Release Date: Apr 7, 2015
Record label: Big Dada / Ninja Tune
After their surprise Mercury prize win last year, Young Fathers are clearly out to make a statement with their follow up, White Men Are Black Men Too. The title of the album alone is enough to launch a dozen thinkpieces about identity politics and black masculinity in the UK. The group’s Alloysious Massaquoi writes that “Young Fathers are breaking out of the ghetto” – in reference to the various boxes the group have been put in – and they’re as good as their word.
All in all, Young Fathers' "Nest" is as catchy as any other pop song currently ascending the Top 40: its grooving rhythm is an undeniable force of nature; its hook is warmly singable, thanks to its rhyming of "sister" and "mister" amidst shouts of "Hey!" and a choir murmuring "Baby baby. " But what's even more astounding is how snugly the tune fits on an album that is otherwise abrasively industrial, rife with fiercely spat hip-hop and occasionally reaching the far-flung corners of world music. These are the vast hemispheres that Young Fathers traverse on White Men Are Black Men Too.
Few people had really heard of Young Fathers before they were nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize for their debut studio album Dead. That changed when the Edinburgh-based trio surprised many by taking home the award – despite having the second lowest selling record on the shortlist – with bookmakers making the better known FKA Twigs and Royal Blood favourites for the £20,000 prize beforehand. It was a great story for the musical press; the underdogs coming from out of nowhere to beat established and more popular acts like Damon Albarn and Bombay Bicycle Club.
Young Fathers have an interesting definition of “pop”. The trio is swinging for arena-sized tours and sounds, but when you open an album with “tonight I don’t love God” being cooed over howling guitars, you might polarize a section of your target demographic. Not that Young Fathers have ever cared about things like that. Once upon a time, they were grouped alongside turn of the decade experimental hip-hop groups like Death Grips or Shabazz Palaces.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. "Liberated, is that how I feel?" demand Young Fathers, and it's no rhetorical question. The Edinburgh trio's stony refusal to smile for the cameras after winning the coveted Mercury Prize last autumn was solid evidence that they're not so hot on playing the game. Beating bookies favourites Royal Blood and FKA Twigs to the prize money, the band disappeared to work on a follow-up album without waiting to help out the press clamouring for a shock-victory photo op to run alongside their baffled think-pieces.
Unassuming saviours of Scottish soul Young Fathers have released a cavalcade of records in the last two years which have defined the trio as classifiable only as a mark of quality; characterised purely by their brilliance. Returning so soon with a follow-up to the 2014 Mercury Prize-winning DEAD ,the new long player White Men Are Black Men Too could be many things - it is in fact many things – but it mercilessly earmarks them for more of the same acclaim. A surprise highlight of The Great Escape in 2013, surprise winners of the Mercury, with a surprisingly productive outpouring of diverse content… it seems the only thing surprising about Young Fathers is that people are still surprised by them.
What do Young Fathers mean to you? Chances are, you’re right. Out-there experimentalists who will never cede to your wishes? Yeah, I guess. Soul-pop anarchists who’ll lure you in with a great melody before abruptly jutting out at cubist angles? Definitely. Restless polemicists with enough of a vision that it could be clumsily labelled ‘an agenda?’ Sure, why not.
Edinburgh hip-hop trio Young Fathers continue to evolve on their sophomore release, so much so that White Men Are Black Men Too could threaten a jump out of the "rap" section of any given record store if it weren't for all the electronic musical mashing and the album's aggressive, provocative title. Get past those two examples of the hip-hop aesthetic in action and this often bright, often very indie rock-influenced effort seems to owe more to Can than Nas, with the free-floating "Sirens" coming off as the Flaming Lips getting low, while "Shame" shakes a tambourine, employs throwback backup singers, and bounces with a bright melody straight out of the Passion Pit playbook. Phoenix should check if their book of riffs was stolen too, but the brittle and broken "Old Rock n Roll" is like nothing on the pop charts, as it brings to mind Flying Lotus with its complicated, dark music, plus the Last Poets with its complicated, honest lyrics ("I'm tired of having to hold back/I'm tired of wearing this hallmark for some evils that happened way back").
