GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 30: Kayus Bankole, Graham Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi of Young Fathers performs on stage at The Last Big Weekend at Richmond Park on August 30, 2014 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ross Gilmore/Redferns via Getty Images)
Ross Gilmore—Redferns via Getty Images
By Melissa Locker
October 30, 2014

FKA twigs — the avant garde R&B artist who may or may not be dating Robert Pattinson — was the favorite to win this year’s prestigious Mercury Prize, but her victory was upset by an up-and-coming hip-hop group called Young Fathers.

The Edinburgh-based group of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham Hastings plays a version of hip-hop that incorporates the members’ Liberian and Nigerian roots with ’70s punk and American rap. It’s an intriguing combination: distinctive, challenging and listenable.

While many music fans may be scratching their heads at the win, the group is well-respected by critics, including The Guardian‘s Alexis Petridis, who calls their album “the work of misfits, as all the greatest music tends to be.” He goes on to say about their album, “Dead never feels forced, or as if it’s trying too hard to prove a point. It just works.”

“Young Fathers have a unique take on urban British music, brimming with ideas – forceful, unexpected and moving,” said Simon Frith, who chaired the committee of judges.

Another reason some are mystified by the group’s win is that their album, Dead, hasn’t performed commercially. Even in the era of declining album sales (we’re not talking about you, Taylor), the numbers are surprisingly low. According to the BBC, Young Fathers’s album not only failed to chart, but sold just over 2,000 albums. As the Press Association noted, they “could have bought the lot with their £20,000 prize money — and still have change left over.” It’s now the lowest-selling record to win the £20,000 prize. According to The Guardian, the band has only sold 561 copies since their nomination for the Mercury Prize was announced.

However, just because their album hasn’t sold many units yet doesn’t mean it won’t eventually. As The Guardian points out, “If the Mercury Prize has a worthwhile purpose, it’s to shine a light on music that a wider audience might well like if they heard it, and Dead fits the bill perfectly.”

Their win comes on the heels of James Blake’s 2013 award for his second album, Overgrown, and Alt-J’s 2012 prize for their debut, An Awesome Wave. Both acts have continued on to great success.

Familiarize yourself with Young Fathers:

“I Heard”

“Get Up”

“Romance”

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