Trigger warning: this article discusses suicide.
I remember first being introduced to Slowthai by a friend. Watching the music video to ‘T N Biscuits’, it was immediately clear that he was not a conventional UK rapper. The release of his debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, affirmed what makes him special. Songs like the title track fused well thought out political convictions with hip-hop and punk, and more sombre notes with sobering lyrics like we hear on ‘Northampton’s Child’, proved Slowthai to be an adept storyteller that can speak to a wider audience than the traditional rap fan.
The release of Slowthai’s sophomore album, TYRON, is a continuation of these same qualities, but it is also a more inward-looking record focusing on the rapper himself. Fitting, then, that the album title is Slowthai’s birth name: Tyron. The album is presented as a two-disc format, each having a very distinct emotional tone. Disc one is filled with the explosive bangers you would come to expect from the rapper, while disc two is a much more self-conscious look into Slowthai’s mind, with features from the likes of James Blake.
The opening track, ‘45 SMOKE’, is an energetic and humorous start to the album. I particularly like the verse “Speak patois in case somebody listens”, probably because it connects to my childhood speaking slang with friends in front of strangers. The next track, ‘CANCELLED’, featuring Skepta, was admittedly not a favourite track of mine. As you might expect, the song is about ‘cancel’ culture. There is a wider context for this track; during the 2020 NME Awards, Slowthai made some sexualised comments towards Katherine Ryan which led to a severe backlash. Slowthai had later publicly apologised, and Ryan had accepted his apology, though it’s clear that the incident is still on his mind. It’s very swagger-driven and boastful, but Skepta really does outshine Slowthai here.
‘MAZZA’ is one of the highlights of the album. Featuring A$AP Rocky, the track focuses on Slowthai’s mental health, ADHD and drug abuse. The song is deceptively upbeat despite its lyrical content. Rocky complements Slowthai with equally compelling verses: “Light a flame, toss a Molotov / Drop it off, then I Mazel Tov.” The entire track has a very simple trap beat, but it perfectly falls into the background while putting Slowthai and Rocky into the foreground.
The next two tracks, ‘VEX’ and ‘WOT’, are your average grime bangers. Both are aggressive and bop-worthy but they lack structure and variation, which makes them seem more like filler tracks than fully developed singles. ‘PLAYING WITH FIRE’, being the final track in disc one, feels transitional. Slowthai discusses having to deal with consistently negative thoughts that come with acute depression, which is developed even further in the first track on disc two, ‘i tried’. A melancholy tune, the song goes through the emotions of Slowthai’s road to success and the roadblocks in between. He is simultaneously triumphant and broken. The following track, ‘focus’ also covers the same themes but tries to have a more positive framing, telling us to focus on the task ahead and ignore the negativity.
[‘adhd’] is a very emotional, yet fitting, end to the album
‘push’, featuring Deb Never’s beautiful lead vocals, contrasts to the previous track with an acoustic and sombre instrumental. The song is about perseverance and resilience which is perfectly illustrated by Never: “Hard are the days he learned to know / The calm comes after the storm / Sit back and watch the rain / Breathe out before tomorrow”.
‘nhs’, arguably the highlight of the album, is as close as we’ll get to a happy song on the record. While the track has a rather uplifting rhythm, the lyrics are anything but. Slowthai tries to come to terms with the fact that the good in life is also balanced with the bad. As you might have guessed, the title is named after the National Health Service: specifically, about “appreciation… The NHS—something that’s been doing work for generations, to save people—it’s been so taken for granted.”
The penultimate track, ‘feel away’ featuring James Blake and Mount Kimbie, is a dedication to Slowthai’s brother who passed away when they were children. The guest vocals are beautiful and tearful. The song itself about the breakdown of a relationship because of the negative qualities of both individuals: “Suddenly not half the man I used to be / But truthfully, ain’t half the bitch you could’ve been.”
Finally, we have ‘adhd’, a song about Slowthai living with ADHD and how people responded to him as a result while growing up. The themes of depression and anger in this record explosively culminate in this track. The final chorus cuts off with the verse “Goodbye, my only decision” as if he had committed suicide before reappearing in a phone call with what may be a friend or family member, telling them he loves and misses them. The final verse, “Fail to exit like I ain’t got a visa” is a very dark joke about his failed attempt to end his life. It’s a very emotional, yet fitting, end to the album.
TYRON is a story of Slowthai’s life, meaning that any track alone really lacks context, but by no means does that take away from the quality of it. The two-disc structure was a smart decision, separating the two very distinct set of songs, one being energetic and the other being melancholic. The themes of mental health were well developed and felt genuine.
Recommended listening: ‘nhs’