Clattery lo-fi and elliptical raps on the Mercury-winning Edinburgh trio's provocative second album
Alright, let’s just set aside the whole idea of a Mercury Prize ‘curse’ and concede that had Young Fathers not scooped that £20,000 last October, the Edinburgh trio (beat man ‘G’ Hastings and rappers/singers Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole) would still be blipping away off the radar. As it is, this time the Mercury seems to have done its job – nudging a worthy but obscure group into the spotlight, and the world is now free to judge ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’ on its own merits.
These merits are odd ones, but merits nonetheless. Young Fathers’ second record is a clattery lo-fi gospel of budget drum machines, enthusiastic xylophone, monomaniacal krautrock grooves, preacher-man testifying and a few good tunes, all wrapped up in a title that feels like a provocative statement (albeit one that doesn’t make much sense). If it sounds like a melting pot, well, how did you expect a Scot, a Liberian and an Edinburgh-born Nigerian making music in a below-freezing Berlin warehouse to sound, exactly?
One thing the album doesn’t really sound like is hip-hop, unless you’re really stretching at the elasticated boundaries of the form. ‘Liberated’ is a one-finger piano stomp attaining a similar heady transcendence to LCD Soundystem’s ‘All My Friends’. ‘Dare Me’, in places, sounds like a teen-pop ballad of the sort young men with sculpted hair sing with their hands balled at their chest. ‘Shame’ features soul yelping, the Leith Congressional Choir, and a guitar solo that brings to mind internet meme of yesteryear Keyboard Cat, with percussion apparently played on an upturned waste paper basket.
In places, ‘White Men…’ can feel slightly impenetrable. ‘27’ accrues emotional weight when you learn it’s about the trio reaching the rock’n’roll death age that claimed Hendrix, Cobain and Winehouse. But whereas it’s a pleasure to lose yourself in the surrealist poetry of Seattle hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces, here the elliptical raps can feel stand-offish.
On the bright side, the Mercury win hasn’t precipitated a lurch towards the mainstream. It suits Young Fathers to keep their rough edges. If ‘White Men…’ really recalls anything, it’s those early TV On The Radio records made before Dave Sitek had figured out what he was doing – and you can take that as a sincere compliment.
Director: Young Fathers
Record label: Big Dada
Release date: 06 Apr, 2015