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. Main vocalist Alloysius Massaquoi turns from warped choirboy to gruff threat in the same song. Kayus provides the rapping elements and G sets out the sonic template, but all three swap and swoop into a dizzying heady trip.
The usual slew of hip hop clichés of guns, girls, bling and bravado are replaced with doubt, anger, conscience and soul. There are still discernable flurries of sonic bombast, but linked to a social conscience and global magpie-ism of musical styles in touch with the group’s mixed heritage (Liberia, Nigeria, Scotland). Their energy and inventiveness creates something beamed in from a dystopic future where barriers are down, genres don’t exist and emotions run wild with intellect.
Closest in sonic frisson to TV On The Radio, Saul Williams or Shabazz Palaces in the range of electric molotovs being tossed around. Splicing soulful falsetto harmonies with weighty politically charged lyrics crooning anger, rapping eloquently with breaks to move your feet and imagery to feed your head. Musically, it stays out of any traditional hip-hop pigeonholes as it encompasses tribal rhythms, stuttering glitch, bombastic beats, and African-tinged rhythms. What could on paper be a slice of dull, black and white worthiness, the Young Fathers turn into a fizzing colourful burst of enervated vitality.
Single Low ushers in a bare soul vocal over bass thrum offering to “take a shit in your palace” that buds and blooms into a spiraling militaristic march. Seething anger is channeled into something uplifting, like an elegant middle finger to the broken zeitgeist. Like the techy offspring of Gil Scott-Heron (another Scot by birth) they address injustice without empty placard waving, bringing cutting, concise words as their weapons and couching them in accessible and intriguing soundscapes.
Skewed electrics lend Just Another Bullet a queasy, psychedelic edge. While War offers a lullaby-like respite from the beats to focus on “dishing out endorphins for natures’ orphans”. The proto-pop groove of Get Up is built around distorted bass, soul drums and skeletal keyboards as they take a swipe at posers. Paying pulses on deep bass thrum and primal percussion to unleash an impassioned stream of anger, but is balanced by soulful refrains to stop it tipping into an empty scream. Hangman stalks around a funereal pace offering the listener the chance to “meet your maker”, and Am I Not Your Boy is a soulful lament to the disappeared.
Dead echoes the rejection of the mainstream by De La Soul (post D.A.I.S.Y.A.G.E) or even the promise of early Massive Attack before they got lost in a smokescreen of their own making. Nothing is superfluous here, with most tracks nipping in under the three minute mark, making this a tightly wound piece that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Electronics are twisted, warped, distorted like systems collapsing, or resurrected from the scrap heap, offering a rich textural backdrop to these intricate sound collages.
Dead is a battle cry for the disaffected, dispossessed and dissatisfied with the solutions on offer, and stands proud and defiant against mediocrity and the humdrum. It’s not an easy listen and will send hipsters scurrying for their bobble hats and fake specs, but this is the sound of a band pushing themselves, challenging their audience and making something to be proud of.