Release Date: Feb 4, 2014
Record label: Anticon
Straight out of the trap the chorus chant on album opener No Way of “AK-47 take my brethren up to heaven” leaves the listener in no doubt that Young Fathers are not your run-of-the-mill braggadocio b-boys. Set to ballistic bass drums, wonky lo-fi harmonics and tribal chants in under three minutes, it exudes vitality in a manner that Kanye West can only dream of. After last year’s eventual double release of debuts Tape 1 and Tape 2 comes the second official offering from Edinburgh’s ‘psychedelic hip-pop boy band’ albeit allegedly re-imagined (wrongly) for the hipster generation.
Hip-hop from the UK is often panned in the U.S. Despite massively successful artists like Plan B, Kano, and JME, no hip-hop artist from across the pond has made a major dent in the American rap consciousness since the Streets released Original Pirate Material. Young Fathers might be one of the few groups to pull the same trick. They’ve been slowly building an audience in the more experimental fringes of hip-hop with releases Tape one and Tape two but their newest record is their best yet.
I first heard the Scottish trio Young Fathers last summer after seeing a couple very positive reviews of their June release, TAPE TWO. Their dingy production, catchy melodies, and almost euphoric energy drew me in immediately. TAPE TWO, and its predecessor, TAPE ONE, seemed the product of some fortuitous lightning strike of creativity — a perfect mix of personalities and talents resulting in a band that had arrived with a unique sound, fully-formed.
LA-based label Anticon has, since its emergence in the late 90s, been a haven for hip-hop nonconformists who enjoy taking the genre apart and reassembling it in disorienting, frustrating, thrillingly odd ways. These recent signings, an Edinburgh trio with links to West Africa (and to UK label Big Dada), honour the Anticon sound while nudging it in more accessible directions. Yes, there are murky drones and bleeps and plenty of gnomic pronouncements, but there are lingering melodies, too, and choruses that soar through the thick clouds of fuzz blanketing the album.
A few years back, a listings magazine was required to come up with a snappy description of Young Fathers. In the end it plumped for "Liberian/Nigerian/Scottish psychedelic hip-hop electro boy band". You could argue that's less a description than someone desperately flinging random genres at an artist in the hope that one of them will stick. But, in fairness, describing Young Fathers is a tough call.
Beauty can manifest in the weirdest of places. Dilapidated buildings taken over by wildlife, the silence after destruction; beauty isn’t always restricted to things that are necessarily good. Scottish experimental trio Young Fathers are fully aware of this, tapping into a brutal and naturalistic sound on ‘Dead’, making a brilliant example of the beauty to be found in destruction.Following the duo of EPs over the past year, ‘Dead’ is every bit an evolution of Young Fathers’ sound as it is a deconstruction of hip-hop.
When Young Fathers first appeared in 2008, they were a very pop, synchronised-dancing hip-hop trio from Edinburgh, and it was hard to imagine they’d become so menacing. EPs released in 2011 and 2013 were grimy and aggressive, and their debut album is simply called ‘Dead’. There’s Scottish, Liberian and Nigerian heritage in the group, and that’s key to getting a grasp on their wild mash of sonic and lyrical styles.
Ahead of this year's Mercury prize, DiS in partnership with Naim Audio's new wireless music system, mu-so, will help you GoDeeper into 2014's nominated albums. Today, we would like to turn your attention to the extraordinary Young Fathers, with this review which originally appeared on DiS back in February. For our special Mercury competition, interviews and mixtape by Young Fathers, plus coverage of all of this year's nominees visit our Mercury Prize 2014 mini-site.
It’s fair to say that a great deal was expected of Young Fathers’ debut album. Having been responsible for two of the most violently brilliant releases of 2013 – the double salvo of furious sonic innovation that was Tape 1 and Tape 2 – the anticipation awaiting Dead has been feverish. Those two mixtapes, fearlessly juxtaposing spoken-word lyricism with sledgehammer drumlines, exhibit the kind of intrepid sonic adventurism that most bands would kill for.