The Lowdown: slowthai is the type of guy that sends his fans U Mad Bro? troll faces but turns around and tweets promises of a better tomorrow for the lonely. He’s the type of guy who strips down to his underwear on the Glastonbury stage but then goes on a 99p tour so anyone can afford to attend his show. He’s the kind of guy who sports a tattoo of a caricatured Mona Lisa with “SMILE” on her forehead, but also has “Sorry Mum” inked across his sternum. Born Tyron Frampton, the Northampton rapper was always an anomaly — a jokester whose heart is full, a quick-witted rapper who’s slow to speak.
In 2019, slowthai expressed his multi-faceted personality to perfection on his debut album, Nothing Great About Britain. That record mixed UK hip-hop, grime, and punk to form a maelstrom of mosh-pit energy as Ty aired his grievances against his homeland with unfettered angst. No one was safe from his fury — not even the queen of England. In 2021, slowthai is still vexed. There’s still not much great about Britain, he seems to argue. However, instead of spending his energy targeting political heads, on his new album, TYRON, slowthai favors the personal as he delivers stories of broken dreams and anthems of mad energy in equal measure.
The Good: TYRON plays like two seven-song EPs. On Side One, we hear Ty on a full tank of gas, ready to tear down the strip on his way to the rave. He wastes no time, jumping straight into the static-heavy grime beat on opener “45 SMOKE” and rapping, “Money to me like shit for a fly/ So, I stay getting P/ ‘Cause the world is mine.” Immediately we notice slowthai –who always had an eccentric voice — has evolved a step closer toward becoming an erratic rap star straight from the Rick & Morty universe. With a prepubescent slur, Ty speaks in vivid fragments as he portrays his upbringing around “Shottaz, coppers, alcoholics drinking Fosters” and expresses disdain over society’s judgment on him as “Satan’s son.”
slowthai shakes off the judgment and chooses to mosh and rage over the next six songs instead. “MAZZA” (with A$AP Rocky) features an absolute spiderweb of a hook, keeping ears glued long enough for slowthai to come in and devour in the verse: “Do genocide for the whole gang/ You’re telling lies/ Now I’m energized/ I’m more precise/ Walk in made a Big Bang.” If I was a wrestler (please no), “MAZZA” would be my entrance music without question.
The energy remains high for the majority of Side One as slowthai leaves a murder scene in the wake of his explosive flows. As we flip to Side Two, the whole mood changes from ALL CAPS to lowercase, and we’re invited into the most personal writing Ty has ever released. “i tried” features a day-dreamy soul beat that Jay-Z would eat up and bars about running from struggles, tumbling down black holes, and heartbreaking confessions of depression.
slowthai is unwilling to just sit at the bottom, though. He finds his way out through uplifting his listeners and normalizing their pain, rapping on “nhs”: “All the best shit’s got/ Scratches on the surface.” His combination of joy and sorrow brings to mind the late Mac Miller, who always had a way of adding warmth to the hardest, loneliest times. At the same time, slowthai doesn’t try to sugarcoat the pain. Closer “adhd” outlines a night of deep isolation — a scene that hits hard a year into this pandemic — before erupting into a brief, yet powerful burst of suicidal frustration. It’s a hard way to end the record, yet I’m reminded that this feeling of pain is what fuels the vital, life-giving release of the TYRON’s energized first half.
The Bad: While you can feel the intensity of slowthai’s efforts in his every word, the production and features at times let him down. No feature here is particularly bad. It’s just that every time someone else is on the mic, I wish I was hearing slowthai. Well, except for James Blake who sounds like an angel on “feel away”. As for production, the spacious, floating feeling conveyed on “feel away” or the Griselda-meets-outer-space piano riff on “WOT” are highlights. Elsewhere, the music is less memorable. The lo-fi trap of “PLAY WITH FIRE” simply offers nothing to hold on to with its punchy-lite snare and kick hits and gunshots that sound like they’re fired in a cave 15 miles away. “DEAD” features a choppy hook buried in the mix of a low-energy trap beat.
It doesn’t help that these two songs serve as the transition between slowthai’s body-shaking first half and contemplative second half. Perhaps, there was no good way to make this transition work seamlessly, and perhaps the project would have worked best as two separate seven-song releases. However, these are small complaints that are overcome by slowthai’s personal performances.
The Verdict: TYRON is a hard step forward for slowthai — a step that many rappers never make. Where the unbridled aggression of Nothing Great About Britain argued its thesis incredibly well over punk-fueled ragers, TYRON recognizes that the greatest moves toward progress must include personal expression, examination, and growth.
Jokes still abound here; Ty hasn’t shed his former self by any means. Here, he’s only deepened every facet of his anomalous character by anchoring the jokes, the jabs, and the jams in the hardest parts of his life — the loneliness we can all relate to in some form this year, the pain of experiencing the “same old shit” day after day. 2021 must be a year of great perseverance. It must if we’re going to move on from the year we’ve just had. On TYRON, slowthai doesn’t make grand statements or platitudes like a politician. He simply offers his own story of perseverance, hand extended and Mona Lisa smile brimming.
Essential Tracks: “MAZZA” (with A$AP Rocky), “feel away” (feat. James Blake and Mount Kimbie), and “i tried”
Pick up a copy of TYRON here…