Discovery: Young Fathers

A trio from Scotland, Young Fathers mix rap, grime, and afro-beat. The band’s mixtape, Tape One, is filled with steady beats, and ominous, repeated lines, like, “Don’t you turn my home against me, even if my house is empty” in “Deadline,” and, “Tonight, I decompose” in “Remains.” Graham Hastings creates the beats, while Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole rap and sing. When Massaquoi and Bankole sing in unison, their hooks sound like chants. You can listen to Tape One for the beats, or for the lyrics; a refreshing change from the “bitch, pussy, ho” rap that dominates the Top 40.

Chatting with Massaquoi over the phone, you’ve got to keep on your toes. Massaquoi isn’t one to accept empty platitudes—”I love your music”—he wants to know what and why. What do you like? What do the lyrics mean to you?

AGE: 25 (Massaquoi, Hastings, and Bankole)

HOMETOWN: Edinburgh, Scotland

CURRENT LOCATION: I still live in Edinburgh. Still five minutes from my mum’s house, so if I get really hungry, I’ll head there. If I need to do my laundry? No, my mum taught me well. I do my own laundry, separate them all. I’ll be a good husband someday. Mum will be proud.

STYLE OF MUSIC: To be honest, I don’t really know. We don’t go in having a game plan. I think everybody else goes, “Oh, it’s that,” but we don’t really have a definition for it—we just make what we make and everybody else decides what it is. 

FIRST MEETINGS: We met at an under-16s hip-hop night in Edinburgh, we must’ve been about 14, 15 years old. Loud music, sweaty, girls, pubescent teenagers —all that kind of stuff. It happened every two weeks, and it was something that you looked forward to. 

I knew from Kayus from high school—he came about third year in high school and we quickly became friends—and [some of my] childhood friends knew Graham. We had talked about going to the under 16 hip-hop nights. We met there, I remember there was kind of a wee circle and everyone was dancing and having a good time. Then, at the end, Graham said that he had a £10 music program called Cool-J Mix—[
laughs] “Cool-J Mix”—and he if he asked if we’d like to come round to his and write some songs because he “makes beats.” [laughs] So that’s what we did, we went round to his as much as we could and just recorded off a karaoke machine. 

THE EDINBURGH MUSIC SCENE: Edinburgh is more indie music, so hip-hop is pretty underground. 
Edinburgh has a high population of students, but hardly anybody goes out—to gigs, that is. It’s weird. Whereas in Glasgow, people will go to a gig and then they go out to party after and go to bars or whatnot. That’s a normal thing. In Edinburgh, even the big names struggle to get loads of people here.

Because you’re from Edinburgh, there’s that small city thing, like “I know Alloysius” or “I know Graham” or “I know Kayus,” but they don’t know you. They don’t see it how you see it, they don’t see it for what it is. [laughs] Sometimes you feel like you’re sitting on a pot of gold and you’re like, “Look at it! It’s amazing!” Nobody gives a fuck, nobody cares. Then they start seeing things happening, they start seeing you in magazines and then sometimes they thing you’re doing better than you actually are. It’s just weird, man. 

COMING TO AMERICA: I can’t wait to go and perform. We’re going to the South by Southwest festival in Texas, we’re coming over in March, and I think we’re going to California and New York, as well. In America, of all places, where hip-hop originates, I think the folk will be open to a new kind of music and more tolerant of diversity than where you’re from. [
laughs] You have to go somewhere else before you come back home and folks are like, “Oh… yeah.”

you think it means? That’s the question. Come on! On the first listen, what do you think it means? It means something to me, it means something different to Kayus, and means something different to Graham, as well. I couldn’t say, “Oh, it’s about that” unless it’s literally my rap. It means something else to everybody else.

OLD HEADS, YOUNG SHOULDERS: The name “Young Fathers,” a lot of the stuff before, we sounded older than we were. A lot of the comments would be “How old are these guys?” “16, 17.” “Oh, they’re too young to be talking about this kind of stuff.” To people our age, it was too mature or too wordy. For me, it was “old heads on young shoulders”—giving birth to something new.

Is it easier now that we’re older? Yeah. It’s almost like you can back it up; it’s more real because you’re older. But at the same time, most of the guys I know, who I was growing up with, when they were younger they did some crazy stuff. They’d lived. Some people can have a cotton wool life and not know anything, be protected.