When you think of Scotland, you think bagpipes and kilts, not hip-hop. But Edinburgh outfit Young Fathers are at the forefront of changing that. The trio are made up of Liberian-born Alloyious Massaquoi, who made the move to Edinburgh as a toddler, Kayus Bankole who was born to Nigerian parents in the Scottish capital and finally, local boy Graham ‘G’ Hastings. Over the past couple of years, Young Fathers have released two extended plays, titled Tape One and Tape Two respectively, but it’s with their debut full length Dead, where the trio come alive.
Where the two mixtapes come across as quite disjointed and out of place, Dead, is the strong cohesive body of work the trio have been waiting for. Riddled with murky, pumping bass’ the album is both an outcry as well as a celebration of society today.
From the opening track “No Way,” you’re thrown into a whirlwind of energetic sounds as Massaquoi takes us through the journey of a Liberian wedding, rapping in the accent of his birthplace “sitting in the parlour / offering me some flour / milk, plantain, rice / for the bridal shower” he blurts in the opening lines before addressing the polarisation of love and war.
Similar themes run through the album; on “War,” the trio dive into a pulsating soundscape of heavy synths and bass as they speak about the effects of war. But as the track progresses, their collective harmonies come together in the hook to create a rather peaceful aesthetic: a complete juxtaposition to the brash opening. In fact, the layered vocals are heard throughout the record; it’s what binds the album, the backbone if you will. Unlike their contemporaries, Young Fathers build a fine balance between the dark and stimulating lyrics and messages they’re trying to convey, with the soft and arguably ethereal harmonisation of the vocals. This celebratory ambiance is echoed prominently in “Get Up;” a rather uplifting number to succeed the politically inclined “War.”
However, some may feel slightly intimidated and overwhelmed by the sheer energy presented through the controversial themes. The strong content may come across as offensive or obscene, but Young Fathers do a great job of adding lighter touches to counteract this in their instrumentation.
Production-wise, Dead is just as daring as the topics they touch upon in their songwriting. Jerky beats, sweltering electronics, thick reverb, echoing synths all form the skeleton of the record; and as a collective piece of work, beautifully mesh in following a common goal. It’s as if each and every note, harmony, lyric has been carefully thought out: and as a result Young Fathers have delivered an absolute masterpiece. So, it comes as no surprise that the Scottish trio took home the prestigious Barclaycard Mercury Prize award last night.