Northampton rapper Slowthai made an explosive entry on to the public stage in 2019 with his debut album Nothing Great about Britain. It cast him as the missing link between UK punk and UK rap, volleying jibes at starchy Establishment figures and telling ribald tales of Midlands council-estate life. In a divided, finger-jabbing nation, his act struck a chord.
Slowthai, otherwise known as Tyron Frampton, found himself with a top 10 hit and star billing as the voice of angry youth. The deal was sealed when the rapper flourished an effigy of Boris Johnson’s severed head at an awards ceremony. “Last night I held a mirror up to this country and some people don’t like its reflection,” he declared the following day amid frothing tabloid coverage of his “sick stunt”.
His unrepentant tone obscured an irony: Slowthai’s own reflection as an angry young man was distorted. Beneath its sloganeering, Nothing Great about Britain was not really interested in politics. Its energies were laddish, not polemical. The misunderstanding erupted into the open at another awards ceremony in February last year, when Slowthai marred his acceptance of a “hero of the year” award with sexist behaviour towards the female host and an altercation with a member of the audience.
Unlike when he held up the model of Johnson’s head, Slowthai apologised afterwards. But the controversy seems to have undermined his confidence in his performing persona. His new album Tyron is split into two sides, one with capitalised song titles and aggressive beats, the other with lower-capped titles and a more reflective character. The effect is supposed to convey different aspects of his personality. But scrappy songwriting gives it an unfocused, indecisive feel.
The first side almost works. Hard, booming beats and murky background effects with lots of cut-up vocal samples are the backdrop for Slowthai’s yappy rapping. It is dense and chaotic, reminiscent of antic Detroit rapper Danny Brown or the late lamented New York group Ratking. But the songs are brief and say little of note. Skepta turns up on “Cancelled”, which takes aim at “cancel culture” — thumbs up this time from the tabloids that formerly excoriated Slowthai — while A$AP Rocky makes a charismatic but shallow cameo on “Mazza”.
Side two maunders by with woozy samples and a non-specific air of malaise (“I wish I pressed skip, everything is negative”). There are more starry cameos, including Denzel Curry and James Blake, but the chemistry is missing. “NHS” is a maudlin number about life’s contradictions that turns out to have almost nothing to do with the NHS. “If you love the world for its flaws you will never be disappointed,” Slowthai declares in “Play with Fire”. It is hard to apply the same generosity to his flawed album.
‘Tyron’ is released by Method Records