Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar review – the genre-bending Scottish band deliver their best album yet


Young Fathers are impossible to categorise. They’re a pop group. An indie band. A punk band. An alternative band. A hip-hop group. They’re African. They’re Scottish. They’re accessible. They’re experimental. Young Fathers are truly one of the music unique bands to come from the UK in a while and one of the most exciting bands right now in music period. Young Fathers were formed in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2008 by Alloysious Massaquoi (of Liberian descent), Kayus Bankole (of Nigerian descent) and Graham ‘G’ Hastings. They released a pair of mixtapes Tape One and Tape Two more rooted in alternative hip-hop than anything they’ve done since but also with elements of punk and reggae. I first discovered them in 2015 after their second album White Men Are Black Men Too had just been released. The provocative title caught my eye and I listened to it once or twice enjoying it but not being blown away. I proceeded to listen to their 2014 Mercury Prize-winning debut album Dead which I really enjoyed as well but again didn’t return to often. In January 2017 I returned to their discography and completely fell in love with their music. With the release of Cocoa Sugar, they’ve become one of my new favourite bands.

I became reacquainted with Young Fathers at the perfect time. It had been two years since they released their second album and while I wish I had more time to spend with their music at least the wait for new music was shorter. They only released one single in 2017 “Only God Knows” for the T2: Trainspotting’s soundtrack but I anticipated new music and how glad I was to be right. The first single from this album “Lord” absolutely captivated me and in the context of the album sounds even more amazing. In the middle of the track list, it begins with the sound of heavy vibration before it transitions into a mellow piano chord and vocals singing “Lord, don’t pay me no mind / Lord, if you choose a time / Lord, don’t pay me no mind.” The gospel-influenced lyrics didn’t surprise me as “Only God Knows” similarly had gospel-influenced lyrics. The track perfectly captures the beauty of Young Fathers. It is both incredibly moving and powerful yet simultaneously unsettling and dark. The synths and reverbs reinforce their choirboy vocals and the combination of gospel lyrics and electronic production is just one of the things that make the band so unique. It is completely overwhelming.

Cocoa Sugar is an album full of experimentation like their previous albums but some of the elements which were enhanced in their previous albums are stripped back, simplified and minimalised. It is still by now means a completely accessible album. There is no mainstream chart-topping pop hit but songs like the opener “See How” and “In My View” show they’re capable of simplifying their sound without sacrificing their uniqueness. “See How” at only two minutes is a beautiful introduction to the album. The production is full of strange sounding synths but the vocals are very sweet and poignant. The repeated lines “see how it goes” give the song an uplifting tempo. The album delves deeper into the weird with “Fee Fi.” The percussion and the vocal chanting give it a tribal sound. While it’s difficult to parse the meaning of a lot of Young Father’s lyrics they’re undeniably beautifully written. The standout track on the album, however, is the infectious earworm “In My View.” Perhaps the most straight-forward and accessible song they’ve ever written with the potential to be a minor indie hit, however, it still carries their signature idiosyncrasies. The production still has a slightly haunting feel to it, there’s a drone in the background but the vocals are incredibly pleasant. The hook is also very catchy “In my view, nothing’s ever given away / I believe to advance that you must pay” their boyish vocals are so charming I could easily imagine them in a doo-wop group or as choir boys in a gospel choir.

There’s so much soul and passion in their vocals and the way they sing. Throughout all of Young Father’s albums, their passionate vocals and beautifully written lyrics remain their strength. The inventiveness and innovative production only enhance the strength of their vocals. While their singing isn’t pitch-perfect, there’s a desperation and an earnestness to their singing that captivates you. “Turn” begins with the line “I’ve always been this way / All my days” while this isn’t so abstract like a lot of their lyrics it’s open to interpretation. On “Tremolo” the repeated refrain “tremolo my soul” is sung with so much emotion that you can’t help but be moved. Another reason Young Fathers are such a unique group is how well all three members sing and harmonise together. “Wow” has a pulsating rhythm, heavy percussion and synths, the track builds up with so much momentum as vocals repeat “giving me what I need.” On “Border Girl”, the production and the additional background vocals make it sound like Demon Days-era Gorillaz. It’s also the most political track on the album without being explicitly so. Its title and the lyrics referring to the wave of xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments around the world.

