Hip-hop trio Young Fathers have been one of Scottish music’s rather more esoteric best kept secrets since their inception in 2008. Despite occasional flutters with mainstream success, Young Fathers have been frustratingly on the margins of UK hip-hop, a beguiling but infuriatingly scatterbrained presence. After many years of graft the trio of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and ‘G’ Hastings may finally be making significant headway after signing to esteemed Californian label Anticon, for whom their first release is Tape One. Originally released as a free mix tape in 2011, it is Young Fathers’ first significant artistic statement.
The early Young Fathers material, characterised by their debut single Straight Back On It, was resolutely dance floor centric. Indeed, their earliest performances were primarily at club nights and they have supported the likes of Simian Mobile Disco. Perhaps unfairly, they have been misguidedly labelled as something of a novelty band, a collective who make straight up party club music with little or no depth. It was an opinion not helped by the band labelling themselves as a “psychedelic hip-hop boy band”. Tape One is a far darker and denser affair that scotches any accusations of frivolity.
Young Fathers’ sound is a conflation of influences, sounds and styles from a mix of different cultures. Liberian born Massaquoi and Bankole, born to Nigerian parents and having spent some time living in America, provide the African influence while Hastings provides the localised Scottish lilt. It is a multicultural melting pot, which gives Tape One a rich and varied sound.
Opening track Deadline is the first indication that, for Young Fathers, the party is over. It is a stark cacophony of bass driven, serrated industrial clangour. Wailing sirens dominate while the trio spit out oblique lines about “the colour of money” before offering a closing mantra of “Don’t you turn my home against me, even if my house is empty.”
Sister is more melodically pleasing, rhythmic and percussive in quality it has a lovely African tinged groove, which provides a nice contrast to Hastings’ Scottish brogue. By far the best moments here though are the tracks where the cloud of dystopian dread envelopes the music, as on the tense paranoia of Rumbling. Everything comes together perfectly on this track. The trio’s flow is bang on point, while the music brims with a bubbling tension, jerky and queasy while almost on the point of total collapse. It is a dance floor filler from a zombie apocalypse. “The kids don’t sleep in this town,” rap the trio, adding to the sense of portent. The song’s closing hook of “white boy beat, black boy rhythm” makes for an irresistibly thrilling climax.
From this startlingly good beginning, it is disappointing that nothing else on this short 21-minute collection fails to scale the same heights. The primitive beats provide little to fall back on when the hooks don’t really stick and the rhymes become stilted and forgettable. Only the strong and soulful hook and jittery beat of Remains, with its endearing Scottish references to “Cock-a-leekie soup”, really stands out from the album’s second half. No matter. Young Fathers have already made their statement.
Their musical touchstones are rather obvious, with echoes of De La Soul present throughout. However, there is something distinctly alluring about Young Fathers. In the UK hip-hop scene, they stand out a mile. Their blend of the parochial and multi-cultural with a hint of dark mystery combines to promising effect here.