They’ve made some great music. They’ve made some mediocre music too. This here is special. On 1998 TRUMAN, BROCKHAMPTON taps into a level of cringe that I prayed they never would.
Political commentary? I’m all for it. It just needs to be cohesive. This track starts with a sample of a sermon from Jim Jones, famed cult leader and conductor of the Jonestown Massacre: “You’re doing just exactly what the man wants you to do: Buy his goods, so you’ll never have any real economic freedom. [...] You’re not free, you’re a slave!” This excerpt enforces the critical sentiment that BROCKHAMPTON borrows from The Truman Show, which was released in 1998, hence the song’s namesake.
Nebulous songs about ‘taking down the man’ had their time. It’s cliché’d now. It’s time to get specific and self-reflective. While the hooks and verses to follow are valiant attempts at that, each member comes off as scattered, distracted, and unassured.
Since this hook tails the Jim Jones sample, one would expect to hear some antigovernment sentiment. Instead, we get a barely intelligible hook about being lonely in the club. Also, I don’t know if my standards are too high but I don’t have much hype left for the “Drugs/Love/Club/Thugs/Buzz” rhyme scheme.
While it is impressive that he maintains his flow without rhyming for the majority of the verse, bragging about success doesn’t contribute anything to the theme. They seem to be losing traction with the whole antigovernment thing.
Kevin Abstract’s Hook
It doesn't need to be here. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when artists break from the hook/verse/hook/verse format, but Kevin’s hook is even more vague and irrelevant than Merlyn’s. We really don’t need to hear both back to back.
Matt Champion’s Verse
I know that triplet flows are the fad these days, and boy bands are known to overlap styles with other pop stars, but really? I get that Matt was trying to maintain his persona and sport a trendy flow at the same time, but this much disconnect warrants a wince or two. Verses like these water down trends like those and make them cliché that much faster. Also, it’s not easy to vibe to a verse with “Suck my dick and my balls” and “I hate on myself when I look in the mirror” only seven lines apart.
Dom McLennon’s Verse
While it is a relief that Dom makes an attempt to revisit the initial theme of ‘taking down the establishment,’ his contribution is just as vague and cliche’d as the sermon sample is. This verse is strewn with random analogies and references, with “I'm dreaming of making moves like the government” tacked on at the end. Remember. I'm asking for ‘specific and self-reflective’. This doesn’t even graze that.
Even the most devoted BROCKHAMPTON fans admit that these Bearface outros don’t have the shimmer they used to. At the last opportunity to tie the song together, we get: “Oh, your love / Won’t you come this close to me? / Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah / Be with me now that you're free (free, free) / Oh yeah (yeah) / Won’t you come this close to me? / Baby, baby, yeah.”
Aside from the content of the lyrics, this beat switch really misses the mark. Again, don’t get me wrong: it is very possible for a late shift to improve the song. For example, on “The Blacker The Berry” by Kendrick Lamar, the outro serves as an echo, a breather for the audience to process the densely penned bars they just heard. It also serves as a vivid soundscape, a location for the audience to maneuver to, which ultimately propels the flow of the album. I understand that comparing anyone to Kendrick is a tall order, but plenty of other successful outros exist. At the end of “Grief” by Earl Sweatshirt, Earl plugs a deliriously bubbly loop at the end of a slow, grueling song to provide a sarcastic and eerie ambience, which further reinforces his deliberateness as the track's producer.
1998 TRUMAN is full of risks that don’t pay off. Nevertheless, I’m glad they took they took these risks. Stagnancy at this point would undoubtedly stunt their Glo. I just hope the rest of their new album is more specific, cohesive, and original than this single.