by Samuel Hernandez
In his book On Writing, Stephen King discusses the path to greatness, and it’s apparently not easy unless you’re born with the talent. Bad writers can become good writers through practice, good writers can become slightly better writers, but to be great you just need the talent. Music is the same way. Listening once, you get an impression, repeated listens allow you to either grow to adore what you were initially unsure about or grow ambivalent. That’s when good becomes slightly better, and because humans are obsessive, sometimes even great. Then there is the music that on first listen is transformative.
It’s a song that feels comfortable in your worldview even though it was missing up to that point. Young Fathers have done that with every song on their EP Get Up (with the exception of the radio version of the titular track “Get Up”).
“Get Up” begins in a tribal funk and is a suggestion to “Get up and do the right thing.” With two of the members from Africa (Liberia and Nigeria), this plays the part of an anthem for the growing attitude of African cooperation and success. (Other examples of this are K’naan’s contribution to the World Cup so many years ago, and an optimist view of Uganda taking an interest in the problems of South Sudan.) The track is an energetic jaunt – as an anthem should be. One thing done exceptionally well by Young Fathers, is that the voices that contribute to the song (and there are three here; two vocalists and one instrumentalist) never clash, building together instead to create an atmosphere of uniqueness. This track is the party with the social conscience.
“Better” continues the aggressive vocals with near violent instrumentals. Young Fathers work without evident samples, instead producing discordant sounds that establish the foundation for dark lyrics. “Better” isn’t about being better, it’s a dark passage filled with dark magic “come come baby let the lord in/that’s a bad juju” and vicious attacks. Something revolutionary is happening with these two tracks, a call to action, but with a speech ready to show the realities of living. “Better” is violent, but a reflection of life that is not glossed over. “Better” isn’t about rap skill prowess and self boasting about how great of a group Young Fathers is. “Better” is an invocation that in order to make things better, you have to know what better is and what it isn’t.
“Outlaw” is my favorite track. It summarizes my confusion and growing passion for the band. “Outlaw” is a suggestion of greatness, hinting at other bands, the beginning is Pink Floyd, the discordant singing is TV on the Radio, but instead of getting lost in homage, Young Fathers have elevated the sound, as if touching some objective music. “Futures looking good/the past is looking sharper…living in my habitat/I can do better than that.” A military march in the background, subdued vocals telling stories of coming back from war, “Outlaw” is the psychological reality of the revolutionary story we’ve been subject to, ending with “Yeah the tongue travels/When it unravels.” Even a close look at the choice of words gives a suggestion that this is important hip hop, or at the very least trying to be important.
The EP concludes where we began, but this time with 15 seconds shorn off, as though, even in our optimism of victory, we’ve lost a little something to get there.
Get Up is out on January 27 via Big Dada.