One Listen Album Review: ‘Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine’ by Brockhampton

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Brockhampton, America’s favorite hip-hop boy band of the last half-decade, is back with the release of their sixth studio album “Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine.” According to Kevin Abstract, this album will be the group’s penultimate release, with their final album as a collective coming later on in the year. Initially pegged as the new Odd Future, Brockhampton has since grown into one of the more entertaining and innovative collectives in hip-hop, consistently pushing the sonic boundaries of alternative hip-hop and pop-rap with constant innovation in their style, sound, production, thematics and deliveries. 

Their newest album follows 2019’s release of “Ginger,” a more emotional and reflective album highlighting the trajectory and evolution of the group both personally and artistically. After a great duo of lead singles for the album, Brockhampton is returning from its longest gap between studio albums with considerable momentum. “Buzzcut,” a high-energy and abstract single featuring the electric Danny Brown, was released with an equally wild and entertaining music video. A week later, the group followed up with another great lead single in the A$AP Rocky assisted “Count On Me,” a more melodic and lighthearted track with fantastic production.

Here are my track-by-track reactions and overall initial impressions of “Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine.”

Brockhampton: “Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine” (April 9, 2021)

1. “BUZZCUT” ft. Danny Brown

The first lead single for the album is one that has been in my rotation since its release two weeks ago. The initial instrumental, an abstract and upbeat electronic beat with hard-hitting bass, sets the tone for the new album with an invigorating feel. Kevin Abstract’s verse and Danny Brown’s feature verse are equally great, and both fit the energy of the song incredibly well. The outro of this song is really dialed-back from the initial burst of liveliness, and closes out the intro well. Overall, an awesome and exhilarating introduction.

2. “CHAIN ON” ft. JPEGMAFIA

The abstract production continues with the second song, and with great success. Jpeg absolutely kills the feature with an amazing verse. I don’t want to overestimate on first listen, but this will probably end up being one of my favorite verses of the year. Dom follows Jpeg’s verse with one of his own that is also fantastic. This song is just incredibly fun and lively throughout with great bars and an awesome performance given from front to back.

3. “COUNT ON ME” ft. A$AP Rocky & SoGoneSoFlexy

A song with this catchy of a beat and an A$AP Rocky hook could not ever be bad. The hook is so good, I could easily just listen to the first 40 seconds on repeat. Although it was solid, I feel that SoGoneSoFlexy’s verse could have been replaced by a little more fitting one. The deep voice and the aggressive bars don’t mesh perfectly with the whistle-looped instrumental and light-hearted chorus, but it fortunately doesn’t detract too much. Still, this one is enjoyable, and the Rocky feature is the absolute perfect touch.

4. “BANKROLL” ft. A$AP Ferg & A$AP Rocky

After such a strong three-track run to start the album, bringing in two high profile features for the fourth sets lofty expectations. Ferg opens the song with great energy and a verse that is very expected from him. I feel like Merlyn and Jabari’s verses could have been a bit stronger and more appropriate for this one, but they don’t really detract. I wish Rocky had a more prominent role on this song, but other than that, there isn’t really anything bad to say about this one. 

5. “THE LIGHT”

Ironically, “The Light” opens with a dark, reflective and impressive intro from Joba. Kevin Abstract carries on the harsh tone with more of the unrelenting authenticity in the writing. The eerie and electric guitar-infused production sets the tone for impressive verses from Joba and Kevin. Definitely a strong (but welcome) shift in feeling from the first four songs, this one maintains a dreary atmosphere and abrasively honest delivery throughout. 

6. “WINDOWS” ft. SoGoneSoFlexy

At this point, the album takes the shift in mood and sound that begins with the previous track and amplifies it. The sixth song on the tracklist continues the sinister thematics, with impressive production and a collection of formidable verses. A complex structure never blurs the vision and themes within the song, with six solid verses and multiple choruses, post-choruses and bridges breaking up the track. By far the longest song on the album, this one is dense and a fantastic addition.

7. “I’LL TAKE YOU ON” ft. Charlie Wilson

I guess the dark shift isn’t going to continue the rest of the way. This one shifts into a melodic pop song, and frankly the weakest song so far. This one is just not enjoyable, with vocals that are passable, but simplistic writing and deliveries that aren’t captivating enough to make this an impressive pop addition to the album. With all of that being said, it’s still far from a terrible track, and really is only weak relative to the rest of the tracklist.

