Music Review: “Tyron”

On his second studio album, British rapper Slowthai delivers a package of emotions and experiences that only those who listen will receive.

Following in the footsteps of Skepta, the U.K. rapper Slowthai is cultivating a fan base here in America. He featured on Brockhampton’s 5th studio album “Ginger” and opened for them on tour. The rapper, who released his first single in 2016, released an album called “Nothing Great About Britain” around the same time as his introduction via Brockhampton. The album received plenty of praise for its political commentary about the common person and the individuality Britain once had at a time when Brexit was prominent in the headlines. 

However, the momentum of his success came to a halt during February last year when he made some distasteful comments about a female comedian named Katherine Ryan while both were on stage during the NME awards. Due to the backlash he received, Slowthai quickly apologized after he made his remarks and Ryan clarified she knew he was joking, but it did not stop the “cancel culture” from coming after him. Even through his endless apologies, he received a high volume of backlash and hate for those remarks. 

In the aftermath of his “cancellation,” Slowthai is now back with “Tyron”, the follow-up to his debut album. The album is a condensed 35 minutes with 14 tracks divided into two different discs. It is a move rare now due to the artists not needing to deal with loading songs on physical CDs, but it was appropriate due to the contrasting themes of the external image and internal conflict Slowthai wanted to present. 

The first disc features a more erratic, threatening lyrical tone as the opening track “45 Smoke” starts off with the line “rise and shine, let’s get it,” and he does. The track serves as an introduction for the disc as he describes his surroundings in the hood he grew up in. He mentions the trouble he got into as he “used to jack cars with a phillips.” This line of description continues throughout the first disc with songs like “Vex”, which taps into his past as a drug dealer: “I ain’t the love of your life, I’m the guy with the pills” or the song “Dead”, which dives into his God complex with a truly grime-type hook: “I am dead, I am God / I am here until the end of time.” The quick pacing and the strong bass characterizes the first half of Slowthai’s discography as a jarring listening experience with the listener being thrown all over the place — almost as if they are getting beat up by Slowthai. On top of the aggression, some of the songs showcase his charm and generate a feeling of rooting for him. The songs all have some sort of witty line to them related to his clothes, appearance, or simply his surroundings: “in a barrel with crabs, had to make them food.” 

Other moments in the first disc address the controversy that he faced back in February. The appropriately titled song “Cancelled” features Skepta on the hook using his awards as a reason why no one can cancel him. In his verse, Skepta refers to those who engage in cancel culture as “zombies” that he will put his fangs in. The track underwhelms as Skepta’s presence overshadows that of Slowthai and only serves as a hollow middle finger to cancel culture considering that it lacks substance. Another notable song from the first disc is “Mazza” featuring ASAP Rocky. The song serves as another example of the mastery Slowthai has of creating grime bangers with hard hitting beats and features a frenzic verse that brings out an energized ASAP Rocky. The song is about the internal madness one can feel at times with references in the song of Slowthai’s willingness to “do genocide for the whole gang.” The lyric serves as an example of how Slowthai carries himself around like the toughest guy in the block. Unlike the song “Cancelled”, this song feels like it is Slowthai’s song because of the adventure the song takes the listener lyrically and as a result becomes the most fun song on the project.

The first disc closes out with “Play with Fire”. This track has an incredibly catchy sample because of the repetitive hook replayed over and over again with some unique vocal effects that make it sound like a little kid singing. Slowthai comes out aggravated and bothered with something to get off his chest, but with more of a sad undertone. The song features some of his best wordplay. His lyrics grow darker as pieces of his shell fall off, revealing someone who is not as tough as the previous tracks would seem. The track ends with a spoken word by Slowthai featuring his own mind fighting itself: “Don’t let your mattress shallow you, wallowing, think what you gonna do or gotta do (fuck the expectations).” The song is a brilliant transition into the second part of the album which unpacks all of his inner turmoil and voices as he shifts his focus to addressing his own personal demons aside from discussing what he portrays to the world. 

