Slowthai’s fast turnaround

Slowthai is more reflective than the laddish rapper who outraged the NME Awards last year. He says fatherhood has changed him, and hopes the songs on his new album may help working-class men 

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Over the past three years, Tyron Frampton, better known as the controversial, sharp-tongued Northampton rapper Slowthai, has experienced the extreme highs, crushing lows and everything in between that comes with being a successful musician in today’s social media age.

His 2019 debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, was a venomous takedown of modern society that fused politically charged punk with snarling grime and thrust the then 24 year old into the limelight. A top ten hit, it was nominated for that year’s Mercury Prize, when Slowthai memorably performed with a dummy of Boris Johnson’s severed head in his hands.

Sell-out tours on both sides of the Atlantic followed, along with a boisterous stripped-to-the-waist appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon that immediately went viral.

“When you’re on the way up, people want to champion you. When you’re on the way down, they’re quick to kick you.”

In February last year, Slowthai made the headlines again, although this time it was for all the wrong reasons. Appearing at the NME Awards, where he had been named Hero of the Year, the tattooed rapper made lewd comments to host Katherine Ryan, threw a glass into the crowd after being booed and had a heated altercation with an audience member. Phone footage from the night shows him being held back by security before being escorted from the stage.

Slowthai subsequently apologised for his “shameful actions” and asked NME to send his award to Ryan. The comic responded by saying that she wasn’t offended by what had happened, but that did little to quell the social media storm. The next day, Slowthai was dropped as an ambassador for Record Store Day, while the Sun newspaper sent a reporter and photographer to the musician’s mum’s house to quiz his unsuspecting family. In characteristic tabloid style, it described the rapper as a “shameless Boris Johnson-hating loudmouth”.

“Hyenas, just picking off scraps. They’re vultures, man,” dismisses the now 26 year old, speaking to Big Issue North over the phone from his Northampton home. “By all means, come for me, but don’t come after my mum or family.”

He recalls journalists contacting his old school friends to try to dig up dirt from his past. “Thankfully, the people they approached haven’t got a bad word to say about me. I’ve always been genuine, and I’ve always been myself. I suppose when you carry yourself like that no one can actually have anything to say about you,” he says, sounding exasperated. “I don’t know how these people can sleep at night. I know we all have to pay the bills and keep the lights on, but is that really an honourable way to do it?”

Reflecting on his meteoric rise and equally sudden fall from grace, Slowthai says it taught him a valuable lesson. “It’s definitely helped me to realise that when you’re on the way up, people are all on your side and want to champion you. And then when you’re on the way down, they’re so quick to kick you.”

Slowthai’s excellent second album, entitled Tyron and released back in February, delivered a blistering riposte to his critics. Made during the pandemic, the LP builds on its predecessor’s foundations by combining vengeful hip-hop bangers about cancel culture and working class life with introspective songs about the rapper’s struggles with ADHD and depression. Skepta, A$AP Rocky and James Blake guest on the richly layered record, which reveals a previously hidden vulnerable side to the rapper and hit number one in the charts.

“As an artist I want to paint a vaster picture than just the people in our government,” says Slowthai, who likens making music to therapy. “I need to get shit off my chest that I feel personally otherwise I’ll be dismissing my problems.”

He says the move away from the political commentary of his debut was a conscious decision. “Where I was at in my head, I needed to vent that a lot more than speaking about politics. I’m not a politician. I can just vent and voice my opinions on things.”

Born in 1994, Slowthai grew up on a council estate in Northampton, where he and his younger sister were raised by their half-Bajan mother Gaynor, who was just 16 when she gave birth to him. His father left when he was three and several years later Gaynor married another man. They had a child, Michael, who had muscular dystrophy and tragically died just after his first birthday. Slowthai was eight at the time and the death shattered the family. Shortly after, Slowthai’s mother took him and his sister to live with a variety of friends and family to escape what had become an abusive relationship.

After finishing school, the aspiring rapper studied music technology in his hometown and between a series of low paid jobs (labourer, shop assistant) he began writing songs that vividly documented the reality of life in the lower rungs of society. His Slowthai stage name is a childhood nickname referencing his drawled talking style (slow-Ty).

