Review Summary: Society says slowthai is a danger
There are a lot of people who won’t like slowthai based off his own admissions/brags from previous albums. He refers to himself as a ‘vile little cunt’, brags about how he ‘used to jack cars with a phillips’, tells us he is ‘here to buss you and your mums’ and lets us know that if we were to take him for a cunt we would ‘get knife to lung’… and all of that was within the opening sub-2 minute track of last album TYRON. Take a second to think about the glorifying of rough council estate life, which is something which is happening in almost every county in Britain and now wonder why hearing about this so fragrantly makes more people shocked than the constant championing of drugs and guns in the local hoods that we hear from our American rap counterparts. To this English reviewer, the difference is that I’ve heard the Americans talk guns and murder for decades now and I’ve become immune to the shock, they just sound like fairy tales or wannabe gangster fantasies, but the stories slowthai told me were real. I went to school with this kid, adhd, bad attitude, no one giving him the attention and love he needed to grow, weed habit slowing him down but natural smarts allowing him to thrive in the wrong areas and the wrong crowds - a lad getting good at being bad.
The point in that opening paragraph is to highlight this: the slowthai of the first two albums which I personally could relate to is gone. Whilst that sounds bad and like he’s forgotten who he is, it’s not a negative at all because instead, he’s gone global and now everyone should be able to feel him. Features with global rap stars like Denzel Curry made me start to think slowthai’s latest offering may be a ‘safe’ but incredibly profitable rap album, following in the footsteps of the more ‘banger’ heavy first half of TYRON, and honestly that would’ve been a great album I’m sure, but what he’s done instead is take the gritty, raw, DIY punk vibes he hinted at on debut ‘Nothing Great About Britain’, raised the production levels and songwriting again and finally realised his potential as a stand out artist.
One of the consistent triumphs in slowthai’s now three album catalogue is that the production has always been slick and clean whilst still being creative and gritty, so when I say this is the best he’s ever sounded given he’s mostly swapped a hip hop studio for a live band, this is no mean feat. The other main triumph in slowthai’s catalogue was being able to be real and meaningful when he’s not bragging and chatting ***, like on ‘feel away’ from TYRON, but that album was half bangers and half deep tracks with a pretty clear distinction, whereas this album has a great flow even though we’re feeling all aspects of slowthai’s current personality throughout. The reason we’ve been able to hear all of slowthai at once is because modern slowthai doesn’t need to brag about violence, he seems past that life and now his frustrations are honest, his anger is real, no posturing, mental strains and real life, grown up problems.
The best example of this is the electric opener ‘Yum’. I don’t think I’ve ever called a song electric in my life but this track hits hard with pure chaos, a mind unloading all its thoughts one by one in rapid succession and building rage, talking about lack of motivation, therapy, sex, drugs, self destruction. Personally I’m someone who grew up on metal music so I’m no stranger to hearing someone scream in anger but again I’ve become somewhat immune to hearing it as more and more metal artists postured anger to fit a genre. When slowthai screams, growls and spits his way through the opening two tracks in particular it feels real and authentic again… or as he puts it, he’s ‘thinking for himself’. As well as the rage and depression on UGLY though, there are some lovely, more chilled reflective instrumentals like stand out track ‘Never Again’. I won’t give away the story, but it’s a heartbreaking story with a perfect production to help tell the tale.
Going back to an earlier thought about this genre blending album, it makes perfect sense that someone who has consistently done free (or £1/$1) entry shows throughout his career would be willing to take the artistic risk rather than the safe cash grab option. Personally I think this risk has paid off but whether this will change many peoples views on slowthai remains to be seen. What’s undeniable though with this release is that where there had previously been huge promise and moments of greatness, we’re now listening to an essential artist.