BROCKHAMPTON is grim and grimy on ‘I BEEN BORN AGAIN’

Wednesday, August 7, 2019 - 6:13pm

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Hip hop’s most beloved boy band is back on the album rollout circuit for their upcoming record GINGER, and they’re here in full form on “I BEEN BORN AGAIN”: All six vocalists on the track, a bass-booming beat from in-house producers Romil Hemnani and Jabari Manwa and a gritty black-and-white music video accompanying the single.

The track starts with a breathy and blood-curdling intro that turns the group dynamic on its head once you realize it’s bearface delivering the sinister lyrics. Although BROCKHAMPTON switched up their formula in 2018, bearface is still the most underutilized vocalist, making his appearance on album-closing ballads and the occasional bridge or chorus. Hopefully this teases more new bearface cuts to come.

Layers of instrumentation make waves on this beat, but it’s as if each sound pops in and out to give the others time to shine: piano keys, an ominous synth, record scratches, chants and claps and kicks and hats over a booming bass. It’s densely packed without being overbearing, cartoonish but a little bit creepy — almost reminiscent of “The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy.”

Lyrics have been in tighter focus on more recent releases for the band, and here is no exception. Kevin Abstract’s verse is intensely personal as usual. He continues to talk about a lot of the things he spoke on in iridescence and his solo release ARIZONA BABY. Joba’s voice is eerily pitched for a chopped and screwed sound, and his abstract lyrics are silky smooth. 

Afterward the beat breaks down and an out-of-place bridge echoes, “You oughta be ashamed of yourselves.” Matt Champion closes the song with a catchy outro, but Dom Mclennon and Merlyn Wood don’t add much to the track — in fact, Merlyn manages to make it weird in his brief appearance when he says, “She so bad I let her touch my butt.” It’s a goofy line and a mental image nobody asked for. (“Merlyn, what the fuck?”)

One of the musical elements that garnered BROCKHAMPTON so much love on their SATURATION trilogy is catchy hooks, the kind of chorus that wraps its words around your brain. The group scrapped their sticky-sounding hooks for more experimental song structures on iridescence. A catchy hook is absent on “I BEEN BORN AGAIN” too, a sign that GINGER will continue to switch up the formula, experimenting with their sound and structure.

While “I BEEN BORN AGAIN” shows that the chemistry is back and all the boys are showing up to bat, it’s easy to miss the old BROCKHAMPTON formula. Long gone are guarantees of a catchy hook from Kevin, or show-stealing verses from Matt and Dom. While the track still holds up, it’s hard not to think about it: If Dom and Merlyn’s quick verses and the bridge were cut and the song had a proper hook instead, the whole song would land so much stronger. It’s good that BROCKHAMPTON continues to experiment — the SATURATION formula would get old after a while — but this track shows they still haven’t nailed a new dynamic.