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Hip hop is being bastardised. And about time too. For a while, it was concerning that new hip hop from all factions was being boiled down to its lowest common denominator; dilute and derivative. For such an incendiary genre, it’s taken bands like rule-breakers Death Grips, Scotland’s Young Fathers and their label mates Shabazz Palaces to take certain old form and function, then tear up the rulebook. Young Fathers both court and abandon melody with no apology, and have a reputation for musical aggression. With ‘Tape One’ and ‘Tape Two’ already providing enough sounds for a generation, we await their full-length, ‘Dead’ like the hip hop second coming.
I've read a few articles about you guys now that concern themselves with the notion that hip hop doesn't come out of Scotland, which is peddling two incorrect notions; one: that you're hip hop through and through, and two: that Scotland has any different a kind of youth culture to anywhere else. How do you feel about that?
Well it's kinda patronising, people saying that. We don't class ourselves as anything, but to say that certain genres can't come out of somewhere, it's just a patronising thing. "Oh, you've done that up there? Well done!" [Laguhs] D'you know what I mean? It's just patronising, yeah.
The boundaries are just not there anymore for music, and they're certainly not geographical. You signed to [American label] Anticon and put Tape Two out with them. Did being signed in the US give you a bit more kudos at home, do you think?Yeah, I think it works everywhere, not just at home. Maybe in Edinburgh because there's no so much a scene, like a really big music scene, so you really have to have quite a name for people to turn out to see you. I think everywhere though, when you sign to a label anywhere, you take their crowd. That's always the mentality with us, that you get that extra tick from someone and they get you out to as many ears as they can. But we keep trying to do that too, just so we get to as many ears as possible.
You're signed to Big Dada here now as well, who are putting the album out in the UK. They're a really good label to be with; they're pretty progressive, aren't they?Yeah, yeah, they've been great. They really have been a Big Dada!
Because 'Dead' your upcoming album was historically not meant to be your debut - 'Inconceivable Child… Conceived' got close, but never made the light of day - what has that meant for how you feel about this one?Well we've known each other since we were 14, so we're gonna celebrate it a bit, definitely. Because of the nature of 'Tape One' and 'Tape Two' before though, we kinda seen them as albums, even though they werenae classed as albums. But this is a different thing altogether; it got put together in the same kind of process, but with the nature of us not being able to sit still for more than two minutes because we get bored, it was a whole new thing. When we listened back tae everything we'd recorded for the album, it definitely sounded different to the tapes, and on its own.
I was a bit confused as to why 'Dead' was being considered your debut and the 'Tapes' weren't -- Just length basically, length.
Right, so even nine tracks - are they nine tracks apiece?Eight on 'Tape One', and nine on 'Tape Two'; they're short and there's not many of them so they weren't classed as albums. But now we've made an album, it feels like we've really made an album. We did feel like the 'Tapes' were, but this feels more like an album now.
I watched an old interview with you guys where you sounded like you were about a month away from releasing 'Inconceivable Child…' -We were always saying that though!
Who called a halt on it first? That's a pretty brave move.It wasn't our end; it's never really been our end. We've always done stuff and finished it, but it was just the people that we were dealing with at the time never delivered. It was never our decision, although it was our decision when it was two years late, because we never really stopped recording, so those recordings were a bit old for us. That's why we got frustrated and went through a bit of turmoil to get through 'Tape One'.
You must have been proud of the material, even though it felt old hat to you, but looking back, are you glad that it didn't represent you as your debut album?Yeah, definitely, I mean at the time it was one of those things where you feel passionate about it, but it's a blessing in disguise it not coming out and leading to us being angry and wanting to learn how to do everything ourselves. If it wasn't for that, we wouldn't know how to make videos, how to put songs together and all that stuff. It just made us feel, 'we can dae this ourselves. We don't other people to tell us what we need.'
