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They’ve been insisting on the designation since their group debut in 2016 with All-American Trash, but it still feels weird calling Brockhampton a “boy band.” For one thing, that classification connotes a very specific style of polished, R&B-leaning pop full of gooey romantic lyricism conveyed by boys catering to a demographic usually formed mostly of teen girls. But the boys of Brockhampton are nothing like the vocalists from the Backstreet Boys are Brockhampton known for the rambunctious chaos they court in their live shows, where five part-harmonies are rare finds among their discordant catalog abrasive, punk-noise rap songs. Pop is the last thing on their minds.
In fact, genre seems to be the last thing they’ve preoccupied themselves with over the course of the past two years, including on their latest release, Iridescence. They’ve teetered wildly on the precipice of jumping completely off the deep end of hip-hop, itself an astonishingly broad categorization of music that has long encompassed dozens of musical styles; even calling them “alternative hip-hop” feels like a stretch. But “hip-hop” is pretty resilient, as its sole, true tenet has always seemed to be that as long as someone’s rapping, it’s rap.
With Iridescence, Brockhampton pushes that experimentation to its absolute limits, stretching the boundaries of what can be considered “rap,” all the while keeping their freewheeling exploration surprisingly well-rooted in just that. The band — and its music — is all the better for it, rewarding the intrepid listener who is willing to set aside arbitrary classifications and dive in, just the way Brockhampton has into their sweeping musical melange.
Before the release of Iridescence, the group’s frontman, Kevin Abstract, warned fans not to expect the new album to sound like Saturation, the trio of 2017 albums that earned the group their groundbreaking RCA Records deal and legion of loyal fans. However, you’d be forgiven for disbelieving him after being assaulted by the bombastic opening strains of “New Orleans,” the set’s first song and a knowing, nudging nod to the rowdy, rumbling basslines of the Saturation series.
But then the flailing rebellion of the album opener gives way to the New Agey, hymnal “Thug Life” — another knowing, winking nudge, given it sounds more like Enya than Tupac — and it’s immediately evident that this particular ride through Brockhampton’s topsy-turvy world is going to explore nooks and crannies even their most devoted fans wouldn’t have expected.