#41. Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too

Listening to Young Fathers is like catching a glimpse of the future. Not because it sounds “futuristic” in the way that lots of music was trying to sound in the 1980s, but because it comes from a place much further down the evolutionary timelines of hip-hop and pop than other music from 2015. To be fair, hip-hop has come a long way from Kool Moe Dee and Run DMC; it’s already begun to bridge the gap between its roots and pop music thanks to artists like Iggy Azalea and Macklemore. But when hip-hop and pop merge nowadays, the result is a catchy Frankenstein monster stitched together from two insoluble genres. Macklemore’s 2015 hit song about mopeds, “Downtown,” glues hip-hop verses to a pop chorus, keeping one foot rooted in each style. The seams between the genres were even more visible several years ago on songs like Eminem and Rihanna’s 2013 single “The Monster.”

Hip-hop and pop have mixed, but they haven’t yet dissolved into one entity. As the concept of genres continues to fracture and bleed across boundaries this process of consolidation will surely happen—probably within a decade—but Young Fathers are already making music like that right now. Hip-pop acts today often need to defend their credibility, too. They’re frequently criticized for being too silly or cartoonish. Macklemore famously struggles with being accepted into the hip-hop world, and up-and-coming artist Jon Bellion (coauthor of Eminem’s “The Monster”) sounds like he’s trying too hard to assert his “hip-ness” whenever he raps on one of his pop songs. There is no such silliness on White Men Are Black Men Too, an album that foreshadows what it will sound like when hip-hop and pop blend so seamlessly that they will create a third, entirely new sound.

Sometimes Young Fathers sing and sometimes they rap. Sometimes they do something in between. No matter how they deliver their lyrics, the subject matter is often powerful and passionate. On “Old Rock n Roll,” Liberian and Ghanaian band member Alloysious Massaquoi raps “we living life like a bubble wrapped ape,” venting frustrations about being confined to 21st century racial stereotypes. “I’m tired of playing the good black… I’m tired of blaming the white man / his indiscretion don’t betray him / a black man can play him.” Their lyrics aren’t always this overt, however. On “Shame” muffled vocals interweave with wordless falsetto chants over percussion that sounds simultaneously electronic and reminiscent of South African mbaqanga music.

“Nest” features some of the most straightforward singing on White Men Are Black Men Too. A choir gradually rises up behind the band, singing “feed me mama / food for the village” as Massaquoi sings “you keep me warm all day.” It’s refreshing to hear a male rapper revere a woman in such a vulnerable way. The album is full of refreshing moments like this. And although its production can feel too dense at times, that’s its only notable weak point. White Men Are Black Men Too is a strong offering from a band that commands respect. It’s been referred to adamantly as both a hip-hop album and a pop album, but in reality it’s neither. Maybe in ten years we’ll have a name for this kind of music.