As human beings, one thing we tend to strive for, at least mostly, is growth. That definition is personal and subjective to each individual, but to be able to learn and grow from new experiences is a beautiful thing. For slowthai, at least in the public light, this has meant dealing with immense scrutiny and criticism. I’m alluding to his NME Awards appearance last year, where he got super drunk and proceeded to heckle and, according to everyone harass host and comic Katherine Ryan. I’m not going to make the situation central to this written piece, but I do want to share a few thoughts. Firstly, the thirst for drama on social media and people’s obsession of placing themselves on a higher moral ground for their own self-gratification honestly makes me sick. We’re all flawed human beings who make mistakes. Some people just do them in public and under the invasive telescope of the general public. It goes without saying that certain actions deserve getting people ‘cancelled’, but in the case for slowthai, I really don’t see how the talented Northampton artist deserves to be treated with disrespect by people who don’t even know him. Listening to his highly anticipated sophomore album TYRON, I can feel both his pain and reflection poignantly.
The double disc album brings two sides to him. The first, with titles all in CAPS LOCK, is filled with punk-like energy, much similar to his excellent debut album Nothing Great About Britain, his animated persona complementing the loud and bass-heavy production perfectly throughout. The second, with titles in lowercase, is filled with more emotive and melodic side that brings his vulnerabilities center stage. slowthai has never been afraid to be vulnerable in front of people, whether on record or through his openness and love-centered attitude towards his growing fanbase. The Kenny Beats and Mount Kimbie produced “focus” on the second disc is an example of how he’s able to flesh out his thoughts and vulnerabilities effortlessly on a bouncy and animated beat. He states – “No one I can lean on so I’m limping with a walking stick / People keep talking shit, I cut through the thick of it”. Always with the film and TV show references, slowthai equates people’s obsession with talking shit, or rather down on other people, with the absurdity and satire of the classic British comedy The Thick of It. This reference is a perfect metaphor for social media and its effects on people. Double standards, hypocrisies, folks being openly and proudly wrong on topics they think they’re experts in… it’s a fitting description of life on social media. Though not one of my favourites on the album, “push” featuring Deb Never sees slowthai laying his vulnerabilities bare on the table. It’s admirable hearing him talk so candidly about the shit he’s been going through and his own feelings. And trust me, this does not take away from the heavy and fiery first disk.
With Kwes Darko and a plethora of other producers on the boards, those first 7 tracks are filled with thumping, bass-heavy production and an unapologetically fiery verses from slowthai. His presence is often unassuming but never boring. That outro verse and his verse on the opener “45 SMOKE” is mesmeric, while “VEX” is one of the hardest (and one of my favourites) tracks on the entire album. The wailing synths and menacing beat on that track is what makes it hit hard. “If my attitude’s poor, it’s because of you” he proclaims, and it’s quite a contrast to the more inner-looking and reflective tone of the second leg of this album. Some people might identify the hypocrisy of statements like this and those kind of provocative and purposefully ignorant, but that’s part of the appeal to his music. “CANCELLED” featuring Skepta made me have that kind of reaction initially, and I’m still not sure about it. While I agree that the concept of being ‘cancelled’ on social media doesn’t usually serve a purpose other than this self-gratifying feeling of “oh, what you did or said doesn’t abide by my morals and ethics”, I do think that there needs to be a clear distinction between that and wanting folks to take accountability for their actions. Skepta’s chorus goes “How you gonna cancel me? Twenty awards on the mantelpiece / Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury”. While I admire the confidence and visions of grandeur, so what? Being one of the biggest artists in the world doesn’t dismiss you of taking accountability for your actions. This isn’t an aim at Skepta per se, but I do find it problematic when artists think they’re above everyone else and believe they can get away with anything because of their status. Octavian immediately springs to mind here. In the music industry especially, where instances of abuse usually get swept under the rug because of power politics, proclaiming that you can’t get ‘cancelled’, whatever that means to people nowadays (the definition has definitely become blurred), doesn’t really sit right with me. Having said this, it’s the honesty and occasional hypocrisy between the first disc and second disc of this album that makes this such a fascinating listen.
slowthai is here to stay. His energy, ever since he burst onto the scene a few years ago is needed. He’s someone who isn’t afraid top speak his mind, whether that’s calling out the scumbag Tories for destroying this country’s future or being blunt about his own hypocrisies as an artist or a human being. TYRON represents growth in that regard, an inward looking project full of memorable moments and highlights that showcase not only slowthai’s eclectic and menacing delivery but also his heart. It’s a brilliant body of work that will propel his career further in years to come. Go support!