slowthai Asks Himself the Tough Questions

"If you can't stand to be in your own company, how can someone else?"
slowthai Asks Himself the Tough Questions
Photo: Crowns & Owls
"If you can't stand to be in your own company, how can someone else? That's always been something I try to live by."

In this time of isolation, slowthai's question takes on crucial importance. The Bajan-British rapper is locked down at home with his mother and his fiancée in Northampton, and, luckily for all involved, he's grown comfortable with himself.

Known as the "Brexit Bandit," slowthai torpedoed nationalism and Britain's mishandling of social issues with his 2019 debut, Nothing Great About Britain. Critics painted him as a renegade jokester intent on smashing the Crown. But his follow-up, TYRON, out February 12 via Method Records/Universal Music Canada, completes the picture of Tyron Frampton. The person holding up a mirror to the country he loves is a normal human being working to shed his insecurities and embrace his vulnerabilities.

slowthai has learned to accept life as it comes, and he's had plenty of ups and downs: Nothing Great About Britain was nominated for the Mercury Prize; he's collaborated with Gorillaz, Rico Nasty, and Disclosure; and TYRON's guest list is equally impressive, featuring James Blake, Skepta, Mount Kimbie, Deb Never, A$AP Rocky, Dominic Fike, Denzel Curry, and Kwes Darko. But slowthai has also received backlash for taking a joke too far with comedian Katherine Ryan and holding up a severed dummy head of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson onstage.

These incidents, combined with slowthai's intense, aggressive image, have saddled him with a bad reputation — he has dealt with criticism his entire life. "I grew up on an estate. We didn't have much money. Most avenues is either you sell drugs, you become a tradesman, or you go to university and probably end up back in the town working in an office job," he tells Exclaim! "There's not much opportunity. So being from an estate, people always had a negative opinion of me. No one believed in what I was doing."

slowthai shows his soft side on TYRON, but not to quell this reputation. "People always find the negative. [TYRON]'s not for them. It's for the people that need it the most, that feel every day they can't be who they really are because of the expectations or the way society views people. I want people to connect with something and feel free to be themselves."

slowthai has since distanced himself from negative, close-minded people. The new individuals and experiences in his life have opened his eyes to perspectives he never used to see, brightening his worldview. He's also quit drinking and glamourizing material possessions and status. He says, "I need to find my lust for life again without all these exterior things that don't add to me, that ruin me."

On TYRON, slowthai looks inward at himself to put out something that will help others. "If I can do it, you can do it, too," he wants everyone to know. "That's why I get in my boxers on stage. If I don't feel insecure standing here, jumping around in my boxer shorts, why should you feel insecure? Why shouldn't you enjoy yourself and dance like no one's watching?"

But slowthai battles other insecurities on TYRON. The album takes listeners through the conversations raging in his head. The arc ends with him realizing that all the stuff he's concerned about — money, fame, clout — is bullshit.

TYRON's first half features a barrage of quaking grime and drill slammers, reflected in song titles spelled in all caps. Rap ballads named in lowercase comprise most of the album's second suite. On "DEAD," with producer Kwes Darko, slowthai addresses impermanence and the pointlessness of things people value most, namely money: "People change for money / What's money with no time?" he muses before bluntly stating, "Everybody dies."

This cold, hard fact hits like a bucket of ice water. slowthai used to dream of riches, but now, he values human connection and learning most of all. "There's so many wonders to life that we miss because we're too caught up in this world. I just want to experience life, man. I want to die knowing I done everything and there's nothing I wish I did. At least I left something behind and I helped people to better themselves like I wish someone could have when I was starting out."

TYRON's turning point arrives on "i tried," the first song of the album's slower, tender second half. The dazed track, slowthai explains, is him saying, "I tried this shit. It's not for me. This is me. I'm more humble." He still loves the high energy – he will always have it – "But this braggadocious, fucking, 'I'm the guy,' that's not me." Starting from "i tried," TYRON takes on a more honest, reflective tone. "We want 'em all until we have 'em / Happier with rations," slowthai raps on "nhs." He projects to deflect on "adhd": "Smile on the out, but on the inside I keep bleeding / Fun and games till you gotta take the blame."

slowthai's success has been a whirlwind. At its height, nothing felt real as he moved from place to place. "You're in autopilot when you should be enjoying all these moments," he reflects. "When it's all a blur but there's obviously good things that have come from it, you need to find yourself again. This is what TYRON is: me going through the shit to get to what I actually love, what I am, who I am."

With those perspectives in mind, slowthai's able to find slivers of light in a year that's upended lives around the world. "Obviously there's the part of me that's like, when you're flying high, just keep going. But I was definitely burning out. I appreciate the fact that I've had time to ground myself and come back to reality and be surrounded by my real friends and my real family, even just to have real conversations. It's nice to be normal."

Although slowthai has found peace within himself, it exists alongside the spirit that's landed him in so much trouble. "Never be afraid to be yourself. Don't worry about the expectations of the world. Live your life to the fullest. Enjoy it. Find happiness in everything you do. And just fuck shit up." This is the ideal, but he accepts that he's not all the way there yet. "Maybe I'm not going to be able to change overnight, but this is what it is."