Artists to Watch in 2019: slowthai
In 2018 it was all but impossible to take your eyes off SLOWTHAI. The 24-year-old Northampton rapper (real name: TYLER FRAMPTON) tore through the remnants of a post-Brexit Britain and a post-explosion grime scene to emerge as the UK’s most vital new musical voice.
That new voice of Britain sounds like this: a visceral, bone-crunching blend of the energy, politics and visual identity of punk with the jagged and bleak sound of Boy in Da Corner-era grime. His vocals – which are reportedly all recorded in one take – are delivered in a precise and sharp flow, cutting through blown-out production with a delivery that flits between King Krule’s suburban drawl and a razor-thin clarity. It’s the definition of spitting absolute venom, the coolness of slowthai’s acerbic wit playing off the manic fervor of his raw emotion.
Slowthai is trying to shock a post-Brexit Britain out of its own apathy and self-imposed isolationism – and he believes in his message with such palpable intensity that his music sounds absolutely possessed-slash-consumed by this mission. It’s music born of the council estates that Frampton grew up in, from a country in which upward social mobility doesn’t exist anymore. It’s the sound of an underclass, a strata of society that the community would rather look away from demanding their voice in a society that was never designed for them.
His diaristic lyrics are appropriately ferocious, full of painfully clever black humour and dripping with acidity, like each track builds the case for indictment. Among his favourite topics are Frampton’s days as a small-time drug dealer, the state of the nation under conservative rule, memories of a childhood spent growing up in rural, working class Britain and his relationship to his mum. Latest single ‘Doorman’ is his most outrightly punk adventure yet, employing an uncharacteristically abrasive MURA MASA to craft a track that feels sick to its stomach, turning the experience of being denied entry into a club into a brilliant metaphor for being systematically shut out and disconnected from the upper echelons of society.
Over intense, menacing strings he satirises the limitations and expectations that drive Britain’s working class to a life of crime on ‘Drug Dealer’: “Just a drug dealer / Got one song it’s called ‘Drug Dealer’ / Nothing to say but “drug dealer”. However, it’s ‘Ladies’ which is slowthai’s most quietly subversive track to date, equal parts a critique of the masculinity imbedded within street culture and a vulnerable ode to the importance women have had on his upbringing.
Starting with the breakout ‘TN Biscuits’ (whose opening lines – “Drug dealer / I wear Nike, not Fila” – is probably the most memorable musical entrance of the year), this impressive run of singles saturated slowthai’s 2018, before he solidified his status as UK rap’s next great hope™ with the release of his sophomore EP RUNT in September. ‘Doorman’, is the first lifted from his upcoming debut record which is due to arrive sometime in 2019 (the working title is, of course, Nothing Great About Britain).
Above all, slowthai is trying desperately to identify what it means to be young and British via incendiary and riotous state-of-the-nation type addresses. It’s not a message devoid of hope or optimism, though. On the contrary, slowthai embodies a kind of nihilistic optimism, a faith that young, working class Britons will always succeed in spite of a toxic nation and a politics which is crumbling around them, all the while screaming “fuck you” at the establishment. “It’s like life gives you lemons and what do you do? You either make lemonade or you sit there with a sour face. I just want people to make lemonade”, he told The FADER, summarising his worldview.
When I listen to slowthai, I hear what sounds like one of the most authentic reactions to what is a genuinely traumatic period in time, free of the sort of self-importance and pretension and cloying relevancy that has defined a lot of political music in the age of Trump / Brexit. And as grime continues to grow and grow, pushing into the global consciousness until it’s inevitably eaten up and repurposed for mass consumption by an industry that it once defined itself against, slowthai’s outsider rap might yet prove the perfect foil. Expect to keep your eyes fixed for years to come.
Photo by Alex De Mora
Words by KYLE FENSOM