My daddy was a bad boy. Born in the late 1950s, he was the first and only American son of immigrants from Ecuador. He adopted the rock ‘n’ roll culture of his youth, drawn to its rebel yell.
Growing up in the 1990s, I fell madly in love with hip hop. Like my dad with rock ‘n’ roll, I was attracted to the audacity of the music.
I’ll never forget the day my friend brought over a cassette tape of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). We played it so loud a neighbor complained. When my dad came home, he made me go apologize. I was in tears after that confrontation, but my infatuation was unshaken.
To this day — though I love him still — my dad does not respect hip-hop. By contrast, many of today’s young hip-hop fans and artists have parents who are themselves hip-hop fans — just of a different era.
Those eras were discussed back in November, when 88Nine Radio Milwaukee hosted an event called “Check the Rhyme: Connecting Generations Through hip hop.” The two-day celebration featured fashion, breakdancers, DJs and a panel discussion.
Hosted by Tyrone “DJ Bizzon” Miller, the “Check the Rhyme” panel dissected each decade of hip-hop, from the 1970s through the 2010s. The wide-ranging discussion explored the evolution of hip-hop culture and music, which is now the biggest genre on the planet.
More recently, my lady and I took her son to see the next big thing in hip hop — Brockhampton — at the Eagles Ballroom. About 2,000 eager fans turned out for the Milwaukee debut of the Los Angeles-based crew.
Brockhampton is finding extraordinary success by pushing hip-hop culture forward. The boy band — you read that right — is led by openly gay rapper/singer/director Kevin Abstract and includes over a dozen members who live and work together under one roof. Brockhampton is redefining pop music for the internet age and inspiring young people worldwide.
Coming of age
For almost a half-century, hip hop has captured the imagination and hearts of young people by challenging the status quo.
“I think about that rebelliousness, that’s what we all love about hip hop,” Miller told the crowd at the “Check the Rhyme” panel.
The discussion illustrated that, while each generation of hip hop may look and sound different, there are shared core values.
During the panel, local DJs JDL & DMT reminisced over Milwaukee’s earliest hip-hop parties at the Crystal Palace.
Maanaan Sabir, CEO of the Juice Kitchen, explained how hip hop inspired him to flip the script on the drug game and sling healthy, all-natural juice.
Miller speculated that our generational biases are the result of the allegiances we form with the music of our youth — “our coming-of-age story.”
Hip hop can express any aspect of life — from the mundane to the obscure. There will always be artists speaking truth and those chasing trends.
Question Everything Inc.
Brockhampton is the latest upstart to make waves. The collective is a dream — or more precisely, is living the dream.
Imagine taking the risk of not going to college, not getting a job and moving in with a dozen or so like-minded young artists. Imagine working together toward one big goal, something bigger than any of you thought possible. Imagine traveling the continent with your best friends, playing sold-out shows and the coolest festivals. That is Brockhampton’s reality.
Kevin Abstract — the group’s valiant leader — accomplished this feat by enlisting high school friends from southeast Texas and recruiting others on a Kanye West online fan forum. Abstract’s conviction and foresight, matched with the raw talent and camaraderie of his collaborators, has built an empire unlike anything hip hop has ever seen.
Abstract and his brethren cull elements from a swath of iconic hip-hop artists — Wu-Tang Clan, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, among others. But the collective does much more than make music — it is a creative content factory. Apple’s business model has been a major influence for Abstract, as reflected in Brockhampton’s vertical integration. The collective controls each step in the creative process — producing, rapping, singing, photography, videography, merchandising, website design, management, branding and marketing.
The band’s recent surge of success, however, has required outside help. Brockhampton members are now working with the team that managed Odd Future — another seminal West Coast hip-hop collective. But Brockhampton is much more than OF 2.0.
Despite being a boys’ club, Brockhampton represents a diversity of backgrounds, nationalities, languages and influences. Its most important innovation may be how members of the collective don’t adhere to a strict definition of culture and taste.
Once listeners identified with a specific subgenre — hip hop, indie rock, alternative, goth, punk, metal or whatever. Today’s youth are open to any type of music, including strains of pop traditionally reviled by hip-hop fans.
That’s why Brockhampton has drawn so much attention for embracing the “boy band” label — and why it is such an ingenious move.
“I like Brockhampton because they’re trying to reinvent the term ‘boy band’ and show it doesn’t just mean a bunch of cis, white, straight men singing on a stage about a girl they love,” says Sabrina, a sophomore at Rufus King High School who attended Brockhampton’s Milwaukee stop on the Love Your Parents Tour.
Brockhampton’s confessional lyrics address big issues, such as racism, anxiety, depression, rape culture, self-love and sexual orientation. The mere fact that Kevin Abstract is proudly gay is an innovation for a culture that’s historically been plagued by homophobia and hyper-masculinity.
Considering its insistence on the “boy band” label, Brockhampton’s TRL performance of the infectious single “Boogie” was perfect. I wonder if it was the main reason MTV resurrected the show.
By deciding to move in together — originally at a house in San Marcos, Texas — Brockhampton bucked the trend of satellite collaboration and redefined the term “bedroom musician.”
The relocation to Los Angeles owes much to their cinematic aspirations. In 2017, Brockhampton produced a dozen music videos and a short film. It also was the subject of a Viceland series.
Some critics were dismayed at the productivity, particularly the three full-length records — aptly titled the Saturation trilogy — they released last year.
But considering that the collective does not have to deal with a label, that kind of output isn’t surprising.
Brockhampton’s success thus far has been made possible thanks to a unique brotherhood — a genuine love, trust and respect for each other that was on display last week in Milwaukee, the boy band’s biggest show of the tour to date.
Hip hop will never die
The morning of the “Check the Rhyme” panel, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” With that information swirling in my head during the panel, it dawned on me that hip hop’s greatest legacy may be the triumph of a culture amid historic oppression.
At the very least, hip hop is a middle-finger to the system.
At best, hip hop is artistic excellence and financial independence.
Coates’ latest book — We Were Eight Years in Power — includes another essay in which the Atlantic correspondent describes a party at the White House during Barack Obama’s final year in office. Hip-hop artists De La Soul and Common were invited to perform in a venue where their artform was once vilified — a shining example of how far the culture has come.
In the hands of forward-thinking artists like Kendrick Lamar and the members of Brockhampton, there’s no telling what hip hop will look and sound like in the future — or if my dad will ever come around.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the website of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, radiomilwaukee.org.