Favorite Track: “BANKROLL (feat. A$AP Rocky & A$AP Ferg)"
Least Favorite Track: “OLD NEWS (feat. Baird)”
Few hip hop acts of the modern era have maintained a discography as consistently memorable as the Texas based boy band BROCKHAMPTON. Be it their fun, creative and consistently unique SATURATION series, or their somber and harrowing records like 2019’s GINGER, the collective has long proven their legitimate unpredictability. Their latest LP ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, is at large their most accessible. It is the first time the group has boasted big name rap features and tracks that sound slightly more catered to a larger audience; but don’t think the band has left behind their emotional roots either. ROADRUNNER simultaneously feels like their most emotionally potent, eloquently produced, and radio-ready album thus far; in this way, it truly refuses to be pinned down.
ROADRUNNER is BROCKHAMPTON’s second to last album and the boy band has seemingly struck gold in a way they never have before. Whereas GINGER found its strength through emotion, and the SATURATION series spread its wings through bass-bumping car bops, ROADRUNNER somehow manages to combine both. It effectively blends these tones without ever feeling directionless or lost. Moments like the link between “THE LIGHT” and “THE LIGHT PART II,” which come on completely different sides of the LP, might as well have been in tandem. They’re so memorable that the former seems to pick up right where the latter left off.
ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE opens with its primary single “BUZZCUT (feat. Danny Brown)”. Atop a remixed Merlyn Wood verse from “BLEACH”, Kevin Abstract screams “Who let the dope boys out?”. Everything that follows is just as bombastic as his opening battle cry. For example, the outro is a complete firestorm that features Merlyn psychotically screaming over heavenly vocals from Joba. It's a stark contrast that feels consciously off putting. The following “CHAIN ON (feat. JPEGMAFIA)” feels like Peggy at his most BROCKHAMPTON. The arpeggiated synth loop, bubbly bass, and lyrically intricate wordplay from Dom McLennon are a call back to some classic songs from the band’s back catalog.
“COUNT ON ME” was the second single released by the band and fills the third spot in the track list. Jabari Manwa’s eclectic production style really shines through here with a simple whistle serving as the track’s main melodic driver. Below it, he, Romil, and Kevin pepper massive 808’s, descending guitar steps, and paper thin hi-hats. Notably, “COUNT ON ME” also features a slew of uncredited features. A$AP Rocky pens the lead verse, Shawn Mendes and Ryan Beatty sing harmony on the hook, and SoGone SoFlexy spits verse number two. These uncredited collaborations are much more fun to discover upon repeated close listens than they would be if they came from reading the song title. This choice from BROCKHAMPTON feels entirely purposeful, and to no surprise almost everything on ROADRUNNER does.
“BANKROLL (feat. A$AP Rocky & A$AP Ferg)” bangs harder than every other track on ROADRUNNER by far. The way that the cut opens with quick-witted, finger-picked, acoustic guitar builds insurmountable tension. The resolution comes when the beat drops and Ferg goes absolutely ballistic, a moment so genius that one can’t help but jump. It turns out that Merlyn Wood and A$AP Ferg have wildly compatible rap styles, and their back and forth is fit for just about any club known to man. If it weren’t for the soulless verse from Jabari on the back half of this song, it might have just been the best banger of the year. “THE LIGHT” is our first look at the album’s main thematic glue. Joba reveals that his father recently passed away from suicide, before going into what is perhaps the second most powerful verse that BROCKHAMPTON has ever recorded. It is hard to believe that he shares the number one most powerful verse only twenty minutes later.
“WINDOWS (feat. SoGone SoFlexy)” is a clear-cut posse track. It is hard to listen to this song without picturing the band standing in a circle as they pass the mic to the next emcee. Every one of BROCKHAMPTON’S vocalists are featured on this track, and it really is a beautiful display of chemistry. This is a song that could never have come from the SATURATION era. It couldn’t have possibly been made until a time like now, where these men have rallied around the support of a broken member. In this case it is Joba. Their love for one-another translates just as easily to hard rap verses as it does emotionally cathartic support. The following two tracks, “I’LL TAKE ON YOU (feat. Charlie Wilson)” and “OLD NEWS (feat. Baird)”, are the album’s two slowest moments. They both are more R&B/Pop slanted than any of the other thirteen tracks that the band offers on ROADRUNNER. Outside of a rather non-notable feature from Charlie Wilson, they serve as two breaths of fresh air in the track list. “I’LL TAKE YOU ON (feat. Charlie Wilson)”, is carried by its incredibly detailed production from Romil. It sounds larger than life, especially for an electronic tinged boom-bap song. It flows into “OLD NEWS (feat. Baird)” seamlessly on account of the two song’s similar tempo, and overall feel.
Almost every single track on the second leg of this album features at least a small appearance from Joba. They’re consistently great and don't miss a single beat, but his contribution to “WHAT’S THE OCCASION?” is by far one of his strongest. The song see’s Matt Champion and Joba waxing over toxic relationships before arriving at an absolutely grand outro. The song concludes with a larger than life explosion of distorted guitars, heavenly layered vocals, and deep cut drums. If it wasn’t clear already by this point in the album it becomes un-ignorable that BROCKHAMPTON has some of the most talented producers in hip hop.
The album’s final moments continue to impress, but they all seem to lead up to the last verse the project offers. “WHEN I BALL” see’s the guys reminiscing about childhood. The production fits the subject matter, with endearing strings and cute pianos. The song is also Dom McLennon’s strongest appearance on ROADRUNNER by a long shot. “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY” see’s Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, and Joba discussing bigotry and gun violence. It comes from a more politically charged place than most BROCKHAMPTON songs, but the intensity in their favor.
The second to last track ROADRUNNER offers is “DEAR LORD”, a two-minute, A Capella/gospel song with a choir lead by bearface. The track feels like a tranquil meditation, preparing the listener for the album’s unforgettable conclusion. Our last taste of ROADRUNNER is “THE LIGHT PT. II”. It is ultimately Joba’s final moment on an album that is clearly meant to be his. For nearly two minutes, he pours his heart out in the most emotionally potent verse BROCKHAMPTON has ever recorded. He opens himself up at an angle where he couldn’t be more vulnerable, as he recounts the story of his father’s suicide. He speaks of future grandkids that he wishes his father could meet, he blames himself, and he wears his heart on his sleeve the entire time. As the instrumental fades out, Joba leaves listeners with a final plea: “The light is worth the wait, I promise wait/Screaming please don’t do it”.
ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is nothing short of an emotional roller coaster. Each passing moment feels equally unpredictable, and where the album ends could not be more unexpected based on where it begins. At this point, BROCKHAMPTON has become a band that you can’t help but feel lucky to share the planet with; living at the same time as them actively feels like watching history being written. With co-signs from legends like RZA and Rick Rubin, it is clear that BROCKHAMPTON have carved themselves a place in history as one of the most talented, innovative, and consistently genuine rap collectives of all time. Multiple members have stated that ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is their second to last LP, and with how it turned out, fan anticipation for their final project will undeniably build insurmountable pressure for the group to perform. However, BROCKHAMPTON has never really missed, so why would they start now? Whatever is on the horizon feels monumental, and all signs point to the upcoming final chapter of the BROCKHAMPTON legacy to be something truly historic.