After the release of his debut album There’s Nothing Great About Britain, Slowthai was a welcome breath of fresh air in a music industry that has felt far too stale for far too long. For a while, his ballsy antics and gutsy delivery felt like the necessary two fingers up to an industry and society that were high on gatekeeping and low on delivering any meaningful change. From calling the queen a cunt to decapitating an effigy of Boris Johnson at the 2019 Mercury Prize, Slowthai became the voice of a Britain fed up and divided, using his position as an outlier to draw attention to the various ways in which the ruling classes have been mugging off those beneath them in the name of progress.
That is, until he wasn’t. Slowthai faced backlash last year when, at the NME Awards, he was accused of misogyny for leering over Katherine Ryan when the pair were presenting an award. The exchange was apparently a rehearsed joke that Slowthai took a step further than intended, and the night took a turn for the worst. Laden with accusations of misogyny and harassment, the rapper apologised and has spent the ensuing year finding a way back to himself.
TYRON is the result of that. Side one shows a boastful Slowthai and is peppered heavily with hard grime beats and minor melodies. In his flow, he is charismatically woozy, taking things at exactly his own pace but always hitting the beats he needs. Lyrically, he and his side one collaborators (notably Skepta and A$AP Rocky) veer between boyish confidence and an almost unpalatable adult cisgender male arrogance, a seemingly deliberate choice to showcase the internal conflicts and contradictions that he has been wrestling with over the past year. On ‘VEX’, over an eclectic techno-esque beat, he paints lightly sung vignettes of boyish fantasies; the opening lines of ’45 SMOKE’ are “Rise and shine, let’s get it / Bombaclaat, dickhead, bombaclaat, dickhead”, a strong statement of intent for any album.
‘PLAY WITH FIRE’ plays two vocal samples against themselves, alternately proclaiming “Play with fire, make it burn” and “I’m hypersensitive”; the final 40 seconds are a chaotic spoken confessional that berates and implores, giving some insight into Slowthai’s own head. It acts as a transition into side two, where the album comes into its own.
Favouring softer, more downtempo beats inflected with nu-hip hop and jazz, side two showcases more interestingly and obviously the complexities and emotional vulnerabilities of the man behind the bravado. On ‘focus’, the rapper skits from one subject to another, the track a testament to the attention deficit caused by doomscrolling and information overload. ‘terms’, featuring Dominic Fike and Denzel Curry, is about coming to terms with the fact that you can’t help what other people think of you – over an instrumental that is more brooding and resentful than others on this side of the album, it’s bittersweet. The back-to-back run of ‘push’, ‘nhs’ and ‘feel away’ is an album highlight; Slowthai’s attitude-laden flow benefits from the dichotomy of softer instrumentals, allowing him to gain strength from his vulnerabilities and demonstrate exactly why he’s worth paying attention to.
For a difficult second album, made undoubtedly more difficult by its context, TYRON glistens more brightly upon each new listen. As the second half of the album dawns, complexities uncover themselves from the initially lazy boastful lyricism. Musically, lyrically and conceptually, it’s a strong comeback for Slowthai. Which is all you can ask of a second album, really.
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This month’s disc is from Detroit punk band Protomartyr