Somewhere in an email exchange that Young Fathers member Alloysious Massaquoi published explaining some of the thought behind their sophomore album’s title, he describes the record as “our interpretation of what a pop album should be”. The title and its implications aside, Massaquoi may have sold Young Fathers’ follow-up to last year’s Mercury Prize-winning Dead a little short by describing it as a pop album. Whatever it is that the trio have created—and pop just isn’t it—I have a terribly difficult time pinning it down to anything as simple as a genre title. It’s something beautifully more, complex and mesmerizing and indescribably fascinating.
The group, ‘G’ Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi, and Kayus Bankole, may have met and recorded in Edinburgh but, like Dead before it and the mini-albums that launched them into the public eye, TAPE ONE and TWO, White Men Are Black Men Too is as much a product of geographical and cultural amalgamation as it is the output of three Scottish hip-hop artists harnessing their city’s natural euphoria and serenity. WMABMT is a frenetic blend of alternative hip-hop, doo-wop, African rap and indie rock.
While the band’s sound has ultimately evolved past the weird hip-hop trappings that both TAPE albums hovered within, there are still plenty of musical references to their time on the phenomenal Los Angeles-based record label Anticon. Opener “Still Running” combines a brilliant screeching synth hook with stomping percussion and simple, strong lyrics delivered with a marching band’s precision and focus. Fans of Anticon label-mates Why?, Passage, or Pedestrian will find a lot to love in the flourishes of experimental musicianship smattered all over the passages of each of the twelve tracks.
At their most intense (“Old Rock n Roll”), Young Fathers are crass and confrontational. The lyrics that form the title of the album are thrown around here under dropped bass and Chinatown plucked notes with a kind of primal noise that rivals Die Antwoord minus their rave beats. At their most soulful (“Feasting”), however, the trio are far more interesting, drawing heavily from Motown and American soul music to create free-form musical pieces that ebb and flow with each MC’s stanzas. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to TV On The Radio’s impassioned vocal delivery or Outkast’s funk-infused hip-hop sound, but what White Men Are Black Men Too is, is something as wholly unique as it is referential.
As much as WMABMT would fit perfectly nestled among Anticon’s collection of eccentric and experimental hip-hop albums, on Big Dada the trio behind Young Fathers have proven that Dead was no fluke. White Men Are Black Men Too is an evocative album that may just live up to the big notions its title so controversially summons.