slowthai’s TYRON shows us that imperfections – emotional, physical and mental — are part of normal human existence. TYRON is slowthai’s first studio album since his more politically driven Nothing Good About Britain in 2019; since then, he has released some hard-hitting singles in the wake of his blunder at the 2020 NME Awards, where he was seen by millions wavering around drunk and picking fights with fans in the audience. The single ‘ENEMY’, released only months after the scandal, represents a lively indifference to the criticism. Despite the trials and tribulations of his flourishing fame, slowthai has come out with a more thoughtful emotional and psychological commentary about the toxicity of cancel culture and its effects on identity, shame and guilt.
The Northampton-born rapper offers a variety of different messages about his personal life over the two sides of the record: side A shows the more guttural, unpalatable punk-rap that characterises slowthai’s established sound, in songs like ’45 SMOKE’, ‘WOT’ and ‘CANCELLED’. These songs are reminiscent of the ensuing chaos of the heavy mosh-pit — the lyrics make no attempt to hide this with themes of affluence, new-money, pride and an underlying apathy to criticism. The beats and the choruses on the A side, mainly devised by UK based producer Kwes Darko, are arresting and wonderfully dissimilar to Mount Kimbie and Kenny Beats’ productions on side B. slowthai also shows a clear self-awareness in these tunes, talking of his past and the effects that it has had on his own self-image as “Satan’s son”, “growing up ‘round shotters, coppers, alcoholics” in the first song ’45 SMOKE’. While his past appears bleak, the tone of the songs on side A show a fierce comeuppance and a refusal to hide in the shadows.
In the songs ‘DEAD’ and ‘MAZZA’, the inclusion of popular rapper A$AP Rocky is an attempt to show different varieties of trap sound more related to transatlantic audiences, and thus presents a good attempt to demonstrate musical skill — Skepta’s verses in ‘CANCELLED’ also contribute to this. However, slowthai unfortunately disappears under the prominence of his guests and relies on them to articulate his points about cancel culture, thereby waiving the opportunity to figure out an argument that could have been more eloquently expressed by slowthai himself. Nevertheless, side A of the album effectively introduces his interest in self-redemption, but through pride, affluence and emotional apathy. A more vulnerable side becomes more evident in the more introspective reverse.
The B-side of the album shows a need for social acceptance through themes of self-sabotage, doubt, embarrassment and regret. It seems clear why we enjoy a more transparent vulnerability, and the melodies from James Blake and Deb Never make these sounds feel more organic and natural, complementary to the artist’s choice of words. The melodies in ‘feel away’ and ‘push’ disarm the listener, standing out for their dynamic tones and warmth. slowthai finishes the album, with ‘adhd’, which he states in the editor’s notes that the track acts as his “conclusion—like at the end of the book, when you get to the bit where everything starts making sense.” He says that his ADHD makes impulse and aggression hard to handle, and justifies his struggles with human error. He explains that “it’s the clearest depiction of what my voice naturally sounds like, without me pushing it out, or projecting it in any way.”
slowthai ends the album with a sensitive response to criticism, convincing the listener of true and positive growth. The album teaches us of the potential harms of cancel culture by reducing the complex human form to something two-dimensional. slowthai ultimately overcomes his demons, expressing that, “all I’ve done my whole life is try and escape that stereotype, and try and better myself.” Overall, the album sufficiently explores the inadequacies of self-representation and normalises the lessons that we must all learn in our lifetimes.
TYRON by slowthai was released on 12 February 2021.
Words by Brooke Cadwell
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