When we first met Young Fathers, we were left holding our jaws in our palms, lifting the slack as best we could to form the following words: Where in the world do we go from here? “Here,” there, was the Scottish trio’s striking debut EP, the percussively lush and darkly intoxicating TAPE ONE. And the answer to the question is far more logical than expected: TAPE TWO. Our trepidation wasn’t fear of hearing more from YF, so much as it was of our own inability to describe whatever wrinkle arrived in the rap-song-beat group’s unprecedented style. People were saying things like “what you waited over a decade for the grime movement to curate” and “remind you of the sweet Lofi-Street-Sound of a nice old Ghetto-Blaster”. Thankfully, while reductive, that’s still kinda fair.
The range these young men span from song to song is heroic. They are masters of emotion (“I Heard”), experts with texture (“Mr. Martyr”), incredible with rhythms (“Ebony Sky”), and fierce wielders of noise (“Queen Is Dead”). But they are also capable of being all of these things at once and coming out the other end with an odd masterpiece like “Way Down in the Hole,” which begins like a warm Miguel demo before inhabiting a bombed-out horror score apparently performed by the ghostly inhabitants of the crumpled space between two terraced houses shortly after an air raid. Young Fathers can do this because they have been making music (and art and videos) together since they were 14 years old, and are telepathic besides.
The Scottish trio is comprised of vocalists and perfectionists all three: Alloysious born in Liberia, Kayus raised by Nigerian immigrants, and G who also provides the score. Together, they croon like a left-field rock band or a ’90s R&B squad, or rhyme like scions sent either from the D.A.I.S.Y. age or escaped from some distant dystopia in Sun Ra’s mothership, and do so over production that pulls as much from African tradition as it does electronic futurism. If their sound or words sometimes seem bleak, it’s only because the world outside is, and they are a mirror reflecting our truths back. But Young Fathers are also our imaginations running weird, finding color in dark corners and dancing in light nobody else sees.