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Opinion – Brockhampton were the pivotal Gen Z hip-hop group

Formed in 2011 via a Kanye West forum, Brockhampton became a hip-hop phenomenon in the latter half of the last decade. As they head into retirement, they cement themselves as a crucial voice for Gen Z artistry, encompassing the volatile and eclectic nature of the social media era.

Hip-hop group and self-renowned boyband Brockhampton are officially over. Well, at least they will be, after one final performance at Coachella later this year.

Following a string of six studio albums and one mixtape, this large, eclectic, and diverse group of young men managed to draw in millions of Gen Z listeners and prove themselves worthy successors to their late noughties contemporaries, Odd Future.

As they played two final shows in London this week, Brockhampton provided one last victory lap to a fan base that has waited years to see them perform as a group, in the flesh, on stage. I was lucky enough to attend their last performance at O2 Brixton and was taken aback by the love and support shown by the crowd.

Brockhampton represented the pinnacle of modern music marketing, with a focus on progressive values, homegrown filmmaking, all-encompassing branding and merchandise, as well as feverish social media activity across multiple platforms.

They were arguably the first Gen Z ‘band’ or artist to truly take off through internet forums, reviewers, and community engagement. Mixing together sonic influences from Frank Ocean, Tyler The Creator, Kanye West, and many others, Brockhampton served as the first of a new wave of alternative hip-hop artists to disregard industry norms and carve a lane entirely their own.

Credit: Thred

What made Brockhampton different to other artists?

For those who don’t know, Brockhampton were a hip-hop group consisting of multiple members – upwards of ten – including performers, producers, designers, managers, and more.

The initial idea behind the group was to provide transparency to fans about the entirety of the project, not just those on the microphones performing verses. They were initially formed via a forum post on KanyeToThe by Kevin Abstract in 2011 and would later move to LA as a collective in one house.

From here, they produced their own tracks and directed videos using basic filming equipment. The group would release three albums in quick succession in 2017 known as the Saturation trilogy, which would prove to be their breakout work and magnum opus to many in the wider hip-hop community.

They were notable not only for their stellar production and consistently high-quality beats, but also the impressive versatility in subject matter, delivery, and tone. Members openly discussed homosexuality, racism, and misogyny without compromising on artistic impact or integrity. Brockhampton were genuinely progressive while remaining entirely authentic.

Couple that with their underground, grassroots come-up that could only ever have happened in the social media age and you’ve a strong case for the group being the very definition of a Gen Z conglomerate.

Their biggest hit SUGAR wouldn’t release until 2019, finding fame on TikTok and bringing with it hundreds of millions of plays. It seemed fitting for a group born and shaped by the internet to obtain its most prolific mainstream moment on a brand-new platform designed for young people.

How did they go on to influence and inspire others?

Kevin Abstract’s candid portrayal of homosexuality within a hip-hop focused space – from blunt sexual references to internal struggle – was genuinely unique in 2017.

Later successful acts, notably Lil Nas X, have cited Brockhampton as inspiration for being openly gay within their music. He would go on to star in a video with Dominic Fike for ‘COUNT ON ME’, a single from their last album.

The group also acted as a guide for others looking to build up a successful career organically without the backing of a major label.

Credit: Thred

Videos shot in LA with simple concepts and low budgets proved that viral content did not need to come from record executives, and the success of the Saturation trilogy is testament to the wonders of internet exposure. Anyone can find anything with the right strategy – and you will draw in those of a similar mindset.

This has become a more widely understood idea since the explosion of TikTok and its subsequent musical stars, a topic I touched on late last year when taking a deep dive into new-age pop punk. Thanks to newer social media apps, fame can be attained from one avenue and translated to another – this wasn’t such a clear-cut model five years ago.

Of course, in the years that have rolled by since those early beginnings, Brockhampton have changed significantly. They lost a founding member through sexual harassment and robbery accusations four years ago, derailing their plans for a Saturation follow up, and Kevin has had a successful second solo album release.

The band are now major industry names and hip-hop heavyweights, collaborating with everyone from JPEGMafia to Danny Brown. To see them call it quits nearly five years on somewhat suddenly is disappointing, but also makes sense.

As I stared round at the sold-out show in Brixton on Tuesday, I was reminded of the wonders of modern music making. Any artist can become prolific, wealthy, beloved, and anything in-between with enough talent and care. Us fans were brought together by a shared love of music and art via the internet, and it feels deeply unique to the Gen Z experience.

Brockhampton will be missed, but their influence will be remembered and felt for a long while yet.