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I had always hoped Chicago house-hop would become the next rap phenomenon — and I was absolutely sure it was going to after Vic Mensa dropped “Down on My Luck,” one of the best songs of 2014 that showed promise for a future of Disclosure-influenced rappers dominating the dance charts. Alas, the sound has yet to take off, with even Vic Mensa having quickly abandoned it in favor of radio-trap knock-offs. I still believe that soon enough the mainstream will catch on, but in the meantime I’ve also found a new subgenre to champion. I don’t yet have a name for it, but it’s whatever Scottish hip-hop trio Young Fathers are up to.

The first I heard of the Mercury Prize-winning rap group — composed of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and ‘G’ Hastings — was when a friend explained what they do as “somewhere between grime and TV on the Radio.” Although initially incomprehensible, after diving into the music of Young Fathers I realized that this portrayal was spot on. There aren’t a lot of mainstream references in the current hip-hop landscape that help clarify the knotty, sputtering arrangements the rappers have a proclivity for. You could use the word “industrial,” but that descriptor would fail to capture the homespun warmth that is woven into their dense synths and shivering percussions. You’re better off borrowing terms typically reserved for avant-rock than those commonly used for beats, because if their latest record, the politically minded White Men Are Black Men Too, is any indication, the group thinks of themselves more as a band anyway.

This fluidity in their approach is par the course for Young Fathers, who artistically have gravitated towards arguments of reclassification: specifically those of race relations, racial identities, and long-held historical narratives. But the group doesn’t give any easy answers, as they are more interested in exploring the fallacies and dichotomies inherent in the questions themselves. White Men Are Black Men Too is a complicated, gritty listen. The three rappers project a collective voice that is at times frustrated, at times remorseful, and at times sympathetic. The project as a whole, however, is musically playful despite wrestling with tense themes, and refuses to settle for any one backdrop. You’re as likely to hear minimalist electro-pop (“27”) as you are sunny surf rock (“John Doe”), but it all coalesces into a coherent sound that is immediately recognizable as Young Fathers.

Crossing the ocean to spread their sound stateside, Young Fathers will be in the Bay on April 15 to perform at the Mezzanine. HXLT, a recent G.O.O.D. Music signee who released his debut album back in February, is opening the show, and is another hip-hop act similar to Young Fathers in that he’s approaching rap through an avenue of alternative rock. HXLT, however, instead favors the sounds of '90s grunge and punk — which he uses to amplify the tension emoted through his plain-spoken delivery. Both artists are doing exciting things by blurring the lines between existing genres, and my fingers are crossed that we hear more artists chasing similar sonic influences in the near future.

Young Fathers, HXLT
The Mezzanine
April 15, 2016
9 PM, $18 (21+)

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