Brockhampton is part rap group, part startup, part family, part vision for the future.
The 15-member juggernaut of talent and energy, formed by the charismatic Kevin Abstract in San Marcos, Texas, ripped into 2017 with the swiftness and fury of a tornado skidding across Kansas on an unseasonably warm night. Last year, the self-proclaimed first "boy band" of the internet released a series of three albums, the appropriately titled Saturation I-III. They had a show on Viceland called American Boyband. They performed on MTV's TRL painted head to toe in blue paint. And they very quickly exploded in popularity, already able to headline stages big enough to contain them.
It's not often that a dozen-plus artists can get behind a singular vision without reserve, and their commitment to the Brockhampton sound is what makes them such a force to be reckoned with. To put them in their proper context, we've ranked the performing members of the group in order of importance. This ranking isn't complete—there's a shit-ton of members, many of whom play non-performing roles involving graphic design and photography. But it should give you a taste of what Brockhampton is, and a preview of what they'll surely become.
1. Kevin Abstract
Special skill: Cult leader, hook master
Every movement needs a leader, someone whose charisma can catch the attention of the world—and in this case, persuade a group of artists to drop everything and move to LA. The Texas-raised rapper has that power. Abstract's the one who sings all of the band's infectious hooks, but that's not his only talent. His verses are nakedly honest, often discussing his queer identity and the consequences of it in the rap world. His music is urgent, new and smooth.
2. Ameer Vann
Special skill: Deadpan confessions
With his deep, smoky baritone and close-trimmed mustache, Vann looks years older than the rest of the crew even though he's one of the group's youngest members. His flow is controlled and subdued compared to the wild, bursting-at-the-seams energy of his peers. Still, don't mistake his restraint for a lack of skill or talent. Vann is one of the group's strongest lyricists. His verses have a menacing, nuanced bite that kick around in your brain long after the beat's faded out.
Special skill: Shapeshifting
JOBA—real name: Russell Boring—is a true renaissance man. He first met a handful of future Brockhampton members as a high school student in Houston, recording and engineering some of Abstract's early work, and realized they had a rare artistic chemistry. Boring's verses can be hard to identify because his voice is so fluid. On "Boogie," he sounds like a hysterical mad scientist, while on "Face," he sings the hook in a soulful falsetto. But "Johnny" features Boring's best verse yet, discussing sobriety, anxiety and his innate desire to hide from the world with artful poise.
4. Dom McClennon
Special skill: Technique
Like Kevin Abstract, McClennon forged his own path as a solo artist before joining forces with Brockhampton, and his experience as a seasoned rapper shows. McClennon's syrupy voice contains an intoxicating, unshakable confidence rare in performers his age. It's not all swagger—he's the group's most technically proficient rapper. His verse on "Gold" is a master class in flow and clever word play. McClennon's lyrics aren't always full of substance, but thanks to his technique, they are always memorable.
5. Merlyn Wood
Special skill: Ace Ventura-level physicality
Wood oozes emotion into every verse by conscripting his entire body into it. Voice, body, breath—Wood expends all energies to achieve his desired effect. It's a level of physical animation that calls to mind the likes of Busta Rhymes, Ol' Dirty Bastard and Missy Elliott. Like Busta, Wood takes on various dialects when it suits him. He's from Texas, but at times it sounds like he hails from Jamaica, Haiti, Queens or Miami. This is perhaps Wood's greatest talent—the ability to manipulate accents, pronunciation and inflection to create a new, authentic language.
6. Matt Champion
Special skill: Smooth flow
Champion is a good rapper surrounded by great ones. His lyrics are funny enough, and his delivery is often smooth. Still, when sandwiched between Abstract's electrifying hooks and JOBA's hysteric shrieks, his verses are enjoyable but forgettable. He has his moments, though. On "Rental," Champion showed an unforeseen versatility, singing about giving up everything for love in an angelic, controlled falsetto. The tonal shift in both delivery and theme proves that Champion has earned his seat on the Brockhampton bus.
7. Romil Hemnani
Special skill: Banger slangin'
Hemnani, who produced nearly every track on Saturation III, manages to cater to the talents of Brockhampton's deep and diverse roster. He's the dude behind all of the singles, and he's one of the most interesting production talents in hip-hop. His beats are like a shot of adrenaline straight to the jugular, walking a fine line between big-hearted playfulness and cheesy, bombastic shlock. "Boogie," the opening track on Saturation III, features two different kind of sirens, a wailing, '80s-style sax and bone-shaking bassline. It's big, loud and totally banging.
Special skill: R&B guitar ballads
Hailing from Belfast, producer-singer Bearface (real name: Ciaran McDonald) provides a necessary palate cleanser to Brockhampton's sound. Most Brockhampton songs sprint along at a breakneck clip, but McDonald operates best when things are slowed down, the lights are turned low, and the production is stripped to the bone. On both "Waste" and "Summer," which close out Saturation I and II, respectively, McDonald sings his heart out over a wailing guitar riff, which unfurls patiently and beautifully in a way that sounds more like a Frank Ocean song than a typical Brockhampton joint. Like an unseasonably warm day in January, McDonald's songs are a welcome surprise to the Brockhampton experience.
9. Q3 (Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley)
Age: 21 (Manwa), 20 (Merley)
Special skill: Synths, horns, vibes
The production duo Q3 also takes a more laid-back approach. Their muted horns and catchy synths are for Sunday afternoons as you do laundry, wash dishes, smoke a joint and try to shake off the hangover Saturday night stuck you with. Their style is a great balance to Hemnani's pedal-to-the-floor approach—after all, an album of nonstop siren noises would give you a hernia.
SEE IT: Brockhampton plays Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., on Friday, March 2. 9 pm. $35. All ages. Get tickets here.