Young Fathers Discuss Pop Influence on 'White Men Are Black Men Too'
Published Apr 09, 2015The title of Young Fathers' new album, White Men Are Black Men Too, will certainly spark racially charged debates. But, in a way, the Scottish trio of eclectic soul-influenced alt-rappers — Alloysious Massaquoi (a Liberian who moved to Ghana before immigrating to Scotland), Kayus Bankole (born in Edinburgh to Nigerian parents and raised in the U.S. before returning to his place of birth) and Graham "G" Hastings (the band's sole Caucasian, indigenous Scot) — have worked to address, and overcome, those prejudices ever since they performed at high school socials over a decade ago.
Following a successful UK pop single called "Straight Back on It," Young Fathers self-produced, recorded and released some edgier material in 2011 and 2013 on EPs Tape One and Tape Two before unleashing their debut, Dead, which won the 2014 Mercury Prize. New full-length White Men Are Black Men Too continues the trio's journey of lauded, convention-subverting, genre-defying music.
"We'd already started recording the [new] album before [winning the Mercury]," Massaquoi tells Exclaim! "There was no pressure — even though you're only as good as your last record, we're always excited to record something new. And we're constantly doing that anyway. [Winning the Mercury Prize] just opens up people to the kind stuff we do now on a wider scale, slowly but surely."
While the trio are being praised for their ever-growing ambition, Massaquoi says their new album's success lies in its simplicity, adding: "We wrote it while touring in America behind Dead. We'd drive between gigs and hear all these direct, succinct pop songs on the radio. That inspired us to try and say what we wanted with four lines, instead of 10."
He adds that White Men Are Black Men Too's vocals are stripped of Dead's characteristically heavy reverb. "On Dead, there's lots of reverb because we wanted it to sound big," Massaquoi explains. "But we sing more on White Men, which was an accident, it just happened because our raps have less words, so you have a lot more space to add things."
Massaquoi adds that the new LP is also a sonic departure from its predecessor, before elaborating: "Dead was a pretty hard album. When you listen to it, you'll sit back and think 'Fuckin' hell, that was a bit full-on.' White Men has more choruses. We also used a choir for it, because I'm part of a choir. I read somewhere that 70 percent of pop songs with choirs become hit records, because having all those voices makes you feel like you can sing it too, like it's sing-able for everyone. But, really, I just wanted to have a choir on it because I love choirs."
The new LP's lyrics are far more serious; Massaquoi says White Men Are Black Men Too's provocative title was lifted from one of his verses on album highlight "Old Rock n' Roll" — and the song also features the best line he has ever written: "I'm tired of blaming the white man / His indiscretions don't betray him."
"We try to talk about fairness in our music, how the world will always be unfair but can get better, how things aren't just black and white, and how we can promote the in-between," Massaquoi says of the LP's title and its socially conscious, yet deeply intimate lyrics.
He adds that that aforementioned favourite line about not blaming "the white man" means so much to him because: "I've been wanting to say that for years. And I finally got the platform to say it. I could go on and on about how racism is bad, but simplifying it gives it more power, because it's to the point. It becomes amplified."
White Men Are Black Men Too is out now on Big Dada. See the band's tour schedule here.