lot out of the album’s lyrics and a handful of strong tracks.