Interview: Young Fathers

This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on Thursday October 11, 2012.

T in the Park, 2009, and a pop-firing, chromo-dub Edinburgh rap trio are raising party mayhem with their chichi dance routines, falsetto serenades and glittering Michael Jackson homages – just like the teenage, day-glo spawn of The Beastie Boys and De La Soul.

The groove-pop troupe were called Young Fathers, and three years on they’ve just been signed by celebrated US hip-hop enclave Anticon, which revels in cerebral, experimental rap and avant-pop (Sole, Doseone, Themselves). “It feels good to have other people believe in Young Fathers as much as we do,” says MC and beat-freak Graham “G” Hastings, on becoming the label’s first-ever Scottish associates.

The group assembled, aged 14, at Lickshot – an under-18s hip-hop night at the old Edinburgh Bongo Club run by local rap instigators Yard Emcees. “We met while we were dancing,” says Drylaw-raised Hastings of his dim-lit rendezvous with school-friends Kayus Bankole (whose Nigerian parents moved the family to Washington DC before settling in Scotland), and Liberia-born Alloysious Massaquoi, who relocated to Edinburgh as a child. “We’d go to open-mics where people would battle and rap for ages, but we’d do three-minute structured songs with our own beats.

“The ‘real hip hop’ guys didn’t get it,” he recalls. “We loved that.”

Young Fathers’ psychedelic bass-contortions are as packed with reggae, African cadences and abstract philosophies as they are with rap’s trademark rhythms and rhymes. Hastings accredits this heady sonic-meld to the group’s divergent backgrounds and collective ethos. “I make the beats, we all make the songs and each of us sings and raps,” he says.

“I’m a control freak, Kayus is particular. Ally obsesses over perfection.”

Following several acclaimed grassroots singles, Young Fathers’ Anticon debut will see the re-release of the Tape One EP, which the DIY posse recorded in a Leith basement (helmed by local producer / pop maverick Timothy London) and initially offered as a low-key mixtape earlier this year. It was this lo-fi pop-rap saturnalia that bagged the band their Anticon deal: “Shaun Koplow [Anticon label manager] sent an email after we put Tape One up for free download and videos on YouTube,” Hastings says of a very 21st century business transaction. “We got back in touch, Skyped back and forth, sent him some new stuff – then he sent the contract.

“Tape One was recorded Winter 2011 in just over a week,” Hastings continues. “We were recording a track or more a day, in between day-job hours, in Timothy London’s basement where the majority of Young Fathers’ material is born – from songs to videos, photos, artwork and recently a t-shirt sweatshop – and we adhered to a rule that there’d be at least one finished mixdown by the end of each session. It’s the sound of an intense release during a turbulent time for us as a group,” he reflects. “‘Make some noise and bang it down’, that’s what Tim told us to do.”

You could align Young Fathers’ twisted rap arcana with Shabazz Palaces, or their technicolour, peacenik vibes with the 80s/90s Native Tongues crew, but that would not account for their hyper-dub; their fluoro-R&B; their rumbling post-rock. “There’s so much we agree and disagree on,” says Hastings of their dark-pop delirium. “The three of us are different in most ways so it’s like family debates at a party.”

There is, however, some common ground. “When Chic comes on, everyone dances,” he ponders. The same could be said for Young Fathers.

Young Fathers support Anticon labelmate Why? at SWG3, Glasgow on October 12. Tape One (Anticon) is out in December.

Related articles:
Young Fathers and Unicorn Kid feature, The List (Aug 2009)

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