5 reasons why Young Fathers are great Mercury Prize winners (not being George Ezra is one of them)

Edinburgh's finest: Mercury winners Young Fathers
Edinburgh’s finest: Mercury winners Young Fathers

I am thrilled that Edinburgh-based rap group Young Fathers have beaten off a particularly strong field to win the Mercury Prize. Their Dead LP is now officially designated as brilliant and I couldn’t agree more. Before I get into my top 5 reasons why their album is great, I want to say: people, listen to the 12 albums on the shortlist, pick the ones you like, and buy them. Young Fathers only got £20,000 for winning the prize, which, by the sounds of the record, will barely cover their annual weed bill. Show some love to the artists, and buy their work.

Okay, here’s my five reasons why Dead by Young Fathers is splendid:

1. Lyrical madness
On the poppiest song on the album, Get Up, one of the rappers says:

“Taking off my clothes at the lido
all I got is my decadent credo”

Which is genius, right? Fair enough, he has to pronouce “lido” leedo to make it rhyme with credo, but when you’ve got that level of mad couplet bubbling up, it would be churlish to quibble about a mispronounciation. Elsewhere on the album, one of the lads starts a rap with the assertive “bish bosh”, rhymes “Liberian” with “Presbyterian” (underlining the band’s Afro-Caledonian roots) and talks about “handing out endorpins to nature’s orphans.” Wordplay is just that – playing with words – and Young Fathers are a rabble playing Scrabble with Margaret Drabble. (This is why I am not a rapper.)

2. They are not George Ezra
Some people, a lot of people, seem to like George Ezra. Why, or even how, I do not know. George Ezra is about as rock n’ roll as William Pitt the Younger. Listening to George Ezra makes me think that he is instinctively in favour of fracking. Not that they care a jot about such chart-topping codswallop, but Young Fathers are the polar opposite of George Ezra. The Mercury judges, in their wisdom, understand this and have given Young Fathers a platform for people to see that there is an alternative to stadium-folk.

The old standing in front of graffiti to make it look like you didn't grow up in a stately home trick: George Ezra
The old standing in front of graffiti to make it look like you didn’t grow up in a stately home trick: George Ezra

3. They are like Kanye without being complete twats (yet)
On the jollily titled song, War, one of the boys (I have no idea which) starts ranting “you chopping me down like the Amazon” which is the kind of idiotic nonsense Kanye spouts. It’s one of those lyrics right on the borderline between utter shit and utter cool – just like most of Kanye’s. This shows Young Fathers have the potential to be both massive stars and megalomaniac lunatics. I like that.

Note to Young Fathers: it's all right copying Kanye, just leave Taylor Swift alone if you see her at awards ceremonies
Note to Young Fathers: it’s all right copying Kanye, just leave Taylor Swift alone if you see her at awards ceremonies

4. Musically, it is all over the place
Also like Kanye, they take a trawler to the world of music and pick out the bits they like. Hence, the album starts with a bit of squeezebox, which is probably not something P Diddy would have considered.

Other songs sound, in part or in whole, like: The Prodigy; Burial; a particularly violent video game with a moral message like “bad things happen to good people, a lot”; Justin Timberlake after a trip to Guantanamo; Andre 3000; a teenage boy trying to making himself pass out purely through bass noise; gospel without the redemption; Boyz II Men getting mugged at knifepoint, in a sewer, by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; a fat boy farting into a fan. You get the idea. It’s commercial, sort of.

5. It is only 32 minutes long
I am not criticising long rap albums. One of my favourite albums is Redman’s Muddy Waters joint, which is about 70 minutes and has more comedy skits than actual songs. In those skits he comes up with such timeless acronyms as NASWIPP (N*ggas Against Smoking Weed In Public Places) and “IKSRFO” (I’m Knocking Somebody Right the Fuck Out), which my life would be a greyer place without.

That said, there is something pleasurable about a rap album finishing its business at just over the half hour mark. Wu-tang’s knowledge god, the GZA, once remarked, “Make it brief, son, half short and twice strong,” and Young Fathers have taken that advice on board.

Of course, the Wu followed up their first album with the unwieldy Wu-tang Forever double LP, which begins with some shambling old dude named Poppa Wu giving a not interesting sermon about fuck all for six minutes. Therefore, I will stand by Young Fathers if they get famous and obnoxious and think it a good idea to get Frankie Boyle to open up their next album with a lengthy diatribe against the English generally, and George Ezra specifically. In fact, that might not be a bad idea.

redman muddy waters

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The BBC and UKIP: the best of friends

The BBC might claim its news coverage is fair and balanced, but what exactly is fair and balanced about this headline on its front page?

ukip

The headline – UKIP’s Farage back on campaign trail – is almost propaganda. Of course Farage is campaigning for the up-coming by-election in Rochester and Strood. But then so are all the other political parties.

