Young Fathers – Dead

by Jack Reid

Something that Scotland can’t really claim is a stake in the history of hip-hop. I can’t think of a single significant act that came out of the Great White North in this genre - until now that is. Young Fathers are Liberian/Nigerian/Scottish hip-hop with a twist of psychadelica, and despite that bizarre genre tag, they’re getting more and more accessible. Having called themselves something of a boyband in the past, Young Fathers aren’t afraid of a good sung hook.

Take Low for an example. The soulful hook at the outset of the track is at once melodically addictive and impressively deconstructive. The song appears to attack the globalised military-industrial complex, specifically faux-humanitarianism and media spin - but it does so in such a new way that you can’t be quite sure that that is what’s happening until perhaps the third listen. In these verses, without the usual ratcheting basslines that Young Fathers became known for in their EPs, the rhymes read a little like poems, especially given their political density.

Hangman intensifies the frenetic and aggressive production that, to me, is the core of Young Fathers’ sound. The kicks and snaps seem to lurch at a lazy pace, alongside a laxidasical bassline that sounds a little like an enormous drunken bumblebee. The lyrics get darker: “Hangman / A bullet a piece for the two of you”, in tandem with the soundscape; knifes screeching by, and more cacophonous backing vocals buid up to cloud the scene. The effect is an intimidating one, and that’s where Young Fathers shine the most.

In an all too familiar twist, the best track on the album is the single release. Get Up most successfully blends the sung refrains, the low, low beats, and the unrelenting no-bullshit rap that Young Fathers are known for. This track is the only one that gets stuck in my head when I come away from the album. It’s a shame when this kind of thing happens with an album; when you delve in to find not much depth beyond what you already knew through the singles.

Death is a mixed debut. It seems that the intensity that these guys bring is best suited to the short, hard slaps of the Tapes. Out of the long play, only a couple of tracks jump out at me and the rest strike me as filler. It’s a shame - Young Fathers combine so many influences in such an uncompromising way that they have seeming boundless potential.