Boy, is that the album title of the year. Not just for of its popping-off-the-page provocation, the way it grabs you and makes you laugh uncomfortably without even really being able to explain why. White Men Are Black Men Too is also just an incredibly appropriate album title for the 12 tracks contained on Scottish trio Young Fathers’ second full-length LP: confrontational, sympathetic, and (possibly?) bitterly sarcastic.
After overcoming 14-1 odds to win last year’s Mercury prize, Young Fathers haven’t been resting on their laurels. Immediately after their win, the Scottish hip-hop trio travelled to a freezing basement in Berlin to continue working on their second album. In 2015 they are booked to play even more shows than last year’s 140. Their win last October came as a surprise, but a welcome one.
Less a lesson in how to meet widespread acclaim head-on and more a celebration in abiding to nobody else’s rules, ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’ is the follow-up Young Fathers were always destined to make. One Mercury Prize to their name, the genre-meshing trio have created another chasm of unhinged energy, rich in chants, bold moves and above anything else - positivity. They could have gone for a richer, box-ticking version of 2014 full-length ‘DEAD’, but the Edinburgh group recorded most of their new LP in various hotel rooms, abandoned spaces - anywhere with room for a microphone and a laptop.
Review Summary: File under Rock and PopDon't mention the M-word prize, because Young Fathers took that in a stride they made several steps ago. It probably makes more sense to say 'leaps ago'. Young Fathers are not out to stand on a stage and preach, they're out to entertain, and according to their stage presence entertainment means jumping: lots and lots of jumping.
Alright, let’s just set aside the whole idea of a Mercury Prize ‘curse’ and concede that had Young Fathers not scooped that £20,000 last October, the Edinburgh trio (beat man ‘G’ Hastings and rappers/singers Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole) would still be blipping away off the radar. As it is, this time the Mercury seems to have done its job – nudging a worthy but obscure group into the spotlight, and the world is now free to judge ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’ on its own merits. These merits are odd ones, but merits nonetheless.
The Edinburgh trio Young Fathers have always confounded categories-Tape One and Tape Two, the EPs they released in 2011 and 2013, were often called rap, but always trailing qualifiers-"alt-," "art-," "psych-". Then, as their Shabazz-on-uppers verses ("I Heard") and grimy Yeezus shrieks ("Effigy") faded, they shifted again: their Mercury Prize-winning debut full-length Dead landed somewhere close to what people thought of as "hip-hop," if similarly prefaced-"experimental," "alternative," or just "Scottish. " You don't call your record White Men Are Black Men Too unless you're looking to stir up some questions about classification, and with their new album, Young Fathers double down on the confusion they inspired with their earliest releases.
Listening to Young Fathers triggers an outlaw rush akin to discovering low-frequency pirate radio transmissions from the future. Simultaneously familiar and foreign, the Edinburgh-based trio melt throbbing dub and roots reggae, righteously angry punk refrains, West African polyrhythms, and soulful R&B crooning into a floating miasma of trip-hop production. With no regard for context or decorum, Young Fathers mix and mash disparate elements with such youthful abandon that they tread a line between orgiastic homage and focused synthesis.
Young Fathers' Mercury Prize win in 2014 laid down two paths for career progression come album proper two, which is what we now have in the shape of White Men Are Black Men Too. One: whatever followed said award-winner, Dead, wouldn't match its critical impact or commercial punch, cueing boring-ass op-eds around "the curse of the Mercury". Two: it'd go better on all fronts, and those same critics would merely point towards the Mercury as the muscle that had lifted them to a higher level of appreciation, not the music itself.
After winning the 2014 Mercury Prize for their debut LP, Dead, Scotland's Young Fathers scampered off to craft this assertive, reactionary anti-pop concoction. The trio of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and "G" Hastings are proudly genre-less in their approach, yet they touch upon aspects of hip-hop, R&B and noise-infused new music, punctuating their tracks with unsuspecting melodies and hooks. Young Fathers are protective of their freedom, so the attention that came from winning a renowned international award triggered a contrary reflex within them.