At the time, there was a fair bit of momentum for the band and you were being interviewed by the right kind of people, and getting noticed so for that momentum to drop off, did you have to return to mundanity slightly? Did you have to go back home?No, no, not really; it wasn't like that. For us we never stopped, so we were never aware. The silence happened because that bunch of stuff never got put out, but we weren't just sitting somewhere moaning about it. We were always busy daeing stuff, always working, so we've been busy since. It all built up to the moment where we decided to take it on ourselves.
So Gee, you create the beats, don't you? How does it work with the other boys? Does the music inform the lyrics, or the other way around?It's never a set thing; you need to keep it open I think, so sometimes I'll have something that is just like the bare bones and it can completely change by the end of the day. Or sometimes it'll just be a phrase, or someone will come in wi' a melody and sometimes you just record it live, like that. We never like to set things in stone. I think working in a way where you make the beat and then you put the words to it all the time - we just don't have the attention span tae stick tae one method! We always like to excite ourselves and you realise that all that stuff is important, just as important as the sounds and stuff. It's the process, the way in which you make it.
I feel like shooting myself in the head for asking the old "influences" question, but your beats are feverish, they're tribal, infectious - I have to know where they come from.Well my background, I grew up with my father listening to soul and reggae music and then when I met the boys, when we were fourteen, we were in to hip hip, R&B and dancehall, stuff like that. And then pop music as well; I was growing up on pop music. Getting older, I discovered other producers and dub, George Martin and Phil Spector, Beach Boys -
- It's funny you say Phil Spector, because Mr. Martyr has a wonderful Phil Spector Wall of Sound feeling to it.Yeah, well it's the 'Be My Baby' beat.
Oh, there you go! They're just brilliant sounds though, aren't they?Oh yeah, Phil Spector - I always have his songs close by.
I know, but you can't think of the man without his criminal exploits now, it's awful. Or his hair...[Laughs] Yeah, of course, but him and his wife made pretty great music and that's kinda how I like tae think of him, making great music. That's the time that I kinda like tae think of him, d'you know what I mean?
It's probably the best way.Yeah, of course!
This sounds really sycophantic, but I don't think I've been as excited about a band coming to Norwich as I am with you guys, because I haven't seen you live yet -- Oh, thank you.
Does it all go off? Are you a different animal live, do you think?Er, I think so, yeah. It's one of those things where we never like doing the same things twice; we're always too quick to get bored o' something, and I think that happens live as much as it does in the studio as well. Because live's a different game, you could be playing the same song twice the same, but usually the set list will change, or the form will change. You have to be on your toes and we like to make it so you're able to have movement in the songs and be able to do it differently than the night before. Also, just in general, how you're feeling that day - kinda honest when you're performing live is probably the best way to go. If you're having a bad day, then let everybody know you're having a bad day, or the opposite, 'cause I think that's what - when I go and see a gig - I enjoy that more. If someone's playing wi' a bit o' anger in them 'cause someone's pissed them off, you can see it and you can feel it, or the other way around if they're feeling really good. I think it's really about making sure you can do things off the cuff.
And the album will have been out about four days by the time you get to Norwich, so everyone should buy it so we can gen up before you get here. I'm assuming you'll concentrate most on the album material?Well we never like to set anything in stone, but we've been playing a few songs off the album for the last few tours and stuff, 'cause as soon as we've recorded a new song, it's always good to try them out live. But with the album coming out, we'll need to, and we want to, put more songs from the album in the set, or versions of them definitely.
We know you're gonna bring it when you come to Norwich, but to make it the best possible night for you, what can we, as an audience, do for you?For us, just be there really. We always do what we wanna do, so you should do the same. If there was no one there, we'd still be doing our thing, but if you're there, that's a bonus. There are no rules.
Emma R. Garwood
Young Fathers play the second Pony Up night at Norwich Arts Centre on February 8th.
You could win a pair of tickets to the Norwich gig PLUS an album and poster! All you have to do is send an email to email@example.com with the subject 'WHO'S THE DADDY' by Fri 7th Feb.To be up to date with all our latest competitions, scan the Passbook / PassWallet code above to keep our Outline Music Pass on your phone.
For tickets, go to www.norwichartscentre.co.uk.