Brockhampton producer Romil Hemnani just won two stuffed bears from a crane game, and fellow beatmaker Kiko Merley is running through the concessions area, yelling in celebration. Twenty feet away, rapper Merlyn Wood is blasting their new song “Sugar” through his backpack speakers while group leader Kevin Abstract scrolls through the Brockhampton subreddit and shares fan-created memes with fellow MC Matt Champion.
The boys are in a relaxed mood. They just released their new album, GINGER, and there’s a sense of relief in the air as they decompress from the group’s most challenging period since forming on the KanyeToThe forums in the early 2010s. It’s been 15 months since former member Ameer Vann parted ways with the band amid allegations of sexual misconduct, and nearly a year since they dropped a major-label debut album (Iridescence) that came as a letdown to some fans, despite critical praise.
Signing a $15 million deal with RCA Records and contending with an internal crisis in front of an expanding audience, everyone in the group had to grow up fast. So they took a break from recording and moved into separate houses for the first time in the history of the band—a sudden departure from years of living and creating together in a home they dubbed the Brockhampton Factory, which relocated from Texas to Los Angeles in 2016.
Disrupting the creative environment that produced their breakout trilogy of Saturation albums in the summer of 2017 was a risk, but they all agree the change has been positive. If the Brockhampton Factory era was their dorm room experience, 2019 was a chance for every member of the group—all in their early to mid-20s—to finally test the benefits of independence.
As he searches for the best words to describe the current era of Brockhampton, Kevin Abstract jokes, “All Grown Up! Like that cartoon show with the Rugrats.” Having battled through a traumatic period marked by Vann’s departure and the weight of expectations that come with a massive record deal, they emerged with a deeply personal album they all agree is their best work yet. Reenergized, they now have their sights set on the future, squarely focused on reaching as many people as possible and becoming the biggest artists in the world.
Rapper Dom McLennon admits that he misses living with his friends, but he makes it clear that the move has been a healthy change for them all. “There were certain aspects of living together that were super dope, like being able to wake up and hear my favorite song being made,” he says. “But now I’m more confident and comfortable in my own skin when I go to work on creative stuff. I’m taking the time to take care of myself, and I wasn’t doing that when I was living with everybody. I would just jump straight in the studio from waking up.”
Instead of living and working around the clock under the same roof, they now come together to record at a house in the Hollywood Hills. “There’s still a central house,” Abstract confirms. “We call it the Creative House, because the creative team lives there. We set the studio up there, so we go there and record. We worked on GINGER there, for the most part. We shot a lot of videos over there. That’s where we have group meetings and stuff like that.” Romil explains that they end up spending most of their time together at the house: “It’s just like how it’s always been, always together working on music.”
Despite living apart from each other, they stumbled into a way to be closer than ever: a weekly tradition they call Friday Therapy.
“Every Friday, all of Brockhampton and a bunch of artists, or just whoever is in L.A., will come to our house,” Abstract explains. “We’ll sit in our kitchen, go around this big circle, and one by one say what our week looked like and what we went through. Good or bad—it doesn’t have to be a terrible thing. It could be something happy.”
“We want hits. We want to dominate radio and be the biggest band in the world, but we don’t want to ever try to sound like what’s popular.”Kevin Abstract
In early 2019, Abstract finally connected with his childhood hero through mutual friend Jaden Smith. “We talked on the phone, because we were supposed to do a video together. He was saying, ‘Set up a music video. It doesn’t have to be a three-minute video. It could be, like, 30 seconds, or it could be 10 hours long.’ Then he came up with an idea, and I’m like, ‘That’s fucking amazing.’”
LaBeouf’s idea was for Abstract to produce a live stream of himself running on a treadmill in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, for 10 hours. As he walked on the treadmill, fans were free to walk up to him and watch. Some asked questions. Some took photos. Others, watching at home on a YouTube stream titled #THE1999, were reminded of LaBeouf’s own live stream experiment from 2015, when he watched his own movies for 24 hours.
The rest of the group looks back on Abstract’s experiment as a moment of inspiration. “Being able to see all of that happen in real time was amazing,” Dom says. “I was in the studio with Bari, making music, watching #THE1999. Just because I was that inspired seeing my friend. It’s how hard you’re willing to push yourself that really matters. Watching that, I was literally writing songs about that shit.”
After the positive collaborative experience with Abstract, LaBeouf started leading Friday Therapy on a weekly basis. “Everyone followed his lead,” Abstract says. “He was talking to people, giving them advice. It was really cool, and then we just started doing it every week ever since then.”
The Friday sessions ended up informing the lyrical direction of GINGER. It’s clear that each member was working through emotionally heavy issues, and GINGER contains some of the group’s most personal, introspective material to date.
On “Dearly Departed,” they tackle the feelings of loss and trauma that lingered after Ameer Vann’s dramatic departure, which was met with a mixed response from fans. Addressing a May 2019 voice memo in which Abstract said he was “writing music and songs and albums from hell” and felt like he had to “release music not from joy but from obligation,” Kevin raps: “RCA, that note wasn’t ’bout y’all. No lies, it was about how me and my brothers been traumatized/And I must keep creatin’ truths and hooks to get up outta this hell for myself.”
At the end of the song, McLennon shares his take on the events that unfolded with Vann before concluding his verse with a cathartic scream, releasing a gasp of pent-up stress the whole group has been carrying over the past year.