It’s Saturday and I stand in the crowd at Blurry Vision Music Festival in Oakland, anxiously waiting amongst hundreds if not thousands of other teens for the beloved rap group Brockhampton. Cold, pacific winds relentlessly blow on our necks–but none of us mind. Everyone is too busy building hype for Brockhampton’s set.
“I only came to this festival for Brockhampton,” a guy two rows up from me comments. The girl to my left fondly reminisces on prior Brockhampton concerts she had seen. All the young people, within 30 feet of the stage with me, are hugely excited to see their favorite rap group come out. I am excited as well — ever since Brockhampton’s album Saturation was recommended to me on streaming services, I have been a fan of the group. Their unique production and incredible chemistry as a group hooked me from the second “Gold” came through my headphones.
When the Los Angeles group finally took the stage, the crowd went insane, I felt a connection with all of the other teenagers around me. We were all supporters of this group, and bonded as we sang along to their music. As I watched, I could not help but wonder: how did so many of us teenagers end up at this show? I remember as a pre-teen seeing high schoolers affected the same way by Brockhampton’s indie hip-hop collective predecessors — Odd Future. Was this the same feeling Odd Future gave to teens years ago?
From the edgy, humorous works of Odd Future, to the immaculately-produced songs of Brockhampton, teenagers seem to gravitate toward rap groups overnight, and in numbers. Once they get ahold of the albums they create, they won’t let go. Competition to become the best fan erupts, and soon students are asking each other: “can you even name all the members?” and “what’s your favorite album by them?”. Teens hear it in the hallways, see it on social media, and perhaps even say it themselves. But who are teenagers to blame? Rap groups provide some of the most fun, high-intensity music in the world. The question is, however: why do teens love these groups so much, so quickly? What causes this phenomenon–this Odd Future Effect?
Since the dawn of rap music, rap groups have been an important facet of the genre. Groups like NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, and Wu-Tang Clan are often credited as groups who changed rap. The anarchic and laid back mentalities they displayed resonated with young people everywhere. For this reason, they developed a massive fanbase, spanning across America and beyond.
Fast forward almost twenty years, and a small group of young men from L.A. by the name of Odd Future was formed, seeing seemingly overnight success. Look on any class picture or street corner in the early 2010s, and you would find a group of teenagers rocking donut-plastered t-shirts, supporting the beloved group. Tyler, the Creator’s bold and blunt delivery combined with Earl Sweatshirt’s impressive wordplay was enough to win over the hearts of young music listeners everywhere. Before their eventual quasi-breakup circa 2016, the group had sold out years upon years of Odd Future music festivals, and had their own Adult Swim sketch comedy show: Loiter Squad. Over time, Odd Future slowed their music output until it eventually stopped. Before teenagers were left without a rap group to turn to, their savior had already arrived: Brockhampton.
Led by Kevin Abstract, who formed Brockhampton through a Kanye West fan forum post asking for band members, the group had a unique background to say the least. While other rap groups were often comprised of a tight knit group of friends with similar motivations, Brockhampton was a melting pot of ideas, styles, and people. This is their greatest asset. Their debut mixtape All-American Trash featured a vast span of production styles and writing themes, and is considered an essential work for any Brockhampton fan to listen to.
In 2017, just a year after the release of All-American Trash, the group released a trilogy of albums titled Saturation, with each installment receiving acclaim from teenagers and music critics alike. Now, in 2018, they have landed a multi-million dollar record deal, performed at Coachella, and announced yet another album set to release in June.
But why are teenagers so obsessed with Brockhampton and other rap groups? Since Brockhampton is a self-declared “boy band,” they have won over the hearts of teenagers just as groups like One Direction and NSync did. But there’s more to the picture here — boy bands do not usually have such gritty style and intense concerts.
I got a firsthand look at Brockhampton’s Odd Future Effect at Blurry Vision 2018 in Oakland over the weekend. After braving the howling winds and growing crowd throughout multiple sets preceding them, I found myself within 30 feet of the stage as their set was beginning. I was alongside their biggest fans: teenage boys and girls who were looking to go wild. People of all backgrounds were anxiously waiting to see their favorite rap group come out.
When Brockhampton came out, they accompanied six blue-masked strings musicians, who played each song’s instrumental throughout the show. The group flipped through their catalogue of hits, such as “Boogie,” on which Kevin Abstract opens the song with questions about societal censorship, asking his listeners, “What are the rules for breakfast today? What are the words I’m forbidden to say?”. They also performed hits like “Gummy,” featuring a high-pitched chorus declaring “Cash don’t last, my friends will ride with me,” expressing the supreme value of loyal friendships over money.
Between songs, band members would motivate the crowd to go crazier and crazier. Brockhampton has strength in numbers — members who aren’t busy singing or rapping could spend their time hyping the crowd up. “Open the pit!” they would yell, and their fans would form a moshpit that grew infinitely large. It was one of the most active crowds I’ve ever been in. At the end of the set, Brockhampton immediately exited the stage, as they had performed as long as was allowed. Satisfied, and worn out, a large chunk of teenagers fell back in the crowd, as they had seen who they had came for. When SZA came out after Brockhampton, much of the teenagers were leaving; to them, Brockhampton was the true headliner of the day.
After looking at the history of rap groups, the music of Brockhampton, and the dynamic of their shows, it has become increasingly clear why teens love rap groups so much. They offer an outlet for that teenage rebelliousness, that refusal to obey. At a rap group’s show, one can go as crazy as they would like. With such a gritty, bassy discography, most songs offer its listeners the chance to rage out and yell the lyrics.
In addition, these groups empathize with the problems many teenagers may deal with, like feeling misunderstood or insecure. In the case of Odd Future, esteemed member Earl Sweatshirt was surely familiar with these issues. On his solo song, “Chum,” he raps, “I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained, and I’m frightened…”. Brockhampton is no stranger to these issues, either. Dom McLennon, for example, weighs in on his uncertainty on their song “Junky,” rapping, “My sight of the future beginning to taunt my ambition…”.
Content aside, modern rap groups in themselves tend to have at least one member every young person can relate to. They often feature people of numerous origins and styles. Brockhampton is especially diverse, as they have members of multiple backgrounds, races, and sexual orientations. Thus, they serve as a perfect match for the diversity of a high school student body. On top of all this, rap groups mirror the cliquiness that exists at a high school. Therefore, when a group or clique of teenagers go to an Odd Future, or Brockhampton concert, they are given the opportunity to sing and dance afront a group where it’s not hard to spot people with similar interests and backgrounds to them.
Rap groups are comprised of young, expressive, unique individuals, similar to groups of teenagers. So, when a new rap group is on the horizon, teenagers are quick to become fans. For teenagers, they serve as a reflection of themselves, that dances on a stage as they dance in the crowd. The Brockhampton show I attended only reinforced this Odd Future Effect theory, as I watched thousands of teenagers behold the group as if they were their best friends.
These guys still have a long way to go before they build a legacy as great as the likes of Odd Future, but are already well on their way. Like Odd Future, Brockhampton has also been featured on a television show called American Boyband on VICELAND. It is only a matter of time before they start launching pop-ups on Fairfax Avenue and selling out their own festivals — perhaps as soon as the cycle surrounding their upcoming record Puppy, which drops next month.
Brockhampton was not the first rap group to blow up overnight, and they certainly will not be the last. Rap groups serve an important purpose in uniting the young society with the music world, and will likely continue to do so long into the future.
Zachary Friedman is a high school senior from the East Bay readying to enter college in the fall. You can catch BROCKHAMPTON at Agenda Fest in Long Beach this June, as well as at festivals like Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza.
Photos by Chad Cochran