8. “OLD NEWS” ft. Baird

The shift to more lighthearted pop-rap carries over to this one. I’m not a huge fan of Jabari’s voice on the chorus, but the other aspects of the song are not bad at all. Although I do wish that the mood and tone was a little bit different after the shift that occurred in the fifth and sixth songs, this one was still enjoyable.

9. “WHAT’S THE OCCASION?”

The pop and rock fusions that Brockhampton are famous for continue to shine on this one. Rock percussion, guitar throughout and even a guitar solo at the end give this one a new twist on the sound of the prior tracks. A good song from front to back is benefitted by a really nice performance from Joba, who takes the song to himself with the exception of the Matt Champion verse near the beginning.

10. “WHEN I BALL”

Wow. This instrumental is absolutely beautiful. Dom’s verse starts the song on such an incredible note, with his ever-authentic delivery and introspective lyrics. The distortedly high-pitched vocal chorus is simple but phenomenal and captivating. Matt Champion’s verse comes in with a perfectly appropriate energy and makes a great contribution. I don’t want to overreact on first listen, but this song is so good it’s hard to even move on in the tracklist. I won’t be surprised if this ends up being one of my favorite songs of the entire year. An amazing song.

11. “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY”

This one gives the album another strong shift in vibe, bringing in more bouncy and electronic production. Despite the more party-esque feel, Kevin’s opening verse is thoughtful and well written. Matt Champion’s verse is smooth and flows well to match the bounce of the beat. Kevin and Joba close out the song with a fitting outro, and help to wrap together this amalgamation of styles and feels in a cohesive manner.

12. “DEAR LORD”

The penultimate song works as a gospel-esque interlude with an incredibly soulful sung verse from bearface. An emotional addition, positively supplemental for what it is.

13. “THE LIGHT PT. II”

Expectedly, Kevin’s performance across the album has been remarkable. The same goes for Joba, who has made so many meaningful contributions to this album throughout. It’s fitting that the outro is an impassioned and heartfelt duo of tremendous verses from both of them, preceded with and concluded by a chorus from Joba that ties the whole album together: “The light is worth the wait, I promise.”

Overall, this album is outstanding. A genuinely awesome listening experience from front to back. On a first listen, it’s the strongest album that I have heard this year so far in hip-hop, and by a fairly wide margin too. The ability to carry over consistent atmospheric elements and thematics while presenting such a wide variety of sounds and styles is truly terrific, and something that the group has obviously mastered at this point. 

So many different carefully and thoughtfully presented emotions are contained across the 13 songs. The feel-good, abstract and bouncy sounds presented in songs like “Chain On” help to give the album a fun and playful feel that’s almost always present in Brockhampton projects. What really helps to tie the album together and give it the strength and heart that makes it great are the introspective and sincere songs that show the unrelenting authenticity that has made Brockhampton such a widely loved. Whether it’s the eerie “Windows,” the inspiring “When I Ball” or the nostalgically reminiscent “The Light Pt. II,” the character, spirit and passion of Brockhampton is absolutely captivating. 

It’s hard to not be engaged and pulling for a group that is so genuine and talented in their artistry. Not every song on the album is phenomenal, mostly looking at “I’ll Take You On” and “Old News,” the lackluster back-to-back of pop-rap in the middle of the album. However, the vast majority of the tracks are very high quality, with some songs that are simply amazing on first listen. This is one of the most enjoyable first listens that I have had in a while, and I am really impressed with what the group put together for their sixth album. I have little doubt that this album will hold as one of the top albums of the year.

Favorite Songs: “When I Ball,” “Chain On,” “The Light Pt. II,” “Windows,” “Don’t Shoot Up The Party,” “Buzzcut” 

Album Score: 88/100

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Nick Sligh is a Junior from Athens, Georgia, studying Economics and International Relations. Nick is always open to discuss anything relating to music, NBA basketball, and movies/TV. As somebody with a deep interest in hip-hop/rap and r&b music, Nick covers these genres through his articles. Feel free to contact him at nsligh 'at' stanforddaily.com