Dead (Ninja Tune)
For the past few years, critics have been rejoicing in an alleged new golden age of hip-hop. Major releases from Kanye, A$AP Rocky and Drake have kept the mainstream moving, while more avant-garde acts like Danny Brown proved that making moves in the rap game doesn’t have to come at the expense of a good dose of creative weirdness. But there’s one strain of hip-hop that arguably never lost its potency, and the wonky, lo-fi rumblings of Young Fathers extend a lineage that takes in the acerbic wordplay and clapped-out beats of the Anticon stable, Doom’s cracked-earth electronic sermons and Frank Ocean’s frayed neo-soul.
Add to the mix their own blend of Scottish Afro-futurism, and Young Fathers are an act to breathe in deeply before you exhale. Heartfelt lead single Low finds angle-voiced Alloysious Massaquoi crooning “I just want to make life easy on your eyes, you just want to ease me with your lies”: unlike much experimental hip-hop, Young Fathers don’t hide their sentiments behind smoky metaphors. The alternatingly menacing and empowering War allows all three vocalists to ride a rhythm of claps and soulful synth stabs, while the claustrophobic clattering of Mmmh Mmmh sounds intriguingly like Mezzanine era Massive Attack. The anti-anthemic Am I Not Your Boy, and the swaying, sombre lullaby I’ve Arrived provide a soul-searching climax to a perplexing, shape-shifting album. These are complex compositions that reward multiple listens. With depth, character, soul and finesse that few contemporary hip-hop acts can lay claim to, this is an album to take as a serious statement of intent. Weird, wild and wonderful stuff.
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Words: Adam Corner