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Following the release of his highly acclaimed debut album ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ in 2019, slowthai had the world at his feet. It seemed the boisterous Northampton rapper had found a winning recipe; soundtracking the restless energy of young working class Britons who felt let down by the political establishment with a corrosive blend of punk, grime and hip-hop.
Headline-grabbing stunts like brandishing a severed head of Boris Johnson during a live performance propelled him further into the public spotlight, however, a controversial appearance at the NME Awards saw slowthai, real name Tyron Frampton, fall from grace to the lowest moment of his career. During the event he partook in what was intended as a jokey exchange with his comedian co-host Katherine Ryan, but the comic element didn’t translate and the audience turned on him, with one throwing a drink. Even though Ryan came out publicly with her support for him, the ensuing media storm and the hate he received meant that slowthai entered one of the bleakest periods mentally of his entire life.
If his first album pointed out the flaws in society, launching snarling critiques of Brexit Britain against the backdrop of a deeply divided nation, the follow-up record pays more attention to the flaws in himself. Released exactly a year after his public downfall (albeit coincidentally – due to Covid-related delays), ‘TYRON’ is an inward-looking body of work which sets out to address his mistakes while reminding people what all the hype was about in the first place.
The record is split into two sections which are hammered home by the use of caps lock and lower case song titles. Showcasing the explosive braggadocio rap which has earned Ty his stripes since breakout single ‘T N Biscuits’, the first half provides fans with the type of energy they’ve come to expect from slowthai, while the latter takes an introspective dive into the rapper’s emotions and insecurities.
Although none of the intensity of his first album is lost on tracks such as ’45 SMOKE’ and ‘VEX’, the anger here is directed inwards allowing slowthai’s pent up thoughts to rip through the seams of the beat as if they weren’t there. A$AP Rocky appears on the energetic ‘MAZZA’ and provides a good example of the increasing Stateside influence in the Northampton child’s sound. Make no mistake though; the hectic vim and vigour which established the rapper as one of the UK’s most exciting talents still shines through.
In the run-up to the album launch, the Skepta-featuring single ‘CANCELLED’ was accused of being a somewhat poorly-articulated rejection of cancel culture, with Skepta’s lyrics: “How you gonna cancel me? Twenty awards on the mantlepiece” dividing opinion on social media. This cut has been the main topic of controversy surrounding the album, which uses its second, slower, half as an opportunity to explore the man behind his rap persona.
Swapping out distorted 808s for smooth hip-hop beats and pop samples, slowthai turns the record on its head and shows he is just as impactful on the softer tracks. “Forgive me for everything I never wanted to do,” he stutters before Dominic Fike and Denzel Curry weigh in with the harmonised chorus of ‘terms’. On the melodic ‘push’, Deb Never’s vocals seem to offer therapy to the rapper as he reflects on his past. “Sit back and watch the rain, breathe out before tomorrow, slow down before you break,” she sings as if reassuring Ty though his verses. There’s also the James Blake and Mount Kimbie-featuring ‘feel away’, a track that was accompanied by a video that saw slowthai pregnant in a maternity ward in a bid to see life through a woman’s eyes.
Grabbling with mental health issues and an unhealthy lifestyle are some of the themes revisited throughout the project but none more potently than on closing track ‘adhd’. Here slowthai is at his naked best, delivering his bars with control and precision before letting loose in one final purge of emotion.
Since bursting onto the scene, there haven’t been many figures as simultaneously magnetic and unpolished as slowthai. While this rawness is what makes him so relatable, these same imperfections are what threatened to define him. On ‘TYRON’, the rapper puts everything on the table in a bid to set the record straight, revealing more of himself than ever before.