BROCKHAMPTON are a group who refuses to stop working. ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, now their sixth studio record, has come only four years into their career, after the largest gap in the group’s discography (17 months), only thanks to COVID’s fury. This fruitful and busy schedule, combined with some internal group drama, drove their last record, GINGER (2019), to a realm of depression and self-reflection. Following a very contentious release, iridescence (2018), GINGER was by far their most emotive record; pushing their hard-hitting beats and swagger to the back, and replacing it with New Orleans funeral marches and genuine, rage-driven studio door-slams. The bank-robbing BROCKHAMPTON from SATURATION (2017) was, arguably, completely gone.
Fast-forward through the pandemic and, ironically, the bombastic group is back—with the help of some new friends. A cool and confident “Who let the dope boys out?” kicks the record off, before featured artist Danny Brown lets his craziness out: “Live from the gutter, blood like red paint spills / You n****s ain’t alpha, you’re incels.” “BUZZCUT” is BROCKHAMPTON’s return to stunning intro tracks; among the likes of “GUMMY,” “BOOGIE,” and “NEW ORLEANS.” It’s a clear and confident statement to make, and perhaps a way to let fans know GINGER was an anomaly, not the new norm.
But while songs like “BUZZCUT,” and the braggadocios “BANKROLL”—”I’m walkin’ with a limp, got too much bankroll”—revisit the bass-boosting, smooth-strutting persona established across much of the group’s SATURATION series, ROADRUNNER finally presents the multitude of identities the group has come to have, post-GINGER. The group grazes past their R&B side with “COUNT ON ME,” a gorgeous and genuine moment as they reach their hand out to those in need. “THE LIGHT” is a contender for darkest BROCKHAMPTON moment ever, with Joba spouting lines like “When I look at myself, I see a broken man / Remnants of my pops, put the Glock to his head.” And of course, we get the follow-through, with Abstract and Joba’s great chemistry on “THE LIGHT PT. II.” Rather than a true revisit of their powerful, confident selves, ROADRUNNER is a constant balance between the outgoing and reclusive sides the groups have shown.
“DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY,” my favorite track on the record, embodies both sides of their cleverly constructed coin, meshing a crazy, noisy, party-like environment with important political messages about shootings in America—”All American self-hatred runs deep / White boys all I see whenever I sleep.” If their goal was to truly stop the school shooting epidemic in America, I’m not quite sure if it was the best way to do so, but the song’s infectious, crowd-like energy adds a certain mmph to their message for those who actually care to listen.
Outside of “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY,” though, the record fails to effectively mix these two identities in a way that makes clear, solid sense. Connected tracks like “THE LIGHT” and “THE LIGHT PT. II” seem to imply an overarching meaning to the record, but almost every song with a featured artist (“BUZZCUT,” “CHAIN ON,” “BANKROLL,” “WINDOWS”) distracts from this possibility, shouting lines like “We rob n****s just because, n****.” There’s no inherent harmony between the two, fracturing and distancing the two styles, further than they already were.
Despite the inconsistent presentation, BROCKHAMPTON’s ROADRUNNER is a strong and vocal return to confidence, as well as proof they can balance multiple, strong featured artists for the first time. Both sides of the record have their moments. But I can’t help but feel the featured artists’ tracks should’ve been saved for singles, where the emotive moments could’ve been built around more.
Favorite Tracks: “BUZZCUT,” “CHAIN ON,” “THE LIGHT,” “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY”
Least Favorite Tracks: “BANKROLL,” “WINDOWS”