The opening track was unexpected, to say the least; Bearface, who sat casually atop a white horse, performed a soothing, soulful cover of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” His vocals were equal parts gritty and bright, the live band feeding a vibrant keyboard melody and a slow, groovy bassline. A four-piece female choir brought the whole cover to life, existing for a moment in the sunset’s glow over Malibu’s Shangri-La Studios.
Queue the setting change; enter Kevin Abstract. “Who let the dope boys out?” Abstract shouted over alarming, electronic sirens and heavy bass on “BUZZCUT.” Dom McLennon jumped in with an unreleased verse in place of Danny Brown’s original before Joba switched up the tone with the album’s first glimpse at his angelic, expansive tone, complemented by the unexpected feature of a saxophone.
“You can’t ignore the karma when there’s flames across your lawn,” McLennon rapped in a golden verse on “CHAIN ON,” which brought out rapper JPEGMAFIA. Lyrically, the track explored police violence and an ardent desire for unity throughout the past year; McLennon spat, “That’s them generations chargin’ the battery in my back/ See, I’m fueled by the culture, driven by my ancestors.”
SoGone SoFlexy joined the group on “WINDOWS,” a sinister, looming track filled to the brim with dense verses. Brockhampton capitalized on live tradition, cheering “Go Merlyn, Go Merlyn,” around the rapper’s lines, notably, “America, get my people fired, then get me shot for free.” Following Matt Champion’s entrance on the second verse, Joba’s lyrics were blatant and honest, a quality he bravely exhibits throughout the entire record. “Capitalistic, we plague our society, like COVID-19,” Joba spewed, “Government officials, don’t give a fuck about the children.”
The band took a few nostalgic trips through their archive during the show; a tape rewind effect introduced “Bleach,” as Bearface sang the refrain’s light “Oooh.” Spanish-style strings looped on “Boy Bye,” a goofy, lighthearted track off GINGER revolving around McLennon, Champion and Abstract. Joba and Merlyn Wood lingered on stage for the outro, as the duo shimmied and cooed, “I’m beautiful and bashful.”
“GUMMY” exuded moshpit energy, which the boys all brought to the stage. Outside of its high energy, the intense track featured Abstract and McLennon exploring critical territory. The squealing of a siren in the background added to the intensity of the performance without drowning out the lyricism.
The setting changed halfway through, as Joba led viewers outside to a live band. A voicemail recording faded into “The Light,” with a spooky guitar riff and a heavy bassline. In the first verse, Joba opened up about his father’s suicide, which influenced some of the heaviest themes throughout ROADRUNNER. “When I look at myself, I see a broken man/ Remnants of my pops, put the glock to his head,” Joba rapped over edgy, psychedelic guitar licks.
Tortured and melancholic in tone, Joba’s intro melody for the unreleased Abstract track “Texas Watchin’ Me” is sobering. Abstract rapped about family lineage and getting out of Texas alive, howling, “I’m just a man/ I’m just a man/ I’m just a man” repeatedly through the refrain. Joba, Abstract and Champion come together for the outro as the sensual bassline faded, singing, “I will make it home okay” in harmony.
Jazzy keys and a punching bass loop leave room for the trio to freestyle along to a smokey instrumental rendition of “CHAIN ON,” before the guys moved back to the studio stage. With varying camera angles showing each guy strewn across shifting rooms, it felt like a house party—a hazy, intimate house party where the guys take turns harmonizing on their sweetest track, “SUGAR.”
Jabari Manwa took on a more prominent role for the first time, stepping outside of the mixing booth to sing the intro and refrain for “COUNT ON ME.” The bright track was a shed of light against a heavier set list, with a fuzzy reverb and playful whistling throughout. Shockingly, it took Brockhampton until this year to come out with a song titled “SEX”—with Champion and Abstract’s verses carrying the weight of the exploitation.
They met back in the studio on “WHEN I BALL” before making their way to a space-shuttle-like room for the explosive “DON’T SHOOT UP THE PARTY,” the most infectious party track off the new record. Finally, Abstract and Joba sat down together for the final track, “THE LIGHT PT. II,” which shed a spotlight on each of the artists’ personal struggles.
Abstract traversed the space of racial prejudice (“Only take the Jeep if my boyfriend is drivin’/ Plus he got the kinda skin that make the police like him”) and his relationship with his religious mother (“But I hate that she got me in this box, expectin’ me to see the light”), before bowing his head for Joba’s verse. Raw and painful, Joba spoke directly to his father, ending on a reassuring note as he softly spoke, “It’s safe to say I’ll find a way out the darkness/ The way you left ‘Ma hits me the hardest.” He seemed to direct his message to the audience as the song came to a close, repeating, “The light is worth the wait, I promise.”
ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is Brockhampton coming full-circle—both musically and emotionally. Truthfully, the group doesn’t have much to reinvent; they’ve built upon a distinct, personal sound throughout their career as a team, carrying new experiences and poetry into each endeavor and utilizing music as an introspective lens—whether it’s their penultimate or the first in an oncoming era.