Young Fathers, an underground hip-hop trio from Scotland with roots in Liberia and Nigeria, won the prestigious Mercury Prize, beating out far better-selling British artists.
Young Fathers’ first studio album “Dead” topped a field that included Blur frontman Damon Albarn, as well as increasingly popular artists such as poet-turned-rapper Kate Tempest and R and B-influenced trip-hopper FKA twigs.
Young Fathers took home the 20,000-pound ($32,000) award, given each year for the best British or Irish album, even though “Dead” had sold fewer than 2,400 copies by this week.
“Young Fathers have a unique take on urban British music, brimming with ideas — forceful, unexpected and moving,” said Simon Frith, the chair of the judging panel on Wednesday.
Based in Edinburgh, the trio features Alloysious Massaquoi, who was born in Liberia; Kayus Bankole, whose parents were from Nigeria and who grew up partly in the United States, as well as locally rooted Graham (“G”) Hastings.
With a rap lyrical delivery set to non-traditional bass arrangements and occasional African influences, Young Fathers have struggled to put labels on their genre.
Critics’ descriptions have included “psychedelic hip hop” and a “boy band through the bottom of a glass of crystal meth”.
In an interview before the awards, Hastings said the band believed that easy definition would amount to artistic failure.
“Most bands exist because they think they can make money and have a laugh. So they try and fit in somewhere, but that’s not fun for us,” Hastings told online music magazine Drowned in Sound.
Massaquoi said that most bands tried simply to emulate artists that they enjoyed.
“We know the stuff that’s influenced us has already been done, so we question how we can do it differently,” he said.
Young Fathers, who earlier released two EPs, have played two straight years at the influential South by Southwest festival and have signed to California’s independent Anticon label.
The band is planning to spend a month in Berlin to record a new album.
The award for Young Fathers comes after criticism in recent years that the Mercury Prize has put too much of a focus on mainstream artists.
The shortlist included a number of relatively obscure artists, with Albarn and Bombay Bicycle Club among the only well-known names to receive nominations.