Young Fathers, Scotland’s leading rap trio, have returned, after three excellent EPs and the recent “Music to… Babylon” mix for iD Magazine, with their debut full-length, DEAD (available from Anticon in the US). The band tackles dark subjects on the new record, with song titles like “Just Another Bullet,” “War,” and “Hangman.” Even the party/revolution anthem “Get Up” contains corpses.
The album opener “No Way” begins with a reference to band member Alloysious Massquoi’s experience as a Liberian-born immigrant to Edinburgh (“Got me feeling Presbyterian, but inside I’m still Liberian”). His bandmate Kayus shares an African-Scottish identity, with roots in Nigeria. The production of Graham Hastings at first recalls the paranoia-inducing sounds of El-P’s work, and the group’s apocalyptic lyrics about AK-47s back up that impression. However, the song has a melancholic and uniquely Scottish tinge– look out for distorted bagpipes.
A closer predecessor in lyrical content and sound to DEAD is Maxinquaye/Pre-Milennium Tension-era Tricky, a similarly hard-to-classify, and visionary UK artist. However, Hastings consistently adds his own unique instrumental flourishes, like a digeridoo appearance on”Another Bullet.” The rapping of Young Fathers is also outstanding throughout. For instance- “War” feature beautiful alliteration and rhyming over a hand-clapped background (“Bish bosh banging on the calabash/Dead ringers/Zombie singers/Coughing in the coffin”).
On “Paying,” anguished, soulful singing leads into a rage-filled howl, capturing a depth of vocal emotion that is rare in much hip-hop, or any kind of music for that matter. The band does not dwell in despair, though, as “Hangman” manages to make a clichéd expression sound as frightening as if Young Fathers had invented it themselves: “Revenge is a dish best served cold/Like ice cold with an ice pick and a blindfold.”
In its entirety, this is a deep album that explores passion, sorrow, anger, and righteous political fury, with excellent lyricism and inventive production.
We discussed the new album with the band via email.
Jesse Brent: One of the major themes on this new album is war. For Alloysious, did the experience of being born in Liberia and having to leave at a very young age because of conflict make you want to take on this subject?
Young Fathers: Em…to be honest that thought never crossed my mind from the initial conception of war. Nothing is planned when we go in to record. It just happens or it doesn’t. Graham came with the chorus this time round, then his rap, and Kayus and I followed suit. Maybe as an after thought…although ours ranges from straight away to months later.
JB: Would you say that you approached this release differently than you did on your previous EPs because it’s your first full-length?
YF: We took the same approach as used in the previous EPs. The DEAD album was just a bit longer. We record in blocks. A song is finished in every session with a rough mix. We move quickly, no time to dwell on songs. We capture whatever it is thats needs to be and exit.
JB: One of the things that sets your sound apart is the singing, which really complements the rapping very well. Do both Alloysious and Kayus sing as well as rap on the record?
YF: Yeh everybody does. It’s a collective thing. There’s democracy.
JB: The “Music To… Babylon” mix that you just put out for iD magazine shows that you guys have very eclectic taste. Do you see that varied music like Afrobeat and blues or The Fall, for example, seeping into what you’re making?
YF: I guess… Just as much as my mother humming a tune while she’s reading a book or a man a whistling in the park while walking his dog.
JB: You’ve got a lot of touring lined up now. Where have you been playing, and what kind of reaction have you gotten?
YF: We haven’t hit America yet, just UK and Europe. We’ve had quite few sold out shows, packed venues and audience singing songs and chanting out lyrics back to us. Unexpected, but I guess it’s a good thing…right?!.