“I tried” is the opening song on the second disc, and it is the best song on the album for its poignant lyricism and the theme of resilience towards allowing the inner demons to beat him. It features a beautiful sample with a haunting sounding vocal effect, “I tried to die / I tried to take my life.” The sample haunts the whole song as he starts “took a tumble down this blackhole / Stuck in Sunday League but I’m on levels with Ronaldo.” That line is one of many references to British culture and their love for soccer. The metaphors he creates are very unique to American ears and it captivates the audience to hear new references. This song is peppered with these references and neatly summates both his inner connection to British culture and while other moments illustrate his raw emotions: “I got a sickness/ I’m dealing with it / Feels like I’m sinking / all the time.” “I tried”’s lyrical introspection is rarely featured in the first disc, but becomes more common throughout the album’s second half. This kind of bar is the kind of introspection that rarely featured in the first disc, but now comes out more and more throughout the album. This reflection continues on the song “Terms” featuring Dominic Fike and Denzel Curry in which Slowthai reflects the effects cancel culture had on his mental health. Despite Fike’s potential for success with a sharp few lines, the hook was bland due to his delivery lacking the emotion and sentiment given by Slowthai. Denzel Curry served simply to provide background vocals to the hook with no actual verse, unfortunately. The song portrays Slowthai at his lowest in the depths of his hate-induced depression as he raps “and nothing I’ll change / Do it again and I do it the same again and again.” In “Focus,” Slowthai attempts to free himself of all of the anxious chaos going on in his mind and reality. The track is followed by “Push” featuring a beautiful hook from Deb Never as she reponses his mind and reassures him of a better tomorrow. The exchange feels reminiscent of a sister looking out for her brother, and the song as a whole is one of the standout songs due to how introspective he is on the song as he delivers two verses about his upbringing and all that he has gone through just to achieve that success that people want to take from him. 

The final three songs, “NHS”, “Feel Away”, and “ADHD” touch on different internal struggles he has. He drives into his upbringing, issues he has about society around him, and how he deals with his ADHD. “NHS” is commentary on consumerism and how badly we want items, until we have them. The song contains a litany of metaphors and is one of the better written and delivered rap verses on the album due to how witty it is and his capturing of the ridiculousness of consumerism he feels. The hook also aids the song as it features those child-sounding vocal effects with dark lyrics, and it is one of the better tracks with a clean hook and flow. “Feel Away” features James Blake on the chorus providing emotional on his part as much as Slowthai (unlike Dominic Fike), but the best moments of the song stem from Slowthai’s remennsive candor crooning heartfelt lyrics about going through a break up accompanied by a fast paced piano. His performance on this song shows his flexibility across genres and him touching into different genres of music with a more alternative sounding song. 

The album closes with ADHD, one of the most raw songs I have ever heard. The song beautifully goes into the anxious feeling he carries with him at all times about his surroundings. He mentions personal insecurities, his vices, and his need for loved ones as he calls a friend in an interlude. He ends the song with the line “And I’m vexed tryna smile like Mona Lisa (Smile)” as he re-enters the cycle of covering up his emotions with a cocky, street persona. The listener, who went on the entire journey, is left privileged to see someone who never lets his guard down to have given a peek into what makes him human.

As a whole, the album delivers the outer shell of a figure that seems impenetrable and the inner gunk a person carries through every second they live. All of this is accomplished in an organized fashion due to the separate themanic experiences. Slowthai pulls inspiration from Brockhampton’s alternative sound and morphs it with grime tracks to produce an album that can create varying levels of rawness, energy, and humor. The listener can go the route of braggico or more of a reflective experience, depending on the half they listen to. This type of introspective and fusion of sounds is hard to successfully pull off, but Slowthai manages to do so. With an ear for beats and a raw delivery unlike many, the witty-grime rapper is positioning himself as the leader of a new generation of U.K. rap.

Grade: A
Release Date: February 12, 2021

Image courtesy of NME.

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