In January, one of hip-hop’s most daring and visionary collectives, Brockhampton, announced that it was calling it quits. After more than a decade of making music, the band’s dissolution felt like a bittersweet yet inevitable denouement. Bittersweet because the self-proclaimed “all-American boy band” from San Marcos recently appeared to have reached a creative apex—its sixth studio album, 2021’s Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine, stood out as its most mature, focused record to date. But for a group as large and convoluted as Brockhampton, fragmentation is unavoidable—its more than a dozen members are black and white, queer and straight, singers and rappers, producers and audio engineers, graphic designers and webmasters. Look at the collective’s two most obvious predecessors, Wu-Tang Clan and Odd Future, both of which saw their members venture off into solo careers and separate projects as they became adults. So when Brockhampton promised fans a final album in an April promo video, it seemed like an appropriately timed send-off, a coming-of-age arc organically achieving completion.
Well—not so fast. Let’s pause on that promo video. In it, Brockhampton’s founder and leader, Kevin Abstract, sits before the group and explains that he “went to New York [and] made something. It’s not a solo thing . . . it’s a group album.” A quiet confusion courses through the room. The camera zooms in on rapper Matt Champion, who looks away and then down, nodding almost imperceptibly. “I’m gonna just play it,” Abstract continues, “and then we can have a discussion.” What the band ostensibly heard next was The Family, the seventh and final Brockhampton studio album, which dropped last Thursday. The Family, however, is not a Brockhampton album; it’s a Kevin Abstract solo project branded as a Brockhampton album, one in which Abstract details the tensions and dramas that led to the death of the group, as well as his own desire to create a life and career beyond Brockhampton’s shadow. It’s a conflicted, confounding album that, upon release, instantly set the band’s hyperactive subreddit ablaze with conspiracy theories and scorching takes, each argument grappling with several key questions: Why did Abstract bar every member but Bearface from the album? By making a solo record, was he doing the band members a favor, fulfilling their RCA contract so they could all receive payouts before officially breaking up? Or was this a selfish decision concocted to control the narrative, to prioritize Abstract’s perspective over his bandmates’?
Less than an hour after The Family dropped, another surprise surfaced: Brockhampton would be releasing an additional album, TM, at midnight. A press release confirmed that the entire band was included on the record—a “parting gift” to fans, the statement called it. Apparently, though, TM would not feature new material but recycled recordings from 2021, many of which had been circulating online for over a year. In both the press release and a personal note Abstract posted to social media, The Family was confirmed to be the band’s actual farewell album, not TM. Whereas TM was a collection of cast-off songs lucky to see the light of day, The Family, according to Abstract, was “the greatest Brockhampton album ever,” one that “would bring closure to the past.”
It’s understandable why Abstract wanted the last word. In 2010, as a fourteen-year-old living in Corpus Christi, he posted a question to an online message board: “Anybody wanna make a band?” By 2014, he had compiled a supergroup comprised of his high school friends (ex-member Ameer Vann, Joba, Matt Champion, and Merlyn Wood) and people he met online (Bearface, Dom McLennon, Jabari Manwa, and Romil Hemnani), naming the band after the street on which he grew up: Brockhampton. The crew then moved to San Marcos, piling into cheap apartments and recording music from sunup to sundown. Their early work was messy and mostly gestural, scrappy rap songs that emphasized distinct, stylish production and lyrics that focused on sexuality and identity. Despite developing a small following, the band members knew they needed to leave Texas to become bona fide pop-rap stars. So, after releasing its debut mixtape, 2016’s All-American Trash, the group relocated to Los Angeles. “I was really desperate,” Abstract recalled about this time. “I really wanted to be famous. And I really wanted my friends to have money.”
To achieve these goals, Brockhampton wisely followed in the footsteps of its most obvious influence, Odd Future. Led by Tyler, the Creator, the California-based collective’s disruptive hip-hop sent shock waves through the pop-culture landscape in the early 2010s. The group was a hodgepodge of misfits and outcasts, skaters and stoners and queer kids whose raps fused shock-value absurdity with agitated adolescent paroxysm. Before social media provided unfettered access into the lives of influencers and celebrities, Odd Future allowed fans entry into its social circle through consistent Tumblr and YouTube posts that offered intimate glimpses into the crew’s inner life and artistic process. By consuming its content, it was easy for fans to feel like they were part of the group—or, crucially, that they could be part of the group. Odd Future was not the first DIY alternative rap troupe, but it was one of the first to wield the internet as a platform to establish a brand bigger than music. For legions of teenagers, Odd Future was a lifestyle, an identity, a raison d’être.
