Slowthai has always positioned himself as a social renegade. The Bajan-British rapper’s debut album disputed half of his heritage, questioning England’s eminence through depictions of poverty, class hostility and austerity. Nothing Great About Britain revelled in the precariousness of our country, but also offered a more intimate image of Thai that many die hard fans would have appreciated.
It was, therefore, disappointing that his NME awards show antics undermined the endearing demeanour we knew him for. A relentless, drug fuelled international touring schedule seemed to have got the better of him; he was caught like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to cower from the Twitter mob that formed against him. No one can justify Slowthai’s actions, and on this album, he doesn’t necessarily ask for forgiveness, but instead for us all to listen.
Made predominantly in the solitude of lockdown, and crafted in the basement of his mother’s Northampton home, TYRON reflects on Thai’s persona through two chapters. The first seven songs glory in his trademark, unforgivably machismo lyricism; ’45 SMOKE’ revives the rugged fashion of NGAB and coins a particularly harrowing mood. ‘CANCELLED’ carries on in this braggadocios vein. Enlisting Skepta, who can do little wrong with his features recently, the track seeks defiance from a topic that nearly ended his career. Kelvin Krash produced the beat in an Air BNB A$AP Rocky was renting in London, whilst Thai and Skepta devised their verses on mushrooms; a situation very comparable to the creation of Skep and Rocky’s infamous Praise The Lord.
In fact, one of the all-star camaraderie’s Slowthai has made since his debut is with A$AP Rocky. TYRON has been released on the New Yorker’s AWGE imprint in America, and he provided a verse on the album’s third track: ‘MAZZA’. Made two years ago, the tune has been in Thai’s vault for a while, but it fails to embody the brutish, punk-inspired abrasiveness the likes of ‘VEX’ and ‘WOT’ do.
Embedded in a sea of distortion, ‘DEAD’ sees the Mercury nominee switching up his slurry flow to one with more rhythm. The lyrics remain humorous, as Thai dichotomises acts of laddishness with alternative aspirationalism, like reading kinfolks with his mates. Across the opening 7 tracks Thai hits you with a straight punch to the gut. He reminds us of the rugged roots that have shaped him, romanticising a mosh-pit energy that we can only hope to experience as soon as possible.
TYRON is a tale of two halves, exposing the complexity of human beings and the artist himself. ‘i tried’ enlists a boom bap instrumental and exposes a juxtaposition to the excitable veneer of Slowthai’s bubbly persona. Featuring Dominic Fike and Denzel Curry, terms, addresses the terms and conditions of fame, but reminds us that he remains a boy nurtured by the streets of Northampton.
One of, if not, the most compelling partnerships on this record comes on ‘push’, which features Deb Never. A mellifluously picked guitar melody plays under the dreamy croons of Never, who contrasts the irritable flow chosen by Thai. He addresses his previous addictions and comes to terms with the wrong he’s committed on here with great sensitivity, conflicting the first 7 track’s macho demeanour.
‘feel away’, with James Blake and Mount Kimbie, was the first single to drop ahead of TYRON. It hinted at a more introspective, reflective album from Slowthai, and its one with great personal meaning to the rapper. The track is dedicated in memory of his baby brother Michael John, who died before his first birthday. Blake’s poignant lyricism personifies the evocative, synth-led production of Mount Kimbie’s Dom Maker, whilst Thai lets us into the complexities of his mind and provides a verse that helps us understand who he truly is.
The album closes out with a similarly moving self-reflection of the rapper as he wants us to know him. Over an off-kiltered trap instrumental, Thai switches between mumbled flows and roars of contempt for the bipolarisms of fame. There’s also a particularly powerful phone call with Kwes Darko – his best friend, DJ, Producer and occasional hype man.
Refreshingly, on TYRON, Slowthai doesn’t shy away from the mess of his previous year. The album assures us that if everyone stops seeking perfection, they can discover the peculiarities that makes them special. It’s a deeply moving 14 track project that sees the rapper managing to forgive himself for the mistakes that have hung over his head throughout his life.
Cover image via Evening Standard