“I tried to make it out the rubble and I rose like a diamond did,” he asserts on Tyron. He says the accolades and awards that have come his way in the years since mean little to him. “I’m more for the people than I am for any notation on a piece of paper. People get lost in that stuff and I don’t think it really means anything. I’d much rather have kids saying how I’ve helped them with a difficult stage in their life than a piece of tin at my side.”

One of the songs he’s most proud of on Tyron is ADHD, a moving account of how the condition has affected him. Slowthai says since the album came out, he’s had a lot of fans message him about how it has helped them. “It’s beautiful, man. I can’t really describe it.”

Slowthai and Katherine Ryan at the NME Awards 2020. Photo: David M Benett/Getty Images

He hopes the record will help change traditional male working-class attitudes where fears and anxieties are rarely expressed. “Because otherwise in the society that we’re in people see it as a weakness. That’s what leads to so many people that are depressed. People need to know that it’s okay to feel a certain way.”

The song Cancelled, meanwhile, examines the fallout from the NME Awards and the obstacles he’s had to overcome to build a successful music career. “My whole life people have been trying to cancel me from doing things, saying I can’t do it or wouldn’t be able to. I hate how people are so brave behind a computer but when they see you, they don’t have that same energy.”

Lockdown gave him the opportunity to step off the musical merry-go-round and address some undisclosed personal issues, he explains. “It brought me back to earth and removed me from certain situations where I might have got carried away and allowed me to actually have time to focus on myself, rather than just being lost in the moment. It gave me time to appreciate everything that I’ve been doing and everything that I’ve missed.”

More seismic changes took place this summer when his partner gave birth to a baby boy. The couple called him Rain. “We had other names but they didn’t seem right. One night I was lying there at 4am when it started to rain and I just thought Rain is the perfect name. He seems like a rain.”

Parenthood has matured him, says Slowthai, who’s softly spoken phone manner is far removed from the laddish in-your-face aggression that he displays in his music videos and onstage. “I feel different. I’m in a different headspace,” he says.

Sweary outbursts aside, it’s the reflective, thoughtful side of Slowthai’s personality that comes across today. In conversation, he’s funny, highly engaging company and although he’s prone to going off on rambling tangents, he creates the impression that no subject is off bounds. He sweetly reveals that in the moments before our conversation began, he was juggling writing new music and playing with his two-month-old son. “I’m looking forward to the time when he can sit with me and play around proper because I’m a kid at heart and I always will be.”

This weekend, Slowthai returns to the thing that he loves most – performing live in front of an audience at Reading and Leeds Festival. An appearance at Manchester’s Parklife and a short run of intimate club shows, including a date at Leeds Brudenell Social Club, follow in September ahead of his nationwide Hell Is Home tour in March. “The best part of making music is being out there and sharing it with people. It’s been a long time coming. I’m just dying to get back onstage.”

Next month the rapper will also headline his very own Happyland festival at Northamptonshire County Cricket Club, just up the road from his mum’s house. Slowthai personally chose all the acts that will be appearing alongside him, with Idles, Easy Life, Beabadoobee, Pa Salieu and Shygirl on the genre-meshing UK focused bill.

“They’re all doing amazing things and they’re my friends more than anything,” he says, describing the inaugural one-day event as “a place where people can be themselves and have a day where they ain’t got to worry about anything or think any negatives. Escape the reality that we’re in and come to Happyland.”

He’s equally effusive about today’s “booming” alternative UK music scene but is critical of some unnamed artists “jumping onto bandwagons and maybe saying stuff that isn’t relevant to them or their lifestyle”.

In his view, living your life with honesty and authenticity is key, no matter the problems, or in his case controversies, that sometimes brings. “Otherwise, what’s the point? You’ll just be miserable when you get old.”

Slowthai plays Leeds Festival, 27-29 August, Parklife, Manchester, 11-12 Sept and Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 1 Sept. Tyron is out now on Method Records/Universal. Happyland is at Northamptonshire Cricket Ground, 25 Sept 

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