Hailing from Scotland, Young Fathers are an experimental hip hop trio that also happen to be one of the more exciting groups to appear in recent times. After dropping their free to download debut mixtape Tape One in 2011, the group signed with independent electronic / hip hop label Anticon and released their follow-up mixtape Tape Two earlier this month.
The free-flowing and enterprising Tape One showcased the group’s wide range of influences, from reggae, soul, lo-fi and electronic music, as well as incorporating creative sampling techniques and elements of traditional African music courtesy of Liberian-born Alloysious Mallaqoui and Nigerian-born Kayus Bankole. ‘G’ Hastings, a native Scot, seems to serve as the trio’s producer.
Tape Twosees the trio slightly shift away from the noisy, lo-fi sounds of their previous release, with the production being somewhat up-scaled. The opening track “I Heard” is an incredibly smooth listen, with soulful vocals and one of the most infectious hooks I’ve heard this year – “Insiiiide, I’m feelin’ dirrrty” Good luck erasing the melody from your head afterward. There’s a brief, unobnoxious rap verse toward the back end of the track, which in a way sets the tone for the mixtape, with a focus on sounds rather than verses.
A fair amount of the mixtape features quite dark, minimalist synths that sound reminiscent of the similarly grim synthesisers in The Knife’s Silent Shout, evident in tracks like “Queen Is Dead”, “Mr Martyr” and “Ebony Sky”, but are also accompanied by inventive sampling, the occasional strong, flowing rap verse or noisy, heavy electric-style beats. One of my personal favourites is “Freefalling”, a 2 minute epic that involves a tribal-infused groovy electric beat as well as what I can only identify as some sort of traditional chant, and just as the track builds to its climax it abruptly finishes. The mixtape’s closer “Ebony Sky” uses a curious, clanging percussion beat in conjunction with Silent Shout-esque synths, but what dominates the track are the incredibly strong, soulful vocals – “She’s looking for loooooooove / In the wroooooong places”, and serves as a terrific finisher for the 23 minute tour-de-force that is Tape Two.
Just a mere 3 minutes longer than its predecessor, Tape Two, impressive as it is, only seems to hint at what Young Fathers are truly capable of creating. Despite sacrificing some of the dirty, lo-fi elements of Tape Onewith heavier, polished production, there is absolutely no compromise in quality with Tape Two. The only real gripe I have is with the agonisingly short duration of some tracks (especially “Freefalling”), otherwise this is one hell of a solid mixtape, not particularly cohesive, but definitely diverse and inspired. Anyone remotely curious toward hearing which groups are truly challenging the aesthetics of hip hop, or Scotland’s contributions to the genre, look no further.