“What’s the price of the light when you’re stuck in the shadows,” contemplates Alloysious Massaquoi, one-third of Young Fathers, a biracial alt-rap group from Edinburgh, Scotland. This line is more than your average toke; it’s an existential catastrophe. It installs the theme of Young Father’s third studio album, Cocoa Sugar, an escapade through a twisted and abstruse macrocosm in search of liberty.
Cocoa Sugar is a follow up to the group’s 2015 project, White Men Are Black Men Too. The hotly debated debacle that was WMABMT defined the group to international audiences: a bunch of non-conformers focused on spreading messages of inclusion and acceptance often masqueraded by hundreds of sounds from different genres. At times, WMABMT battled between messy spaces, not entirely reaching its location. Nearly three years later, Cocoa Sugar has arrived, fulfilling the potential that WMABMT destined to be.
The project works similar to a Swiss army knife: the contortion of multiplicity serves distinct purposes. Young Fathers oh so effortlessly contributed sonic ideas to this project that initially come off as mismatching, but, through close observance, really fit well together. “Fee Fi” is gory and vehement behind nutty drums and a dark piano. Kayus Bankole, the group’s second member and a near-lifelong friend of Alloysius, sounds delectably sinister when he raps “He said/ Nice set of knives/ Give me a slice/ I like your flesh/ I know what’s best/ You can be my cause of death/ Dressed in Sunday’s best.” The wild “Wow” is a lustful yet dangerous call for dominance, an engulfment of egotism.
Single “Lord” is an angelic turn. Deserted keys are quickly accompanied by blaring guitars and a crushing bassline. The trio sings “Lord, if you choose a time/ I’ll be the child.” “Turn” is bone-thickening. “You take your chance/ But you are not special/ Learn your lessons/ No such things as blessings” may be the most drenching, yet brutally honest four-liner about individuality and acceptance ever. Outro “Picking You” is a virtuous oxygen-stopper. The trio, led by third member, ‘G’ Hastings, sing and rap about unattainable liberation. The religiously-monikered message has political undertones, a dual-faced prayer with wise fiscals of truth (lines like “The only time I go to church is when someone in the casket” and “Good men are strange, bad men are obvious” can be interpreted in many ways).
Cocoa Sugar, the army knife that it is, is wonderfully-executed. The ambiguity of the words is quickly slaughtered by pivots in tone and sound. Whether righteous, hopeful or mad, Young Fathers never fall short of producing unique auras of sculpture. Cocoa Sugar is earthy art: It turns, and turns, and turns and never seizes to flatten, dull or whistle.