Photos courtesy of @zeddekiah / JoMyla Arroyo
Every single member of BROCKHAMPTON has one foot out the door. After an epic rise to cult fandom thanks to their SATURATION album trilogy, the self-proclaimed “America’s Favorite Boyband” will be closing up shop later this year… for good.
With a farewell album in the works, this decision brings on many questions about what each individual member of the band will do going forward – aside from frontman Kevin Abstract who will predictably continue pursuing his already prevalent, pre-established solo career. In particular, though, there is one other BH figure that should not be overlooked, much like how every verse or hook he delivered for the ensemble demanded attention like no other.
Merlyn Wood is poised to continue making sure “everywhere he goes is The Woodlands,” just as his famed bar about his hometown from SATURATION II’s “SWEET” proclaimed. Instead of solely providing an energetic spark or a brief refrain like he did on BH songs, though, Merlyn is aware and confident about the fact that he’ll need to carry the entire load of a song or project to keep his fans tuned in – which includes making music for many different settings and circumstances.
“I think now my focus is absolutely on supplying the music that kids need, as a solo artist,” he said. “I’m thinking about everything that people need in their life. Whether that’s music to study to, music to cry to, music to live to, music to reflect to, I have to supply that, whereas in the past, I had to fulfill my role. I was a role player, now I have to be the captain of my own team.”
Thankfully, Merlyn feels this task comes more effortlessly to him when he’s on his own, considering he will be the only voice in the room. Being in the studio working on music is now a much more freeing experience for the Ghana-born, Texas-bred dynamo.
“I explore, I go on adventures and I have more freedom to just try random stuff in the studio,” he said. “There’s less pressure, so if I want to mess around a little bit I can, if I want to make a song about something no one else wants to, I can. I can also be intimate in ways that recording a song in front of your homies didn’t allow, because you don’t want to say certain things the wrong way. Now I’m in a place where I can be truthful to my experience and I don’t have to worry about how anyone else feels.”
Assisting him sonically on this journey is beloved producer CONNIE, who he was introduced to by BH in-house producer Jabari Manwa, is most notable for crafting the beat for TikTok sensation JELEEL!’s hit “DIVE IN!” and has provided the instrumentals for both of Merlyn’s post-BH singles like November’s “S.Y.K.” and last month’s “GREEN LIGHT.”
“CONNIE’s a special producer,” he said. “He’s not the only producer that I work with, but CONNIE is worth his weight in five producers. He’s incredibly talented and I’m glad we’ve been able to make a ton of dope music together.”
It’s incredible to think about how far Merlyn has come, from taking advantage of any opportunity a mic landed in his hands to now seeking out rising star producers to craft exciting solo singles. When times were simpler – and when Merlyn, Kevin and more of the BH boys were focused on their first stints of solo careers – Merlyn never envisioned the trajectory his career would eventually take.
“I always saw myself as a solo artist who, as a contractor, limited my talents to BROCKHAMPTON,” he said. “That’s always how it was, we were kids. We would go to open mics, we were super hungry. Kevin Abstract would have shows in Corpus Christi and I would come out and do a song or Matt (Champion) would do a song. We all saw ourselves as our own thing. Through ingenuity, through the mind of Kevin Abstract, we all came together like the arms of Optimus Prime.”
While BROCKHAMPTON’s ascent and descent surely sidelined Merlyn’s solo aspirations, he knows that this era added some musical weapons to his arsenal. This time around will be more about finding his footing again as a solo rapper and putting everything he’s learned to use.
“I have more tricks in my bag now,” he said. “I’ve really developed my pen and I’ve developed my storytelling. But, in a lot of ways, I was more developed before BROCKHAMPTON and I kind of had to just be a role player. What I’m working on now as a solo artist is getting back to that and taking what I learned, whether it’s production or whether it’s writing. I learned a lot from everybody.”
Although the group always foresaw their eventual split so that they could pursue other passions such as solo careers, Merlyn explained that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that process through declining mental health and lack of communication.
“You can’t underestimate how much the pandemic affected everybody and their mental health,” he said. “It’s like we were all going through the same thing at the same time, and none of us really thought to reach out to each other. We were socially distant when all we really needed to do was be physically distant. It totally sped up the break-up of BROCKHAMPTON, because it’s a group that has a lot of darkness in it. We really explore our demons, so when it got really dark and we couldn’t be around each other, it got really dark for each one of us in a very unique and intense way.”
He continued by saying making music and being in the studio together was particularly difficult because of the pandemic.
“We’ll always love each other, that’s for sure, but in a lot of ways it made it difficult for us to be together because everything we’re going through as individuals,” he said. “It’s hard not to bring that into the studio, especially because you’re asking each other to be vulnerable. It’s hard for that dark cloud not to follow each of us into the studio and become like a gigantic dark hurricane. We always knew we were gonna break up, but it was more like the writing was on the wall.”
Even with one last project to certify the boyband’s forthcoming split, as Merlyn asserts it will not be what people and fans expect, everything about his current mindset and attitude reveals how focused he is on his solo career. “GREEN LIGHT,” inspired by Atlanta’s 2000s rap group Dem Franchise Boyz — responsible for smash hit “I Think They Like Me” — is a great example of this. Its colorful, GTA-inspired music video depicts the world that Merlyn dreamed of when he first aspired to be a rapper: A life full of beautiful women and shiny cars.
“It’s something that’s so simple and primal about Southern hip-hop to me, and I feel like the video was just trying to capture those youthful feelings of joy and wonder and kind of being able to have everything that you want in life,” he said. “The video, for all intents and purposes, is a fantasy. That’s not how I really live, it’s cap. I’m not driving four different cars a day dealing with five different women a day, that’s not my life. But it’s my fantasy, it’s how I viewed hip-hop as an eight year old kid.”
Merlyn knows that “GREEN LIGHT” wasn’t received by fans exactly how he would have wanted, but he never gets discouraged, because he knows his limitless capabilities and the countless opportunities he will have to impress in the future.
“I know some people were disappointed with ‘GREEN LIGHT,’ but I still love that song,” he said. “I just want people to be patient and know that, any song you want, I probably have that song and can put it out. I can’t do everything at once but I can tackle any style.”
When asked if singles like this and “S.Y.K.” are evidence of him building towards a solo project, he simply responded, “you’ll see.” But, even if Merlyn does not want to reveal everything he has in store, he knows that he wants his music to have a lasting effect – and involve him working with artists that are special to him — rather than it just being a passing fad.
“I have a whole world that I’m trying to build and all the characters are really dope,” he said. “I feel like that’s how you make something that really sticks with people. I want to be in someone’s hearts more than the iPod. I make songs or albums that you listen to once a year and it means something to you, it means a lot to you. I’d rather have that than a song you hear every day in commercials or every day on social media. I’d rather be someone you hold very dear to your heart.”
Check out “Green Light” below!