Released 4 February 2014 (Anticon)
The experimental rap collective, Young Fathers, have been cultivating their sound since their conception in 2008. They have had three releases to date, Tape One in 2011 and Tape Two from 2013, which was one of my favorite releases from last year. Dead is their third release and could be considered their début, even though all three have seen physical releases on Anticon. Formed in Edinburgh, Scotland, Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and G Hastings have succeeded in blending an unfathomable variety of sound into their work. The conglomerations of styles can be attributed to their birthplaces and backgrounds. Massaquoi was born in Liberia, Bankole’s parents are Nigerian, and ‘G’ Hastings is native to Edinburgh. Instead of all coming from the same area and relating to one culture, they extend to their roots and create something much larger.
Ever since Tape One, Young Fathers have not shied away from expressing any and all influences in their music. Pop like choruses to R&B and African beats have all been crammed into the under thirty minute tapes and a slightly unfinished feeling is created. So many ideas are slammed into the less than four minutes tracks that it’s hard to process everything that went by in one listen. This of course was part of the appeal to Tape One and Two. Their music is so dense that it took multiple times to understand what was really going on. Every listen, something new jumps forward, a piece of their sound choice, or a different part of the lyrics.
Dead is the true step forward. Young Fathers stopped to catch their breaths. Just barely, but the contrast is ridiculously noticeable. Clocking at just under thirty-five minutes, or about ten minutes longer than their first two releases, the feeling of slowing down and really emphasizing the important parts does amazing things for them. For starters, they find the time to showcase the depth of their influence. The first half is scattered with breakneck rap verses and up-tempo beats while the second features slower songs with gospel like singing. The change of pace is really felt moving from “MMMH MMMH” into “Hangman.” The aggravated, noisy feel of the former melts away into a haunting track of revenge. The beat creeps slowly by, while the laid back but poisonous versus are delivered. In between the chorus, “Hangman/a bullet a piece for the two of you,” is presented as if a choir is or should be singing it. This change of pace is followed up by the last two tracks on the album, which feel more like R&B than anything else.
At no point does it feel like they bring any new ideas to Dead. Rather they are chewing and digesting the mouthful they bit off with the first two tapes. This allows for the more in depth focus that Young Fathers put into the album. The focus comes across through more clearly produced beats and instrumentation. Part of the enigmatic feel of the first two tapes was the difficulty in picking out the different parts of the instrumentals. While there is a lot of value in that form of production, and quite honestly I enjoyed it more, the growth that the cleaner more precise production shows cannot be denied. The overall feeling that the songs actually end is an improvement that is only for the better of Dead. The first two tapes feel like a collaboration of advance song sketches, while a defined pathway is carved by each track on their latest album.
Progression is the easiest way to judge an artist, but like anything in life too much change can be a bad thing. Young Fathers possess the perfect amount of change. No matter what aspect you listen for, a more mature feeling is gained. It comes across as intangible, but the feeling of progress stems from an increased level of comfort within each track. Throughout the entire album, Young Fathers continue to be themselves but find new ways to express it. The emotion created by the lyrics is refined to a point. The loss of rawness from the cleaner production is made up for in the power that is poured into the lyrical deliverance. A perfect example of this is on one of the singles, “War”. The emotional subject, which they have visited before, grates across the listener with the harshest vocal excursion yet.
If there is such thing as the front-runners of where rap is going, Young Fathers would be up there. They continue to help push the boundaries of hip-hop alongside groups like Shabazz Palaces and Clipping. Last year they made one of the best albums of the genre and it looks like they might have done it again.
Rating: Gotta Have It