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Elevator 26: Alloysious Massaquoi

26Alloysi2headerWhat’s the thing nowadays? Oh, I remember – it’s making tame pop music but dressing your videos and promo images up to make you look hip, rebellious, intense and sensual. Watch a new pop music video with the sound off – now unmute it. There’s frequently a massive discontinuity between the sound and the visuals.

Not so with Alloysious Massaquoi, one third of the musical team Young Fathers. Young Fathers are punk and afro-futurism and hip-hop and ambient-electro and dub and post-rock all at the same time. Their musical and visual landscape is tender, melancholic, explosive, angry, dissonant, brooding, passionate and creepy.

Alloysious Massaquoi’s lyrics match that landscape perfectly. He interweaves his laments, confessions, chants, battle cries, exorcisms and praises with those of Kayus Bankole and ‘G’ Hastings and the effect is beguiling. Exhibit A: ‘Come to Life’

Alloysious Massaquoi was born in Liberia. His family moved to Scotland when he was four. Alloysious, Kayus and G connected at an under-16s hip-hop night in Edinburgh. “We’d go to open-mics where people would battle and rap for ages, but we’d do three-minute structured songs with our own beats. The ‘real hip hop’ guys didn’t get it. We loved that,” explains G.

They formed Young Fathers in 2008, and recorded the album ‘Inconceivable Child… Conceived’. They’ve been signed to indie-prog-rap label Anticon since 2012, which is opening them up to a much bigger audience, an audience they’re ready to entertain, woo and confront with willful dissonance and wily charisma.

In this Kaltbult magazine interview Alloysious enthuses: “We take it serious. We’re not here to have a laugh, to mess around. We’re doing something that we love, and it means something to us, if we’re on stage and we’re not smiling it’s because we don’t feel like smiling…you can’t tell me when to smile or not, to make you feel more at ease.”

At a recent festival Young Fathers received homophobic heckles when they showed affection for one another on stage. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t faze them one bit.  “With us being really close, rapping to each other close as hell, I enjoy that because it’s more about us, the brotherhood, the brotherly love, the family fuel.”

Alloysious’ more personal lyrics hang like a broken violin on the wall, beautiful yet damaged. ‘Sister’ flashbacks to a tender memory of his sibling.

Whoever ends up the target of his serenade might feel both an empathy and an antipathy well up within him or her.

There’s a raw ‘I think you just read my diary’ vibe in a number of Young Fathers songs. Though Young Fathers embrace the surreal and the experimental, more than anything else you feel like you’re getting a slice of reality on every record.

This track ‘Effigy’ is killer.

To download their E.P.s Tape One, Tape Two and their new album Dead go to the Young Fathers site

Alloysious has a catchphrase or mantra of sorts: “Learn to keep learning.” Most rap acts don’t share this philosophy and consequently rappers are in danger.

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Elevator 25: Lecrae

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Since the dawn of hip-hop, rappers have drawn in fans and listeners for different reasons. For many it’s the transgressive, expletive-heavy flying-off-the-handle spirit that speaks to them profoundly, providing an way to express their anger, trauma, exuberance or fears. For others it’s a progressive black empowerment message that catches their ear fostering a sense of belonging, self-worth and steely resolve. The impressive and sometimes obsessive skill of the freestyler has been responsible for breeding many a wanna-be wordsmith. But it’s the attractiveness of the unforced ‘this is my life’ lyrics of the natural, expressive rapper that create a bond with a listener that often lasts the longest.

Lecrae, hailing from Houston, Texas, has won many fans with his various heart-felt ‘this is the life of an ordinary black man’ testimonial songs since his debut album in 2004. What makes him different to many of his peers is that Lecrae ultimately is a Christian youth worker/pastor/preacher who’s also a ferocious  rapper. He has the vulnerability to talk about his weaknesses and failures but also the audacity to challenge people with the claims of Jesus.

What happens when a pastor/rapper with an emphasis on mentoring youths on the responsibilities of fatherhood suddenly has the chance to talk to tens of thousands of young men and women?

What happens when a rapper who’s an outspoken Christian gains so much mainstream attention that other rappers are wary of releasing their album on the same day as his new release because the record chart stats will make them look bad?

Well, we’re only just finding out. Lecrae’s Grammy-winning album ‘Gravity’ and his free ‘Church Clothes Mixtape’ both released to much acclaim in 2012 were the tipping point in Lecrae’s career.

At times he treads on some of the same lyrical ground as his contemporaries:

He encourages black women to see their beauty, power and purpose:

He abhors America’s culture of violence:

but then he goes lyrically off-piste – his secular friends wouldn’t be caught dead on a track like this:

Lecrae’s lyrics represents a challenge to what it means to be a strong black man. Not only is rapping about  submission and humility before a Christian God essentially uncool, it will be understood by some as submission to white ideals, and speaking the words of the oppressor. Yet his worldview flies in the face of the American Dream.

Lecrae is in an unenviable position right now. His music and his lyrics are scrutinized, his every decision questioned, his newfound celebrity status condemned by those who believe he’s lost his faith and is selling out. He’s going to have to live out his countercultural values in the glare of the spotlight.

Yet it looks like Lecrae is embracing the challenge with a weird mix of sharp-tongued wit, down-to-earthness and missionary zeal.

In a 2013 interview, Lecrae was asked whether his younger self would be disappointed in the new Lecrae.

His answer: For sure, he would. “Aw man, you’re selling out. You’ve fallen off, man.” I’m sure that would be the way my old self would think about it. I would just sit my young self down and have a calm conversation articulating the reasons why I’m doing what I’m doing, and try to point out some of the self-righteous areas in my young self’s life. Hopefully it would be a good conversation.

You can download ‘Church Clothes Mixtape’ and ‘Church Clothes 2’ for free.