In light of a trying period for the Northampton rapper, whose sexist comments and behaviour on stage at the NME awards last February have been widely criticised, Slowthai’s musical output has since been drawn on the ideas of rejection, reflection, self-awareness and growth. Released via A$AP Rocky’s creative agency AWGE (don’t ask us what it stands for, literally no one knows), local indie imprint Method Records, and a wider push from Interscope, TYRON arrives with a level of intrigue that captures both alternative and mainstream imaginations.
Of the four album singles that predate the full release, ‘CANCELLED’ offered the first true glimpse of what the record is and holds. Despite the promise of an extended play, it felt as though ‘nhs’ and ‘feel away’ could hold their own as stand-alone singles amongst the deeply reflective tapestry of 2020; while ‘MAZZA’ featuring A$AP Rocky playfully disguised its true nature as an ode to escapism under bars and bars of party-packed wordplay. In a way, ‘CANCELLED’ contextualises the tracks that came before it, and sees Ty link up with his mentor Skepta for an abrasive, in-your-face rap performance in which the defiant pair take aim at ‘cancel culture’. Where Skepta’s unapologetic rap bravado comes from a position of power, Slowthai’s words cut through with emotion still reeling from shellshock in the aftermath of the NME awards. He lashes out: “Fuck the Oscars … Fuck the GRAMMYs,” in a raw emotional outburst that’s as much an assault on award shows as it is the notion of celebrity itself.
Another highlight to come from the album is the appearance of Dominic Fike and Denzel Curry on ‘terms’. Despite some distance and progression between them on the record, the track picks up where ‘CANCELLED’ left off as Slowthai again takes aim at the systems that fan the flames of celebrity culture. This time with the media in their crosshairs, ‘terms’ is about the T&Cs that inherently come with fame, and explores the idea of breaking through as an artist and suddenly being judged to a different standard, as though celebrities are products rather than people. Despite feeling misunderstood, there’s an underlying tone of acceptance that captures the essence of TYRON as Slowthai navigates public cross-examination and personal reflection, and the mental toll and resilience that takes.
As a boyhood Liverpool fan, Slowthai might appreciate an old old football cliche (he might also think it’s corny as f*ck, but we’re sticking with it). TYRON is a game of two halves: Side one is raw emotion and high-energy, while side two sees Slowthai slow the pace in self-reflection. From top to bottom it’s a narrative of realisation and self-awareness, rather than redemption. Like we all are, Slowthai is a walking contradiction at times: Cynical but positive; burdened but carefree. Underneath the artist and celebrity there’s a human, flaws and all.
Sauti Suggestions: 'terms' feat. Dominic Fike & Denzel Curry, 'focus', 'feel away' feat. James Blake & Mount Kimbie, 'nhs' & 'adhd'.