Years later, Brockhampton put its own spin on the Odd Future formula. The members weren’t as ostentatious as Tyler, the Creator and company, and not nearly as punk, but they similarly transformed their band into a brand synonymous with inclusivity and boundless creative experimentation. Just look at the lot of them: multiracial and multinational dudes with mullets and box braids, normal on the outside yet wonderfully weird within. They documented each stage of their journey, too, making short videos about their backgrounds and eventually landing a Viceland show that showed them struggling to pay the bills and expand their audience. In these clips, their drive and desire practically punched through the screen—it was invigorating to watch a fraternity of oddballs exploring their artistry in real time, sleeping on couches, chain-smoking cigarettes, making beats with the drapes drawn, pacing and muttering verses under their breath. “If the guy next to me is pushing this hard,” producer Romil Hemnani told GQ in 2019 about those early years, “I have to go just as hard—if not harder.”
The music that emerged from this period remains some of the most absorbing alternative hip-hop of the past decade. The Saturation trilogy—a run of three albums released over a span of six months in 2017—showcased the band’s peculiar production, quirky music videos, and gleeful genre blurring, its sound straddling hip-hop, R&B, pop, and indie rock. While occasionally unwieldy, the Saturation trilogy displayed enough virtuosity to entice RCA Records to sign Brockhampton to a three-album, fifteen-million-dollar deal. In 2019 the group released Ginger, a polished, pop-oriented record that rose to number three on the Billboard 200. Brockhampton’s star further ballooned when it performed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that year and when Dua Lipa remixed its hit song “Sugar” in early 2020. And yet, less than two years later, as Brockhampton’s popularity peaked, Abstract tweeted that the band was breaking up. “I feel like we’ve achieved everything,” he told GQ. “I feel like we’ve done more than we said we would do.”
For the first time in Brockhampton’s history, the group went quiet. It performed its last live set in April and announced an imminent farewell album. And now, as promised, it’s here, an Abstract solo project billed as a Brockhampton record, titled The Family. Taken in a vacuum, it scans as a suitable entry into the band’s extended universe, but it falters as the coda to the collective’s oeuvre. Even though the songs are reflective and sincere, Abstract’s desire to tie a bow on the Brockhampton experiment feels misguided. Sometimes, like on the album’s title track, he seems to resent his former bandmates, belittling their attempts to control him: “Motherf—ers be sayin’ / ‘Say this, but don’t say it like that, though’ / ‘Say it this way’ / ’Cause you gotta think about all of us, represent all of us.’ ” On “Take it Back,” he admits he “had to wash that blue paint off so I could be free”—a nod to the Saturation era, when members of the band frequently painted their bodies blue.
Sometimes, Abstract lets slip that he’s a careerist at heart, like on “Boyband,” on which he identifies himself as a “borderline genius” who’s ready to “reach new heights” by leaving the group. These sentiments make sense, of course; why wouldn’t Abstract want to pursue a creative path unburdened by a dozen disparate perspectives unaligned with his own? It’s not the sentiment that’s flawed but the presentation of it. Too often, The Family feels like a Viceland episode instead of an album, a piece of attention-seeking content rather than a carefully considered work of art.
Which is not to say that The Family doesn’t sound excellent. Abstract brings his surgical attention to detail and flair for world building to the album, flaunting a cohesive blend of sample-based beats, J Dilla–inspired transitions, and lo-fi guitar ballads. On the mic he sounds rejuvenated, his cadences matching the explosiveness of early 2010s Kanye West. When he sings, his voice undergoes pitch shifting and exhibits choral effects that create the sensation of being surrounded by a band, a mode that’s served Abstract well on previous solo albums. Despite these strengths, though, The Family feels rushed and, at worst, sloppy, an interpretation aided by Abstract’s repeated insistence that he made this album, in part, to fulfill the band’s record contract. When he veers into vulnerability or waxes nostalgic, like on “My American Life” and “All That,” the emotional potency falls flat, as if he’s cycling through memories while waiting for a check to clear his bank account.
Abstract may have founded Brockhampton, but he was hardly the sole engine behind its success. Unlike Odd Future, which orbited around three generational talents (Tyler, the Creator; Frank Ocean; and Earl Sweatshirt), Brockhampton’s magic materialized when its members’ contributions coalesced into something greater than anything they could’ve accomplished on their own. Though TM is an uneven listen, it has enough excellent moments—like “FMG” and “New Shoes”—to confirm the fact that Brockhampton was never a heliocentric collective; its gestalt most clearly crystallized when it dared to push boundaries as a unit, as a family. While Abstract was no doubt the dominant visionary, his friends helped bring his vision to life, if not refashion it around their own idiosyncratic gifts.
Although the band allegedly released both albums to fulfill its record contract (Abstract and other Brockhampton members declined to comment for this story), The Family throws a complicated wrench into the group’s legacy. Tea spilling and singular talent were not what elevated the guys from San Marcos from dreamers to global superstars—it was their strength-in-numbers approach and voracious creative prowess that cemented their status as Gen Z icons. Of course they were eventually going to move on. It’s just too bad it had to happen like this.