Another highlight on the album is “Holy Ghost.” Like “Lord” its title suggests a religious theme but the vocals sound totally different to that track. It’s full of unique vocal experimentation, the singing is raspy and desperate with some rapping to add to the energy. The lines “I got the Holy Ghost fire in me / As in hell, you can call it blasphemy” also carry so much meaning however you may interpret them. “Wire” is a very brief post-punk influenced track, frenetic and impactful in its brief length. “Toy” is another high energy track backed by an upbeat high tempo, clapping, unique vocal inflexions and more rapping. The album closes out by returning to a slightly more accessible sound. An organ chord and rattling drum rolls back the infectiously sweet and earnest vocals as they sing “I’m picking you and you’ / Cause that’s all that seems to matter to me lately.” It’s as romantic as they’ve ever gotten. On Cocoa Sugar, Young Fathers prove they’re one of the most exciting bands today. They simplified their sound without sacrificing what makes them unique showing their ability to transcend genres and make powerful music which is subtly political.

Black Panther: The Album review: Kendrick Lamar curates this worthy companion to the film


By now it’s no surprise that Black Panther is a worldwide cultural phenomenon. It received massive critical acclaim with many praising as one of the best films in the MCU and the superhero genre in general. It broke several box office records and is fast on track to making $1 billion in just 3 weeks since its release. It’s also no surprise that Kendrick Lamar is on the soundtrack. What is surprising however is that Kendrick Lamar along with his record label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), founder Anthony Tiffith curated and executively produced the album. The album features many of Kendrick’s fellow artists signed to TDE including SZA, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Zacari but excluding Isaiah Rashad, SiR and Lance Skiiiwalker. Kendrick was initially only going to work on a few songs for the film, but after he watched a majority of the film, he decided to create the album which he mostly recorded while touring DAMN. (his latest album) around North America.

This soundtrack album can be classified as a solo Kendrick album in the same way as Prince’s Batman (1989) soundtrack is regarded as a Prince album. Kendrick is credited on all fourteen tracks on the album however he only features heavily on five tracks while making minor contributions to the rest of the album. So while the album can be seen as a Kendrick Lamar project it can’t be judged to the same high standards of his studio concept albums. But DAMN if the album isn’t also so good. Kendrick absolutely works well within the limitations of the album and makes it a unique, fresh-sounding and energetic companion piece to the biggest film of 2018 so far and one of the biggest Black cultural events in recent memory. The title track “Black Panther” immediately sets the tone for the album. We hear the sounds of matches being struck and ominous whispering and Kendrick begins to rap “King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland / King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we livin’ again / King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin’.” Kendrick makes the song relevant to themes of the film whilst simultaneously relating it to themes in his own personal music – the gang warfare going on in the streets of Compton. Of course, the film is partly set in Oakland, California a city suffering from similar issues making it relevant.

“All The Stars” the lead single from the album featuring SZA is one of only three tracks actually featured in the film, the others being “Opps” and “Pray for Me.” I’ll admit at first I was very lukewarm on the track. I thought the production by Sounwave was too poppy and that Kendrick’s lyrics weren’t his sharpest. I still think SZA absolutely outshines Kendrick on this track, as other collaborators do on this album, and I now love the production. The pulsating beat, subtle sounds, orchestrated strings it sounds incredibly beautiful. When I saw the music video, a visually inventive treat celebrating the diverse cultures in Africa it finally clicked. SZA’s hook is an absolute earworm and the song is so catchy. The album is chock full of bangers. “X” featuring Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz and Saudi sounds far too good for an album soundtrack. Although Kendrick has a verse he allows his guests to take the spotlight with Schoolboy Q delivering the best verse. On “Opps” he delivers a great verse backed by pounding West African drums, Vince Staples gives a punchy short verse but South African rapper Yugen Blakrok steals the show with her biting flow and hoarse aggressive voice.

Tracks such as “The Ways”, “I Am”, “Redemption Interlude” and “Redemption” along with “All The Stars” are the poppier tracks on the album but the production is still excellent. “The Ways” features pop singer, Khalid, and Rae Sremmurd member Swae Lee who both harmonise with sweet vocals. “I Am” features British breakthrough artist Jorja Smith who adds a British soul flair to the album. “Redemption” and “Redemption Interlude” both feature Zacari with the interlude featuring South African singer Babes Wodumo. “Paramedic!” features California Bay Area group SOB x RBE who dominate the track with unique regional flows and cadences while Kendrick plays background. Kendrick’s hook is however infectious “I wish a nigga would / I wish a nigga would, I wish a nigga would / I wish a bitch would.” “King’s Dead” features James Blake, Jay Rock as well as Kendrick of course. While I really enjoy both Kendrick and Jay Rock’s verses I absolutely love Future’s for how hilariously absurd his falsetto singing of “La di da di da, slob on me knob” is. This album is not only great as a soundtrack album connecting the themes of the film but works as an album on its own. Kendrick Lamar and his collaborators have created a very diverse album full of fresh sounds, bangers and pop tracks, popular and unknown rappers, local West Coast and American and South African artists. As he continues to push boundaries Kendrick Lamar has raised the standards for future soundtrack albums.