Review Summary: 808s and piss-takes
When Tyron Frampton was but a wee boy running amok in the streets of Northampton, his laboured manner of speaking earned him a nickname that some of you clever cookies out there might recognise as a homonym: Slow Ty. Ouch. Add an unfortunate dash of poverty into the pot, simmer with a posse of mates destined for petty crime and inevitable incarceration, season with a predilection for drugs as a means of escape, and you have yourself an underdog so desperate and vulnerable that a young Guy Ritchie might've cast Tyron and the boiz as he did all those proper 'ard lookin' Londoners in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
in 1998, mapping out an obsessive, Kubrickian level of auteurism that would eventually deliver 2019's magnum opus Aladdin
unto a sea of eager cinephiles.
Of course, poverty-stricken victims of modern statehood have always traveled hand-in-hand, Thelma & Louise
-style, with hip-hop, though the fade-to-white as the car plunges down the cliffside is a great deal less poetic in the real world. True enough, hip-hop was founded on — and continues to be developed by — people that were dealt tragic hands. Capitalism's a shady dealer, huh?
Similar as this story may sound, slowthai's vibrant personality lends him a particular distinction from many of his peers. His deep bag of tricks includes various vocal inflections ranging from British Lad On Tour to Raging Gordon Ramsay to Oh God, Why Is He Singing Again? in mere moments. His frequent use of slang and patois builds atop his dynamic performances, lacing his music with a defined sense of locality that allows him to express his loves and frustrations regarding his life, his home town, and his country with a brash air of authenticity.
Vibrant ambition can be a double-edged sword, though. Nothing Great About Britain
, slowthai's debut record, was packed with fire and brimstone, and moments of sweet clarity that rightfully bestowed Next Big Thing credentials upon Tyron, but it also contained an inconsistent tracklist filled with spots so comparatively weak that I still can't hear the word 'grapefruit' without retching up my most recent meal.
largely succeeds in avoiding this inconsistency. The album is trim, at just 35 minutes, and has been split into two halves: bangers (UPPER CASE TRACK TITLES), followed by bops and jams (lower case track titles).
slowthai's lyrics are largely decent, and eventually/occasionally meander into greatness. “45 SMOKE”'s slang-infused opening tirade is a cleverly placed and vivid scene-setter, painting his background in broad strokes. Awkwardly, when “CANCELLED” follows, slowthai makes up roughly a quarter of the song's lyrical content as Skepta delivers three choruses and a verse all on his own. To top it all off, Skepta's Jodorowsky reference makes slowthai's mention of Ong Bak
sound like pure pleb shi
t. I suppose this is what happens when you tangle with a Midnight Movie aficionado mad enough to namedrop Gaspar Noé in his raps.
slowthai's humour is a constant presence throughout TYRON
. “Heard your man's mixtape, thought it's a piss-take
” on “VEX” tickles me pink, and a tale of dropping “an eccy with your mum
” before making her “bend back like croissants
” on the short and sharp “WOT” is outrageous. This humour is sometimes misplaced, with the most egregious example popping up on album highlight “nhs”, where an emotionally hard-hitting first verse ends with, “Try breathing, you might find freedom / Instead of squeezing up your buttocks tryna hold ya shit in
”. Fortunately, amends are made in the second verse, where slowthai grounds himself again, leaving poo puns alone despite beginning with, “All the best shit's got scratches on the surface
”. This leads to a series of both thoughtful and silly questions that make for a creatively satisfying verse: “[what's] Rick without Morty? / Lil Wayne without codeine? / A rapper without jewelery? / Real person, surely / What's health without poorly? / What's wealth without the poor? Please...
When slowthai engages in such sincerity (jokes inclusive), his music gains a more concrete and unique sense of identity, and his best songs emerge. This is all too apparent on the breath-taking closer “adhd”, a song which Tyron himself says is the “most connected [he's] been to a song. It's the clearest depiction of what [his] voice naturally sounds like...” Surprise, surprise; the four best tracks on here are bereft of capital letters. Sincerity is becoming on the kid.
The differences between the album's 'sides' don't stop there. Although the front half's 808s and skittering high hats have edges sharp enough to draw blood — largely courtesy of long-time collaborator Kwes Darko — it's the second half where the production really comes into its own. Mount Kimbie and Kenny Beats enter the fray here (alongside Darko and many others), and are tasked with imbuing the lowercase confessionals with an emotional undercurrent strong enough for slowthai to float on. Highlights include a touching guitar/vocal hook from Deb Never that “push” builds itself upon, a radio-ready chorus from Dominic Fike (feat. Denzel Curry) on “terms”, “nhs”'s sorrowful yet reassuring piano, and — perhaps the biggest surprise here — a frankly beautiful back-and-forth between the singing of slowthai (sorry for the jab earlier, bruv) and James Blake on “feel away”.
If you couldn't tell already, slowthai is not short on collaborators. Even on his debut release, musicians were gravitating to slowthai like chavs to a whippet [Bavitz, I., (2014). “The Soup”, Bestiary
. Rhymesayers Entertainment.]. Moreso's the case here, and the resulting cavalcade of artists involved lend TYRON
the diversity that slowthai's style demands, without laying the creative onus on him and Kwes Darko alone. The end result is an album that passes by without any significant misfires, and at least a handful of headshots. It's probably a stretch to say that he's met the potential signified by the queue of people within the industry clamoring to work with him, but TYRON
's best cuts provide further unequivocal evidence that there is something special about Tyron Frampton.