Meet the next big thing in hip-hop … the Young Fathers from Edinburgh
"If you would like to have one of our children, please contact us," they solicit demurely on their MySpace blog. At the time of going to press, there had been no further updates regarding their parental aspirations, just a bunch of delighted gig reviews.
In person, Young Fathers are equally modest. "When you're a teenager, you want some attention from girls, and you know by going on stage you're going to get a bit of attention, so that's why I got into rapping," says the group's Ally Massaquoi. "But I never really got any birds…"
Massaquoi is an alleged insomniac who was born in Liberia, and lived briefly in Ghana before his family settled in Edinburgh when he was four. Sitting next to him in a booth in the City Cafe is Graham Hastings, aka G, a lifelong Edinburgh native who needs to shoot off within the hour to his job in the law library at Parliament House. The third member of the troupe, Kayus Bankole, aka KS, is absent because he's sitting an exam this afternoon. Bankole was born in Scotland but lived away for periods in Nigeria and then Washington DC, before returning to Scotland in his mid-teens.
These talented 20-year-olds first converged at an under-18s hip-hop night in the original Bongo Club. "I loved it, the grunginess, the sweaty walls, the atmosphere, the excitement. You'd struggle to find that nowadays," says Massaquoi.
They honed their rapping skills in open mic slots and came together with a shared desire to write songs rather than just rap over beats, creating their first tracks using cheap music software and a microphone from Argos.
"Graham makes a lot of the beats and Kayus brings energy, he's just so random," says Massaquoi, explaining the trio's infectious dynamic. "When he's on it, there's no stopping the boy."
"Ally is more melodic," adds Hastings. "So that covers everything. You have the production, the melodies and all the random aspects around it. But it's best when you're having fun."
Young Fathers bring that fun to the stage. They gave their first performance at the late, lamented Venue when they were 16, but have since made a splash further afield, particularly in London, with their chaotic stage presence, humorous rhymes and ad hoc dance routines reminiscent of a Scottish Beastie Boys. That playful personality and spontaneity is carried over into their music.
"It's incidental and accidental," says Hastings. "I don't think it should ever be forced. I'll have a beat in my head but then something will happen, like I'll touch the keyboard or hit a drum pattern or some noise will come out that triggers something else and you forget what you were aiming to do. It's like putting stuff in a pot – you know what ingredients to add to make this thing, but you aren't sure how it will taste."
Into that pot goes Hastings's love of soul and reggae, the African music Massaquoi was brought up with and the colourful blast of old-school hip-hop, and out comes the glorious horn-soaked party strains of current download single Straight Back On It, a consummate, souped-up production worthy of Fatboy Slim.
Young Fathers have also finished recording of their debut album Inconceivable Child… Conceived, which will be available to download in the coming months. As their reputation grows, Young Fathers have the commercial potential to sire a brave new scene in a country not previously renowned for turning out world-class hip-hop acts.
"Any hip-hop club is always rammed because there's only a few places in Scotland for hip-hop music," says Hastings, "but to encourage someone to pick up a mic is a whole different thing."
"It's maybe a colour issue," Massaquoi speculates. "Like 'hip-hop is for black people so I'm not going to pick up a mic'. There's more of an environment to do indie music than there is to do hip-hop."
"Hip-hop in Scotland is really dark," says Hastings. "I don't know if it reflects the weather. The scene we came through is really underground. I think there's this attitude of 'we'll keep it to ourselves, cos it's ours' and you play music to your mates. We've never had that attitude. I don't even see us as a hip-hop band. Really we're just pop boys. We grew up with pop music, so that always makes sense to us when we're writing tunes. I think pop's really going to come back like how it was in the Eighties."
"In a recession, pop makes everybody happy," says Massaquoi. "You want to listen to good tunes." Why not let Young Fathers be your main providers?
Young Fathers support Ghostface Killah at the Arches, Glasgow, 7 February. www.myspace.com/youngfathers
What other people are saying …
"Their energetic live show, complete with funky dance moves and debut single Straight Back On It has been creating a small stir on Edinburgh's circuit for the last year or so. Young Fathers have got JUICE and are most definitely going places.
" They're locked somewhere between De La Soul and 3T, but re-imagined for the hipster generation. Most strange, though, is that they're actual British people who can rap."