Bursting on the scene in 2019 with his debut album Nothing Great About Britain, slowthai proved that his high-energy combination of grime, heavy hip hop, and punk influences could come together into something wholly unique.
Propelling himself as one of the artists to watch, his off-stage antics as well as his manic music delivery soon gave him a wild, public persona, and a year on from his disastrous appearance at the NME Awards, slowthai forces himself to reckon with his demons on his latest project, TYRON.
While his first album hinted at his mental struggle, TYRON plunges slowthai into the deep end, facing the consequences of his wilder actions and facing his own mental anxieties. Split into two discs, the first being spelled out in all caps and the latter in lowercase, slowthai is trying to let the listener in on his duality.
The record opens with ‘45 SMOKE’ which instantly sets the tone for the creative direction slowthai is headed, showcasing a distant piano line, complemented by the trap-influenced hi hats and punchy bass.
Right away, slowthai’s bottomless pit of energy translates into flows that are aggressive, hungry, and abrasive.
Star-studded features from Skepta and A$AP Rocky in the first leg are welcome, but sadly slowthai is slightly overshadowed by both on their respective tracks. Skepta’s hook on ‘CANCELLED’ also read more whiny than defiant.
That said, Rocky’s pass off back to slowthai on ‘MAZZA’ is effortlessly cool and easily a highlight. The final track ‘PLAY WITH FIRE’ seems a natural conclusion, with soulful strings providing the background while slowthai muses about a pessimistic outlook on life, giving the perfect bridge between the album’s two sections.
The second side’s opener ‘i tried’, signals an immediate shift in tone, with warped gospel samples, and syrupy guitar licks showing a production prowess close to Kanye, but with less polish. Jazzy piano melodies keep the second half of the album from growing stale, while the trap production is scaled back, paralleling the subtlety and nuance in slowthai’s clever lyricism. ‘terms’ and ‘push’ both feature stunning vocal features on the hook from Dominic Fike and Deb Never, even if they stray a little generic at points.
TYRON’s reflective second side all culminates in a strong three-track closing. With ‘nhs’ being named as a happy song by slowthai, it sees him appreciate the dark and light in life, all while brassy synths consume the surrounding soundscape.
Mount Kimbie’s production shines through on ‘feel away’, having delayed and bounced piano chords giving James Blake the space to provide a triumphant chorus. ‘adhd’ closes the album with slowthai’s darkest introspections on suicide, but chooses life with a fresh, vigorous tenacity in his flow after walking up to the ledge.
TYRON works the best when slowthai takes his time, coupled with original production styles.
While a few tracks on the first half lack some structure and are slightly repetitive, slowthai’s near perfect recovery on the second leg proves that his conceptual soul-searching journey makes the weaknesses of the record much more forgivable.
image: Andrew Whitton