Ameer Vann – ‘Emmanuel’ review: a devastating portrait of self-loathing and wrath

This solo release from the controversial rapper, who was expelled from Brockhampton after sexual abuse allegations, flows with bitterness and pain

I am broke and I am tired / I am lonely and depressed” isn’t even the bleakest lyric on ‘Emmanuel’, the new release from Ameer Vann, who was famously ejected from Texan boyband Brockhampton when numerous women accused him of emotional and sexual abuse. This six-track EP, Vann’s first since the allegations were made, flows with bitterness and pain. This is not an enjoyable listen, nor an easy one. It is devastating in its chilly depiction of self-loathing and wrath.

The rapper, now 22, vanished from public life after the band announced his eviction last May. In addition to sexual abuse, he was accused of having sexual relations with a minor. Vann denied the allegations, releasing a statement that insisted: “Although my behaviour has been selfish, childish, and unkind, I have never criminally harmed anyone or disrespected their boundaries… I have never had relations with a minor or violated anybody’s consent.”

Brockhampton continued without him. In August the band’s founding member Kevin Abstract told NME: “It broke me, for sure. It crushed me. It broke me and the guys.” With ‘Emmanuel’, you get the sense that Vann watched from afar as his former bandmates regrouped and released the acclaimed albums ‘Iridescence’ and ‘Ginger’, nursing his jealousy and regret. The EP’s opening title track, accompanied by a stark video released earlier this week, consists of a minimalistic bassline, an intermittent beat and Vann’s increasingly distressed vocal delivery. It’s here that he enunciates the aforementioned line with terrible clarity.

As the track progresses, though, Vann sounds less in control. He threatens suicide, references his violent childhood and seethes, “I made a fuck-up of my life”. Vann’s voice breaks at the line, “I don’t know if I’ma make it.” Self-hating, self-pitying, resentful and coursing with regret (“I’ll give anything at all to take back a little time”), this sets the record’s tone.

‘Emmanuel’ is frequently harrowing. “Having thoughts of suicide / But I just be concealing ‘em / I been calling out to God / But I just don’t be hearing him”, he flatly raps atop a trap beat and chiming instrumental on ‘Pop Trunk’. ‘Los Angeles’ conveys even more self-hatred (“I made major changes to myself / I am still a danger to myself”) but, as a blown-out bassline crunches in the background, his ire is also directed elsewhere: “I lost my friends to Los Angeles… Man, it’s crazy how they deal with you.”

Later, on the sickly, druggy ‘Sunday Night’, he makes his most naked barb about Brockhampton: “N*ggas supposed to stick up for their family but we see they don’t”.

The last two lyrics are headline-grabbers, but most of ‘Emmanuel’ conveys inner turmoil with devastating frankness. On ‘Glock 19’, the EP’s most expertly produced track, weaving an operatic backing vocal through tightly wound percussion, he insists, “I don’t feel alone ’cause the drugs are my friends”. The horrors and mistakes of adulthood are offset poignantly when he talks about his family on ‘Pop Trunk’: “My mama and grandmama – that’s black excellence.

There is so much conflict here. Vann accepts his pariah status, but there are occasional glimpses of pride. “I’ma go buy me a Rothko / Paint it real bright like Picasso,” he raps on ‘Plastic’ (the track is hooked around a pretty, undulating melody, but prettiness is in short supply on ‘Emmanuel’). On ‘Los Angeles’ he is wrathful and merciless: “I feel like God in a scary way”.

This extraordinary EP elicits empathy not because it redeems Vann, or because you feel he’s been hard done by, but because it’s the work of someone who has transgressed and is telling you how it feels on the other side. It sounds cold and it sounds scary. Above all, it sounds lonely. The loneliness on this record is excoriating.