slowthai Is Brash, Brooding and, Above All, Himself on TYRON

Music Reviews Slowthai
slowthai Is Brash, Brooding and, Above All, Himself on TYRON

British rapper slowthai, aka Tyron Frampton, the prince of Northampton, released his debut LP Nothing Great About Britain in 2019. The album’s success is multifaceted. slowthai leverages his unabashed, volcanic and confessional lyrics to paint this intriguing, sonic landscape of the council estates (U.K. public housing) that shaped him. On explosive, back-biting tracks like “Doorman” ft. Mura Masa and “Inglorious” ft. Skepta, listeners gain access to slowthai’s anti-authority sentiments and personal critiques of England’s socio-political legacy. The album’s thematic meditations are especially resonant when one recalls that Nothing Great About Britain was released amidst Brexit mayhem. It was a stunning debut not only because it scored the frustrations of a generation of U.K. rap fans who were increasingly disillusioned with the actions of their government, but also because slowthai’s mixture of riveting social lambasts and his magnetic persona—one part playful trickster and one part sensitive, authenticity advocate—did exactly what debut projects are supposed to: give an audience a clear idea of who an artist is and what they have to say.

slowthai’s self-titled sophomore album, TYRON is an exciting follow-up project whose bifurcated structure encapsulates the duality of slowthai’s effervescent rap persona and the evolving interiority of Tyron Frampton. The LP’s A-side features a barrage of high-energy, bouncy, grime-rooted, all-caps tracks that encompass these quintessential boastful, bravado-based lyrics. In “45 SMOKE,” the album’s opening freestyle, slowthai bursts onto the track screaming, “Rise and shine / Let’s get it / Bomboclaat, dickhead, bomboclaat, dickhead.” And honestly? Bars. It’s a deeply slowthai intro to a song—energetic, cheeky. There are these recurring braggadocious gestures and flourishes throughout the album’s A-side. Later in the same song, slowthai, like Nas and Loyle Carner before him, lays claim over the Earth, saying, “The whole world is mine.”

On “CANCELLED”, slowthai and U.K. rap giant Skepta collaborate on a track that ridicules the supposed bloodthirst of cancel culture vultures. It’s a tricky song that lands as sincere in which Skepta positions himself as a fanged vampire whose lifesource is the doubt of naysayers and proverbial haters. It’s difficult to discern if the song is asserting that there are artists who are above cancellation or if specific elements of cancel culture are simply harmful. “CANCELLED” features one of this record’s three casual allusions to Harry Potter, so 30 points to Slytherin on that front. But the song also introduces a complicated quandary that is meditated upon throughout the rest of the album: Does positioning yourself as a person impervious to criticism reinforce an earnest, radical confidence, or is it evidence of unsustainable, borderline masochistic ego? Does real confidence come from something else entirely?

“MAZZA” ft. A$AP Rocky, one of TYRON’s shining stars, is where slowthai bridges his A-side and B-side selves. In the song’s fuzzy intro that is somehow reminiscent of the opening to Duke Deuces’ “Crunk Ain’t Dead,” slowthai raps about suicidal tendencies and drug use, saying, “Suicidal tendencies, what’s up man?” and later, “I never felt love before the drugs.” These darker, insular feelings are combined with a jaunty upward beat. That juxtaposed tonal and sonic slurry—and the thematic binary of the album—simulate and reflect Frampton’s inner machinations. The color-blocked music video for “MAZZA,” in which the Northampton rapper and A$AP Rocky space out in disparate hotel rooms, with wonky, exaggerated features (think “Blackhole Sun” by Soundgarden) is dizzying chaos. “Mazzalean,” after all, is a colloquialism for madness. But there are also glimpses of exhaustion and this palpable frustration slowthai seems to experience in the video, in which he smashes a TV screen and exaggeratedly gnashes an apple. These visual and audible moments in the song foreshadow the more meditative, broody sentiments of B-side tracks.

With “i tried,” the first song on TYRON’s B-side, slowthai goes further inward to explore his suicidal ideation and the results of his neuroses. The buzzy backing vocals repeat, “I tried to die / I tried to take my life / I tried,” with that final “I tried” serving as an audible shrug. “I tried” is a turning point not only because it leads TYRON’s second half, but also because it reintegrates the whiny guitars and rock influences present on older slowthai work into this new LP. The lyrical shift from brazen to bummed out over the arc of TYRON but especially on the B-side—the strongest side, methinks—effectively elucidates the difficulty that slowthai seems to have as he navigates how much of his anti-authority trickster nature is and will continue to be authentically Tyron; authentically slowthai. The weight of that inner turmoil is reified by the fact that slowthai’s stage name derives from a childhood moniker Frampton was given for being verbally scattered and rambunctious; tenets of his recently diagnosed ADHD that contextualize his actions as neurodivergent, rather than diminutively outlandish or even more simplistic, “eccentric.”

On “push” ft. Deb Never, slowthai meditates on the battle to cultivate his own relationship to endurance, saying in an especially striking moment, “when push comes to shove, you gotta push.” Deb Never’s bedroom-poppy chorus interlaces seamlessly with slowthai’s cutting lyrics. It’s another one of the album’s gems, one that could’ve stood to continue on a bit longer, in fact. “nhs” is an ode to healthcare workers in which slowthai tips his toe back into his overtly political rap waters. TYRON’s penultimate song, “feel away” ft. James Blake and Mount Kimbie, is slowthai at some of his best. At this point in the record, he distances himself from the brags and boasts to blatantly ruminate on what type of man he is and wants to be, saying, “Suddenly I am half the man I used to be.” It’s a song that speaks superbly to the strain of becoming and teetering on the precipice of a greater self-compassion and self-awareness. Blake’s warbles are transcendent as usual, offering lush ground for slowthai’s raps to stand upon. The album’s final track “adhd” encompasses some of slowthai’s reflections on his behavior on and offstage. The song features a voice message in which the rapper expresses his love to an ostensible friend and then launches back into the aggressive delivery of A-side slowthai, screaming, “Caught in Charlotte’s web / I can’t feel myself, my complexity be the death of me…I got tendencies / Psycho tendencies / Touch me tenderly / Heaven, let me in!” It’s an unexpected final turn in which slowthai subverts the dynamism of “MAZZA.” Rather than ruminating on suicide over upbeat instrumentals, on TYRON’s final song, he names his numbness, a desire to connect in the midst of more stripped-back instrumentals. It’s a closing song that suggests slowthai is committed to occupying that disconcerting liminal space between himself and his ego.

The recurring duality, binary and inversions employed in TYRON are aptly reflected by the LP’s cover, on which Frampton sits beneath an apple tree. The image differs drastically from the Nothing Great About Britain cover, on which slowthai smiles in the courtyard of a council estate while being restrained in a pillory. On the TYRON cover, slowthai is the sole figure in a tableau as apples—like the one from his “MAZZA” video—fall around him. There’s something strikingly pensive about the TYRON album cover, which suggests that although slowthai is still navigating his own personhood, he is increasingly garnering the confidence to evaluate his own multitudinousness and reflect upon that self-actualization through his raps.

Adesola Thomas is a screenwriter and culture writer. She loves talking about Annette Benning’s performance in 20th Century Women and making lasagna.

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