The other associated stories develop this uncritical pro-UKIP perspective:

The first gives Farage free rein to say that he could be in government next May. This is preposterous given that UKIP has only one MP. But the claim is made less preposterous by this blanket coverage.

The second, a piece by political editor Nick Robinson, is typically nuanced, but ends essentially confirming the pro-UKIP stance:

“Maybe but maybe the seemingly ever onward rise of Mr Farage will, as he’s long predicted, continue ever onward.”

The third is a long profile of the rise of UKIP, again reiterating how they “defy the odds.” It is complete with the standard and necessary picture of Farage in the boozer. (Message: do you drink beer? Here’s a politician who also drinks beer. See how much you two have in common?!)

farage beer

To my dismay, they print a picture of the UKIP billboard advert which uses Winston Churchill to push its anti-immigration message. Having read Roy Jenkins’ 900-page biography of Churchill, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been appalled by the small-minded, insular attitude of UKIP.

Churchill UKIP

The fourth article is Ed Miliband’s response to UKIP. The FOURTH article in this UKIP bonanza, and the first in which the Labour leader – the party which has won three of the last four General Elections, is quoted at any length. Miliband says that a party which wants to cut the taxes of rich people (such as Carswell and Farage) could not genuinely represent the interests of the working class. Which makes sense, and exposes the contradiction of UKIP’s public face and private ideology.

Having let Red Ed and his band of radical left-wingers have their say in the previous article, the BBC leaves any semblance of criticism of UKIP to one side in its fifth story, “By-elections leave biggest parties with plenty to ponder.” Again, the rise of this extremist party is talked of in excitable terms. While UKIP has had “hype, attention and victories of recent years” it has “never had a night like it.”

It goes on to quote the new, and old, Clacton MP, Douglas Carswell: “We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other.” This is plainly untrue. No political party can be for all Britons, particularly not UKIP, which is directly offensive to a large proportion of the country.  This minor quibble is not addressed by the BBC.

Let us imagine that in, let’s say, a northern mill town, a militant Islamist party rose up and gained enough popular support to get an MP into Parliament. Would the BBC be talking in upbeat terms about such a party, and quote its leader extensively and uncritically? More likely, it would talk of the troubling rise of Islamism, and would ask Farage, in the pub over a pint of Spitfire, about his concerns.

Finally, there is a glowing profile of Douglas Carswell MP, in which he is described – not in quotes, but as stated fact – as a “free thinker” a “maverick” and a “moderniser.” These adjectives don’t tally even remotely with the reality: an ex-City worker who has dedicated his life to keeping himself in Parliament and immigrants out of the UK.

To add to the cosy image of Mr Carswell, it is noted that he likes swimming, gardening and making quince jelly.

The profile ends with a quote from Carswell’s victory speech: “If we always speak with passion, let it be tempered by compassion.” The reader is not asked whether a politician whose leader does not want people with HIV entering the country could be considered to be compassionate.

This bumper batch of stories from the Beeb would lead any reader without detailed political awareness to make several conclusions:

1. UKIP is a major political force
2. UKIP is a mainstream political party, which does not hold extreme views
3. UKIP has a good chance of being in Government at the next General Election
4. Douglas Carswell is a brave and noble politician, and a family man, standing up for what he believes
5. Immigration is the major issue facing the UK, not housing, jobs or inequality
6. The Green Party, and the Lib Dems, are irrelevant.

There is no doubt that the coverage from some of the national newspapers, and Sky News, has been even more triumphalist. However, the newspapers are explicitly partisan. The BBC, known as being fair and balanced, is at present covering UKIP as if it was the party of government rather than one with a single MP.

We should remember that David Cameron described UKIP members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.” Michael Heseltine said that UKIP is racist.

If these two right-wing politicians regard UKIP with such horror, why does the BBC give them so much publicity and uncritical commentary? I do not think that the BBC is managed by UKIP supporters. It is, like all news organisations, enamoured by a good narrative, which UKIP provides: the rise of the underdog, triumphing against the odds; the man with charisma who likes a beer; the fight against the existential threat to our cosy, nostalgic way of life.

It is this narrative that gets UKIP its extensive coverage. But if the BBC doesn’t try harder to provide balance, then it won’t be only the Tories or Labour who are under threat. It will be the BBC’s reputation as a trustworthy news organisation.

Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.
Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.