ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE
RCA / Question Everything · April 9, 2021
BROCKHAMPTON’s sixth album, ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, is an exciting release from the Southern “boy band.” While the group typically releases disjointed albums that feel unfinished, this album comes as an exception thanks to its cohesiveness and powerful storyline. The album’s narrative is centered around criticism of the justice system and the loss of family members. Vocalist Joba lost his father in September, while his bandmate Kevin Abstract struggles with the absence of his mom since coming out to her; other group members reflect on their incarcerated family members and dead cousins. Despite this major melancholic theme, the producers still managed to create a diverse soundscape in every song and maintain the inclusion of upbeat tracks.
As usual, BROCKHAMPTON address systemic injustices in America, particularly in regards to police brutality and the corrupt justice system. Lyrics like “a platinum record not gonna keep my black ass out of jail,” “all of these bars bought chains, prison industries,” and “history stuck on repeat in the loop of sirens,” come from frustration with the years of discrimination and incarceration that Black people face at traffic stops and in trials for petty drug crimes. This content is extremely relevant since the album was written and produced throughout the 2020 pandemic, as Black Lives Matter protestors made their voices heard on the subject. The contribution that each band member offers in verses on “BUZZCUT,” “CHAIN ON,” “WINDOWS,” “WHEN I BALL,” and “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY” make the message against police brutality in the album cohesive and impactful. Each verse goes beyond just saying “fuck the police.” In “WHEN I BALL,” group member Dom McLellan talks about not understanding why his uncles were continually sent to jail, making him answer phone calls from correctional facilities to talk to his family. Joba reflects on the depressing cycle of arrests in “WINDOWS,” rapping that “history stuck on repeat in the loop of sirens.” Since the group is composed of mostly Black members, BROCKHAMPTON brilliantly and effectively tell a broad story of racial inequality in every song on the album, adding to their astounding cohesion as a group.
Another main theme of the album is the loss of family members. This theme specifically raises the question of whether or not God is active in everyday life, especially when people are struggling. Although this is a consistent theme in the album, it does not become important until “THE LIGHT” and the last two songs, “DEAR LORD” and “THE LIGHT PT. II.” Each member brings their own perspective on what the “light” or God means to them, but Joba pointedly describes the pain of losing his father, and finishes the album speaking about how he felt like he lost his own happiness with the burden of his father’s death. Kevin Abstract compares his experience with religion in the last song with his struggle to convince his religious mother that he is gay and he cannot change that. Religion and death are two themes that every listener can relate to, since they are a part of the human condition and nature. Even if BROCKHAMPTON’s listeners are not religious themselves, they could relate with struggling to find God when they are grieving the loss of a family member, or, if they are gay, with Abstract’s broken relationship with his conservative mother. Although the topics of death and religion are highly relatable, Abstract and Joba do an excellent job of making the topics intimate and relevant to their own lives, which should be the goal of every artist who wants to build a strong fan base and make meaningful music.
The task of making a cohesive collection work with 13 contributing group members along with additional features seems daunting, but BROCKHAMPTON managed to top all of their past, incoherent albums with a beautifully inspired storyline in their sixth studio album. They successfully incorporate a complex yet organized storyline, and each member tears apart flaws in the justice system and opens up about their own insecurities in every track. It seems like the group matured in their ability to create unique art with a purpose in ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE.