Inner struggles are sublimed into a communal affair in slowthai’s second LP, TYRON. As the gaze turns inwards, slowthai tells the story of the forgotten through his own.
“What’s a flight without turbulence? A life without circumstance?” asks Tyron Frampton, best known as slowthai, on recent single ‘nhs’. These are two questions that launch a series of rhetorical queries that encapsulate the Northampton rapper’s new-found frame of mind. Following the acclaim of his Nothing Great About Britain debut and months touring both solo and with genre-bending supergroup BROCKHAMPTON, slowthai’s new LP, TYRON, accepts pain with joy and embraces the full experience of life, flaws and faux pas included.
slowthai is no stranger to controversy, having been himself at the center of watchers’ ire online after February 2020’s NME Awards. Having already painted a vivid picture of the reaction to the events in last May’s one-off track ENEMY, slowthai draws out the brush for a second coat in the album’s opening act.
The explosive ‘45 SMOKE’ wastes no time getting to business, a literal wake-up call that finishes by deploring his perceived vilification. We are led into Skepta-assisted ‘CANCELLED’, a track determined to put the matter to rest once and for all—well, almost, as ‘push’ later alludes to it once more. The rappers reunite to play into a role cancel culture is constantly trying to cast. The message’s landing is a bit shaky, due in part to a couple of head-scratching wordplay choices. Nonetheless, the track flows remarkably well, and placing Skepta at the helm doesn’t take away from slowthai’s dazzling contribution.
‘45 SMOKE’ and ‘CANCELLED’ propel the listener into the rest of the first leg of the album, a collection that plays to slowthai’s established strengths—in particular his ability to sustain a well-calibrated dose of mayhem. The listener is then constantly surrounded by slowthaisms: songs are filled with playful ad-libbing, ferocious cadences to hype slowthai and his audience up, and chameleonic intonation patterns that put the Joker’s bursts of hysteria to shame.
The first seven tracks of TYRON “represent my anger, the way I feel, the front that I put on,” as the eponymous artist puts it. ‘MAZZA’ does an especially good job at creating the illusion of ambushing the listener with a dozen other slowthais born out of vocal duplication and incessant ad-libs. ‘VEX’ keeps the ball rolling, arguably even more effectively, in a track that offers a thrilling display of ability and feels like a particularly deft freestyle.
The second half of the record gets into more introspective turf, although slowthai manages to expand on the circumstances of a multitude by speaking of his own. By turning inwards, he reflects the outside: it’s certainly a change of perspective from the Nothing Great About Britain days but not a complete reinvention. Through making his own evolution more the exception than the rule, slowthai is still working at debunking the myth of social mobility in TYRON.
‘i tried’ starts off with an admission of suicidal thoughts right off the bat. Where do we go from here, you ask? Around Northampton and beyond to communities muzzled by class dynamics and paralyzing governmental policies, that’s where!
Along with James Blake, Kenny Beats, and Mount Kimbie, they craft an ear-grabbing stand-out that focuses the listener’s attention on what slowthai has to say and only that. ‘focus’ is concerned with the need to push through circumstances and work hard at getting over them. At this point in the album, slowthai’s deliveries are no longer manic-like in the first half, and the occasional ad-lib is less frequent and more muted.
‘focus’ is, in fact, symptomatic of TYRON’s ambition. The album reveals a will to broaden the musical palette slowthai has been drawing from. While most risks pay off, others suggest that some colours are better left untouched for now. In those moments, slowthai’s idiosyncrasies aren’t enough to make up for uninspired excursions in hostile turf. Among them, the clumsy poetry of ‘DEAD’ takes us into unfamiliar territory with a bunch of platitudes (ah yes, the old adage popularized by a certain American idol, “what don’t kill you, fam’, makes you stronger,” makes a most unwelcome return) and opaque lines that seem to exist simply because they were thought of and made varying amounts of sense.
Still, for the most part, slowthai’s attempt at painting himself in many corners to avoid being trapped in only one proves successful. Sharing his most private thoughts proves therapeutic for the listener and conversely for their originator. ‘adhd’ closes a triad of emotionally charged pieces that suggest the journey to self-betterment is trying but rewarding. The closer of the album basks in a hazy ambiance, as slowthai looks at the listener dead in the eyes while he delivers some of his finest lines ever. It’s slowthai at his most raw, blunt, straightforward.
Ending the album on such a high is slowthai’s way of demonstrating that he definitely has more tricks up his sleeves. There are no question masses will flock to witness the magic first hand whenever live shows return.