Brockhampton: A new kind of boy band

Aug 29, 2018 - Artist Stories

It’s hard to imagine what the neighbors thought when they watched from their windows as Brockhampton filmed the “Gold” music video on an otherwise quiet Southern California block. The footage could easily be mistaken for a reel from a B-movie about a group of strange, benevolent extraterrestrials who crash land on Earth. While one member of the group walks the streets in a giant cardboard box, another sports a wizard hat with a moon on it. A third dances between the cars in a blue robe-and-wig combo that invokes the galactic funk of George Clinton and Parliament.

This is the world of Brockhampton, a boundary-pushing collective of rappers, producers, designers, and photographers that subversively describes itself as a new kind of boy band. Led by Kevin Abstract, a rapper who has also directed videos like “Gold,” the group constantly exceeds any label or category that might be applied to it.

The platform that connects their various interests—music, cinematography, branding, storytelling and graphic design, to name a few—is YouTube. And while Brockhampton’s neighbors may not understand what the group is doing, a growing number of fans have realized that their channel is one of the most interesting places in music today. Videos like “Gold,” “Suite,” and “Boogie” have helped the group earn over 60 million views across YouTube in the last 12 months alone. In April, their rowdy Coachella sets were livestreamed on YouTube to their legion of fans, and last month their clip for “1997 Diana” hit the YouTube Music Trending charts in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Australia. All told, the collective — which was recently tapped for YouTube’s Artist on the Rise program — has amassed over 400k subscribers on the channel.

"Being a part of Artist on the Rise makes perfect sense, because YouTube has played such a pivotal role in Brockhampton’s career,” explains Brian Washington of 4 Strikes, the group’s management company. “Fans discover them there, and the guys grew up on the platform."

In many ways, the group’s visual aesthetic draws from skate videos, 2000s rap music, and the sort of left-field content found in YouTube’s deepest trenches, with an everything-up-for-grabs attitude being key since day one. Take the earliest upload on the Brockhampton channel — the music video for Kevin Abstract’s “Drugs” documents a few members of the group holding an impromptu concert in a Walmart frozen food aisle. The store’s employees even allow them to proceed. The message is that art can happen anywhere, at any time, and be shared with anyone. [video-id="hAU5jvX6z98"] But the story doesn’t end with stand-alone music videos. In ”Billy Star,” billed as “A Tragedy by Kevin Abstract,” the group experiments with short film, telling the story of a fictional character named Helmet Boy while introducing new music in the process. Helmet Boy appears across music videos and films, weaving together different content in the Brockhampton universe. Even the music videos are far from static. A director’s cut of “Empty” expanded the clip to a full 20 minutes, adding new footage shot around L.A.

Meanwhile, the documentary “All-American Trash” takes fans behind the scenes as the band hits the road. Rather than receive secondhand stories about the band, we see what it’s like to hang out with them ourselves. The camera never lingers on a single scene for much more than 30 seconds, cutting around their house as they record, scheme, and mess around in every room — always moving, always creating.

It is this idea of constant, cross-discipline collaboration — a seamlessly interlocked mix of original films, music videos, intimate tour diaries, surprise music drops — that just might be Brockhampton’s signature innovation. “I always used to say, at the end of the day, I want Brockhampton to be like Paramount or something, and you don't really know who's behind it.” Kevin Abstract explained to The Fader in 2017. “You just think about Brockhampton and all the types of content we provide.”

And their YouTube channel is where this sort of open-ended innovation happens — here Brockhampton is able to create as much and as widely as they desire, and share that directly with their ever-growing subscriber base.