If you were doubting that The Family is indeed the end of the road for BROCKHAMPTON, there’s a rather shocking detail about the hip-hop collective’s final album: It’s just Kevin Abstract. There are no slick verses from Dom McLennon, no ecstatic hooks from Merlyn Wood, no introspective choruses from Joba. 13 tracks in — the album’s title track — Ciarán McDonald (A.K.A. Bearface) sings a brief verse, marking the first and only time we hear from anyone other than Abstract.
That being said, there’s a bit more to the “final album” story that’s been revealed: along with the release of The Family, the band has also announced the surprise release of TM (out at midnight PST), an album of songs that do feature the rest of BROCKHAMPTON. Executive produced by member Matt Champion, TM is an album that wasn’t completed upon recording, but has now been finished to be paired alongside The Family.
But let’s dive into what BROCKHAMPTON has stressed is, “for sure,” the final album. After a rousing performance at this year’s Coachella, BROCKHAMPTON announced The Family (which arrived Thursday, November 17th) by playing a rather ominous video: Abstract gets all 12 members of the band together to share that he went to New York to make a new album, a project specifically about BROCKHAMPTON, and that this would be the final album. While many may have speculated a limited amount of involvement from the band’s other members, it still seemed odd to envision a BROCKHAMPTON album completely devoid of the full group theatrics and its members’ versatile artistry — especially for their final LP.
And yet, that’s what The Family is, and what it’s intended to be. The band bills The Family as “a story about BROCKHAMPTON,” and Abstract details the album as “the truth.” He explains this on the album’s first song, “Take It Back,” rapping “I had to save the truth for the last shit/ Anything I said before this was passive.” And throughout, we get the full picture of Abstract’s reasoning. The group has been holding him back, he’s been neglecting his own artistry and mental health to take care of the other members, and his relationship to them has changed to an irreconcilable place.
On the one hand, there’s a great deal of love and respect that Abstract imbues into The Family. Though Abstract is alone in the booth, classic soul samples swirl around him, pitched up and warped. “Take It Back” is a particularly joyous way to begin the album, and it feels like Abstract is looking back on the journey of the band with an assured eye. It sets the album up to be a celebration of death, rather than a moody and meditative mourn. He mentions — as he does in the announcement video — that he still has love for the members of BROCKHAMPTON. He notes in “Gold Teeth” that while the group is hardly on speaking terms, the work they made together is “Godly.”
On the other hand, there’s a bitterness that seeps deep into the album, and it sounds like years of group tensions resurfacing across remarkably short hip-hop, R&B, and pop songs. Abstract often sounds betrayed and agitated, oscillating between looking back fondly on the past and railing against the pressures and limitations he’s experienced from the band, the fans, and their label.
He pinpoints the exact moments where things went wrong: his decision to abandon the band at an awards show in search of a solo career on “All That,” their success leading to competition between members and resentment on “The Family,” a fight he had with producer and vocalist Jabari Manwa that changed their relationship on the album’s final song, “Brockhampton.” These are illuminating entries from Abstract, a “Behind the Music” segment spread out across an entire album. He resists writing about anything but himself, the band, and himself in the band.