Young Fathers have been making music since they formed 6 years ago in 2008, but its taken them this long to release a studio album in spite of years spent attempting to break the music industry and wallowing in the underground. A duo of EP's entitled Tape One and Tape Two found some acclaim across blogs in 2011 and 2013 respectively, but the release of Dead this past week should by all rights solidify the north Edinburgh based group as a band not to take your eyes off for the immediate present and future.
Rap Genius introduce Young Fathers by quipping 'Ol’ Dirty chose his moniker because there was no father to his bastard style. Young Fathers earn theirs by making something so fresh it doesn’t yet have a name', and this proves to be a prophetic and accurate description for a band that seem hellbent on exploration and invention, as demonstrated over the course of Dead's mere 34 minutes of futuristic hip-hop. The group consists of three young men from different backgrounds- Alloysious Massaquoi of Liberia, Kayus Bankhole of Nigeria and 'G' Hastings from Edinburgh, the band's home base, and the origins of each member are fused to perfection in order to create YF's unique sound, which skilfully blends African tribal music and electronic hip-hop beats while tackling social issues and attitudes with provocative lyrics.
Dead kicks off with 'No Way', a relatively straightforward introduction to the immediately striking production values that dominate the album, however the mild electro buzz that follows YF's lyrics on the opener stand in stark contrast to their dark lyrics, which remain equally devoid of hope and light throughout the following ten tracks. 'Low' utilizes a similarly playful, delicate texture underneath socially aware verses, and while this penchant for breezy instrumentation over deeper word content was perfected in the 80's by Robert Smith and The Cure, there are certainly no love stories coming out of these Scottish suburbs.
Things get darker music wise as we descend further into the black mass with 'Just Another Bullet' providing an old school inspired rap track that concerns falling into temptations and 'turning Dorian Grey' to the sound of a nasty looping synth, while later on 'Hangman' offers an equally dark insight into the mindset of the young collective, with its apt title reflecting the unforgiving coldness that permeates through to the listener. '
The blend of Africa and electronica that rules over Dead is perhaps best translated by its midsection- 'War' is a definite highlight with its falsely soothing vocals while 'Get Up' up the tempo but certainly not the mood with an uneasy backdrop and horrifying lines to match ('Beautiful corpse/How you lie so still/Another life fufilled' is just a taste). The best moments on the album come in the oh so sweet and all too brief moments of relief from the decaying, desperately blackened production, and YF deserve huge praise for their ability to pace and measure these tiny cracks of light through their storm set skies. 'Dip' fills a cynical message on peer pressure with an emotive, moving synth that comes across more empathetic and soft than the instrument is ever allowed to sound on the rest of the record, while 'Mmmh Mmmh''s menacing vibes cut a raw intro before the introduction of a dreamy texture forces the track to resolve itself into a trance piece, while 'Am I Not Your Boy' features a drowning, smothering chorus that again invites you in warmly before spitting 'The kid that I once was is dead' over a shimmering vocal backing.
The haunting ambience of 'Paying' brings us back to reality sharply, before ''I've Arrived' ends this just over half an hour project with a song as utterly depressing as any before it, if not more so. It's as though Young Father's want to trick you into leaving on the softer notes of 'Am I Not Your Boy' before reminding you of just how dauntingly somber they can get, almost as if they've caught themselves by surprise, allowing you to become somewhat comfortable before they consume you whole with their ferocious melancholia. It's a fitting closer, one that nearly sounds like the band announcing their official arrival with their unapologetic brand of morose rap.
It's perhaps tough to listen to Dead's mournful 34 minutes, but it's tougher not to listen again. This is one of the most unique hip-hop debuts in recent memory, and Young Fathers seem like a band destined to break down the walls that they've begun to feel out on their official debut. The original, innovative blend of music captured here could indeed be significant for the future of electronic hip-hop, with the band's production values running as deep as the dispiriting suburban issues they confront over these 11 tracks, but for now Young Father's have crafted a brutally honest reflection of their mundane British lives that expertly unearths exciting new territory in underground hip-hop, and you can be sure that they aren't finished yet if the passion, energy and creativity prevalent on Dead is anything to go by.
Review by Andrew Lambert