The music video for Young Fathers' "In My View" begins with several entirely disconnected visions: the band made up and posing, a sinner bowing before a priest, two men holding each other's faces, a dancing cowboy, and so on. The action heightens: the sinners turn on the priest, the men thrust each others' faces aggressively, and the cowboy begins to sweat. Just as everything comes to a peak, they glance off camera, hands can be seen making adjustments, and a title card reads: "The Art of Making People Care." The behind–the–scenes becomes the video, the cameras are visible, and the producers behind the video are shown putting together the scenes. To say nothing of the music, it's a stunning three minutes of art.
Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings make up the Scottish trio Young Fathers, who collectively write and produce experimental rap/hip–hop/something else entirely. Their music is hard to draw a comparison or reference to because it is completely unique. Combining big drums, dark and heavy electronic sounds, and their three voices (which can go from gritty to cartoonish in an instant), their music can at best be described as what I imagine Killmonger from Black Panther listens to when he works out. It's chaotic and frenetic at times, but can hit a deep spot in the listener's psyche—and the ideology behind the record is even more moving.
Their latest album set out to be their most accessible, which is to say, with a slight pop structure. With quite possibly the most striking album cover of 2018, Cocoa Sugar, they took all the things that made their previous album, White Men Are Black Men Too (2015) and upped the ante. With a clear, curated vision behind the album, but also a fine sheen of polish, it blends from track to track while each one stands on its own. Their sounds are hard to place, usually incorporating elements of breath, retro–synths, and group vocals, all of which take root in the listener's mind. Despite their distinct sound, their music feels oddly universal. On the softest song of the album, "Lord," they sing "Fading together/ Love is blind/ Her love is kind/ Her love is mine," a sentimental lyric in a song that builds into noise and harmonies.
The trio all hail from Edinburgh in different ways: Bankole born to Nigerian parents, Massaquoi fleeing the Liberian Civil War as a child refugee, and Hastings born in Scotland, raised by a single father. The three met by chance at a bar's hip–hop night, and produced two mixtapes before releasing their debut album Dead. The trio has received critical acclaim since then, winning the Scottish Album of the Year Award twice (Tape Two in 2014 and Cocoa Sugar in 2018) and the Mercury Prize in 2017 for Dead.
The band's history comes out in their music, touching on politics, religion, and philosophy, all through poetic lyrics. On "Cocoa Sugar," the narrator, a father being separated from his daughter whom he calls "Cocoa Sugar," sings, " I'm gonna miss you/ I'm gonna deliver you/ But first I got to some business to care of/ I got to some business to attend to." Contrast that with a song like "Toy," where they sing, "Emaciated kinda wasted, can't remember what the time in which we met/ Somewhere in Tucson, I watched for one or two songs then I left" describing an inconsequential day in the life. Both feel like more than the sum of their parts, ascending and crashing so spectacularly that it's like watching a rodeo or a monster truck rally, with the entirety of the spectacle resting in the hazard.
If one were to have to put a stamp on the band's sound, it would have to be "epic." Each song hits highs and lows, captures the listeners attention, and then takes a twist. In the "In My View" video, the tips for "making people care" include: "Use shock & surprise"; "show me your softer side"; and "Hook me in the first five seconds." It's clear that Young Fathers takes their own advice to heart.