Slowthai spent his last few weeks of freedom wilding the fuck out. Almost exactly a year ago, Slowthai made his Tonight Show debut. This wasn’t even Slowthai’s performance; he was there to rap his bit from producer Mura Masa’s single “Deal Wiv It.” But Slowthai made a spectacle of himself anyway — stripping off his shirt, jumping up on Jimmy Fallon’s desk and rapping in his face, kicking his shoes up on Fallon’s couch. A week later, Slowthai’s whole wild-and-crazy-urchin trip turned rancid. Accepting the Hero Of The Year statue at the NME Awards, Slowthai attempted to sexually harass the stand-up comic Katherine Ryan. Then he tried to pick a fight with someone in the audience, throwing stuff into the crowd and jumping off the stage. Before Slowthai could land any blows, security kicked him out of the show. It was not a heroic occasion.
The next day, Slowthai apologized on Twitter and asked NME to send his award to Ryan. Then the pandemic hit, and the world shut down. Slowthai had big plans for the summer festival season. Instead, like everyone else, he went into quarantine. He stayed with his mother and his fiancé in his Northampton hometown and tried to figure out what was next. Slowthai had built his name on look-at-me stunts, like the time at the 2019 Mercury Prize ceremony where he ended a performance by hoisting the fake severed head of Boris Johnson. He came off as a snarling rabble-rouser, a Dickensian scamp come to life. That was what people liked about him. Instead, our last lingering image of Slowthai was the drunk, entitled dickhead at the awards show.
Tyron, Slowthai’s new album, is his attempt to reckon with all this — to depict himself as a three-dimensional human rather than the chaotic street-rat character he’d become. Like Danny Brown’s Old, Tyron is split into two halves — seven tracks of the raw riot-starter music that Slowthai knows his fans want, seven tracks of softer and relatively introspective tracks where he examines his place in the world. Artists only really structure albums that way, and call attention to the split, when they’re uncomfortable with the way they’ve seen their images evolve. It’s a false binary, though. Slowthai’s hard music is sharper and more thoughtful than his persona suggests, and his soft music doesn’t necessary project the wisdom that he wants. Still, Tyron works as a compelling portrait of a guy who’s trying to figure out his own shit.
Some rappers, like Slowthai’s “Mazza” collaborator A$AP Rocky, project smoothness and self-confidence. That’s not how Slowthai works. He’s messy and spluttery. He throws his voice at the beat, grunting and squeaking and sometimes gasping for breath. It’s intuitive stuff. Sometimes, for reasons that go beyond his accent and his UK-centric frame of reference, it can be hard to figure out what Slowthai is even talking about. But his urgent, hungry voice makes for kinetic, physical music. He always sounds like he’s got something at stake.
And Slowthai does have things at stake. On “Cancelled,” guest-rapper Skepta booms authoritatively about being impervious to sensitivity: “How you gonna cancel me?/ Twenty awards on the mantlepiece/ Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury/ Girls in the crowd got their hands on me.” But that’s not the image that Slowthai puts forward. Instead, Slowthai sounds like someone who knows he’s fucked up. In some of his lyrics, Slowthai sounds like he’s convinced himself that he’s been victimized: “Everything is negative,” “people think I’m Satan’s son.” More often, though, Slowthai faces up to his own fuckups: “I just gotta be better.” (Slowthai tells Rolling Stone that he’s quit drinking, even though he still raps about it pretty often on the album. Everything is a process.)
There are famous guests on Tyron, but they often seem to be there to offer Slowthai encouragement or consolation, not to maximize his marketing potential. On “Push,” Deb Never sings softly, and it seems like she’s directly addressing Slowthai: “Slow down before you break.” On “Feel Away,” James Blake croons about the dent in his car reminding him of how close he came to dying. It all feels therapeutic.
The grime influence from Slowthai’s 2019 debut Nothing Great About Britain is mostly gone from Tyron. Instead, Slowthai’s producers — mostly longtime collaborators like Kwes Darko and SAMO — have given him thick, heady beats that surround and soften Slowthai’s uneven anti-flow. On the first half, the tracks have a hard gothic atmosphere. On the softer half, they rely on pianos and pitch-shifted samples. Both sides have energy, and both sides have a certain grand-scale majesty. Once festivals come back, many of these tracks will probably sound great.
Tyron doesn’t fully hold together. The lyrics aren’t exactly smart; I wince at Slowthai musing about “Rick without Morty, Lil Wayne without codeine.” The LP’s structure feels a bit overthought, and the second half gets a bit too diffuse here and there. Sometimes, he loses the intensity of Nothing Great About Britain without really replacing it with anything. Slowthai seems like he’s trying to figure things out, but he doesn’t seem like he’s there yet. Still, Slowthai has made a compelling record about that struggle against his own worst impulses. He’s made me want to root for him.
Tyron is out 2/5 via Method/AGWE/Interscope.
Other albums of note out this week:
• R+R=NOW’s R+R=NOW Live.
• Anika Pyle’s Wild River.
• Chris Crack’s Might Delete Later.
• Steady Holiday’s Take The Corners Slowly.
• For Your Health’s In Spite Of.
• Teenage Wrist’s Earth Is A Black Hole.
• Bodies Of Water’s Is This What It’s Like.
• A.A. Williams’ Songs From Isolation.
• Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s New Fragility.
• Django Django’s Glowing In The Dark.
• The Pretty Reckless’ Death By Rock And Roll.
• Sia’s Music – Songs From And Inspired By The Motion Picture.
• Florida Georgia Line’s Life Rolls On.
• Robin Thicke’s On Earth, And In Heaven.
• JPEGMAFIA’s EP2! EP.