Young Fathers are as crucial a band as any in existence right now. The trio from Edinburgh, Scotland, makes vital music with a vital message, rapped and sung by vital voices. After winning the Mercury Prize for their first album, Dead, they traveled to Berlin to complete their second album, White Men Are Black Men Too. The LP's rowdy sounds fly from a mixed-use palette of electronics, dancehall, hiphop, and pop. When describing the name of the album, vocalist Alloysious Massaquoi said, "It's got issues of race, and so what? Why should it be discussed behind closed doors and never confronted head-on? Motown Music helped change the world, made it expectable for blacks to be on radio and seen on TV, MJ did it too. MLK wanted equality and achieved it to some degree, but after all that, are things equal in the world? Fuck no. I still want to ask for equality." Trio member Kayus Bankole spoke from a hotel room in Brooklyn.
What's an issue people are debating in England right now? There are debates about immigrants coming in. The press classifies them in this negative way. Same thing with religion, people who are of a certain faith, like Muslims, are painted in a negative light. When the press constantly portrays people a certain way, they embed these ideas into people's heads.
In the United States, we call that Fox News. They're not seeing diversity unless they're searching for it. People might not be that plugged in. The general day-to-day person might have to be more concerned with their jobs, and how they're going to feed their kids, and they're working long shifts. They turn on their TV before they go to bed because it's the quickest, easiest thing to do. They get their news from one source because they have access to it, but is it a biased source? It all has a ripple effect on people's perspective. People who want change are marked as progressive, and those in power want to keep their power, so they mute the progressives.
Young Fathers say important things, and your music is really good. We're all about the music. We say things because we can't help saying them. Maybe we're a product of our times? We're thinkers. We're aware of what's going on around us. We want fairness. And we love melodies and arrangements and great pop tunes. When you actually win is when you have the combination of both. Where it's something you can sing along to, and the words you're singing have weight. We have a song like "Sirens" that talks about the police being on cocaine. We've had experiences where we've dealt with police who were pushing their authority, and to us it looked like they were on cocaine. When you see someone on cocaine, they have this newfound power [laughs] and want to prove their dominance.
How did you all arrive at the title for the album? When we were running through ideas, the title wasn't coming straight away, so our manager suggested looking at some of the lyrics from one of the songs. We looked at Alloysious's first line in "Old Rock 'n' Roll," which is "Some white men are black men too." We talked about it between ourselves, and with our family and friends. Some were for it, and some weren't. We felt it was right. If you have a platform like that to say something that will spark conversation and make people think, I think you have to use it.
How does America compare to England as far as race and diversity? We notice more homeless people here. And they seem to be confined to certain spaces, with a majority of the people being black. I think you have to live in a place to really start peeling off the layers to get a full sense of what's going on there. Back home, it's sort of abandoned in terms of culture. And abandoned in terms of diversity.
Would a black man from America experience the same racism in England? It depends on where you are. You get assholes everywhere. Just like you get good people everywhere. What are your thoughts on the Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina?
I think too many white people are sitting in their nice homes and offices saying, "Walter Scott shouldn't have run from the cop. Just do what cops tell you and there won't be trouble." Their idea of being treated adversely by cops is getting a ticket, not being profiled then shot to death. They don't think there's racism because they've never been treated unfairly that way. It's privileged bullshit. It's no wonder people run from the police. They have a history of killing people. And the system is against people of color in every way. The question shouldn't be Why was Walter Scott running away? It should be Why was the cop shooting the gun eight times? Eight fucking times! It's not like he was just trying to slow Scott down, he was aiming to kill him. It's murder.
The white people who don't understand why Walter Scott ran probably haven't ever had a cop point a gun at them for no reason. Those white people don't understand the inequities, because they don't have to understand. The system is to their advantage, why would they want it to change? And at the same time, we can't just hate all cops. It's not fair to think that all white police officers want to kill and convict black people of crimes. There are good cops. It's hard to believe they're there though, with all that we're seeing time and time again. Another important question is, who is going to police the police?
Young Fathers are going to police the police. [Laughs] Yes. Last year when we came to the US, they stamped our visas wrong, so we had to go back to the airport to get it fixed. So I was talking to a police officer there. We went into his office, and he had basketball trophies, pictures, and stuff like that. I was humanizing him. He seemed like a nice guy. I asked him why he was working at the airport. He said, "I used to be a street patrol officer, but I got older and I don't chase them anymore, I just shoot." I was like, is that a joke? And whether it's a joke or not, it's a mentality police have that's been developed.
What's "Rain or Shine" about? It's about having two sides to the coin and contrast between things. There's a line "No Jesus in my life. No demons in my life." It's about what's in between. Lots of songs are sure about things, like love songs. But this is about being stuck in the middle. Sometimes you're not sure. You don't know if you're in love or not. You don't know whether or not you'll be around come rain or shine.