Album Review: slowthai – ‘TYRON’
Slowthai takes a look in a cracked mirror on sophomore album, TYRON. Moving from a jagged-edged electro backed first-half with the CAPS LOCK ON to a smoother, more soulful lower-case mode, the Northampton local is as volatile as ever. Robbie Simms offers his thoughts.
TYRON is the much anticipated sophomore album from UK rapper slowthai. The album comes off the back of a tumultuous few years for slowthai (real name Tyron) as he dealt with his rapid rise from just a kid in Northampton to one of the revered artists in the UK rap scene. Recently, Ty found himself at the centre of a social media storm after harassing comedian Katherine Ryan while she was hosting the NME awards. He later apologised for his self-confessed “shameful” behaviour but that did not stop the oncoming ‘cancelling’ of him as an artist in the public eye. This offers important context, for it is from these events, the subsequent fallout and public shaming that TYRON was formed.
What is refreshing to see is that slowthai does not ignore the furore but instead addressed his critics and flaws head-on. The themes discussed on TYRON differ from 2019’s Nothing Great About Britain greatly. N.G.A.B. was politically charged, laying bare the struggles and experiences that slowthai faced as an adolescent growing up in Northampton. TYRON follows a much more personal commentary as the rapper examines his hubris and flaws, and reflects on the mistakes he has made and the infamy they have garnered him. The record is split into two distinctive parts, one venting his anger and frustration at the world, the second full of regret and self-contemplation.
‘Tracks like VEXED offer the listener a stark first-hand account of what it is like to be a rising star caught in a social media storm.’
Part one sees slowthai fight an internal battle with public scrutiny. Despite waves of online abuse, the rapper remains the same braggadocios character he always has been. This is perhaps best displayed by the track CANCELLED in which slowthai throws down the gauntlet to his online detractors. Ty likens these critics to cult-like gangs, raps about his accomplishments and claims to be un-cancellable. A testament to Ty’s un-cancellability is Skepta, one of the biggest names in grime, featuring on the track. Ty’s verse, whilst interesting in its delivery, has lyrics that are largely underwhelming and fall short of elsewhere on the album. This may be because Ty only has one verse lasting thirty seconds however, he does not utilise his time well here and mainly raps off-topic. Given the Skepta feature and the potential for a highly memorable collaboration, it feels like a missed opportunity for Ty that he fails to capitalise on.
The next few tracks are arguably slowthai’s most vulnerable. MAZZA, VEX, and WOT depict the rappers downward spiral of self-destructive tendencies to cope with the abuse – debating everything from suicide, drug reliance, smashing up hotel rooms with reckless abandon and getting ‘vexed’ at the people around him. It offers the listener a stark first-hand account of what it is like to be a rising star caught in a social media storm as well. The tracks are all delivered with a manic flow and distorted vocals layered over the top to emphasise this sense of control being lost to impulses. The tone then changes, instead of erratic beats DEAD feels much more moody and purposeful as though Ty has reached a moment of calm at the eye of the storm. His flow is much smoother and with the certainty of a man who knows his own worth; his “legend will live eternally” despite what others say.
PLAY WITH FIRE is the link between side one and side two, Ty is on a comedown, his rage and frustration fades to remorse as we hear an internal monologue as he tries to make sense of everything and collect himself, all the while being bombarded by intrusive voices screaming their hatred, but by now we know this is Ty’s fury is directed at himself. On side two, the energy and direction of TYRON switch completely and slowthai really comes into his own. Having begun at his most arrogant and brazen, slowthai begins a period of introspection. The rapper believes himself to be beyond saving, no matter how hard he tries he cannot escape the “tool” that he is. It is here that we get a hint at the rappers main struggle with self-acceptance; “if hell is meant for sinners heaven’s never been for me,” he confesses. Due to the mistakes, he has made, slowthai believes himself unworthy of salvation.
Some of this despair is alleviated on terms, aptly named as it is the first time that slowthai begins to ‘come to terms’ with who he is, begging for forgiveness from the things he never wanted to do’. He is more confident and has shed the pressure of pleasing critics as no matter what they’ll get his words “twisted.” Instead of lashing out as he would on side one, Ty takes this misrepresentation in his stride as he realises “shit could be worse.” This positive approach to life continues on push. Set over dreamy acoustics and delicate vocals from LA-based singer-songwriter Deb Never, Ty reflects on what he has learned. He concludes that sometimes you have to “sit back and watch the rain,” a beautiful metaphor that captures how in bad situations, like rain, cannot be stopped and instead you must take shelter until the “calm comes after the storm.”
‘TYRON feels like an album Ty needed to make for himself to make sense of the recent events of his life.’
Initially, the melancholic nhs is rife with positivity. Delivered through tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Ty seems to be beginning to recognise that in order to improve upon his flaws he must first accept their existence – “you will always be chubby if you suck in your tummy when staring at the mirror.” Ty goes on to explain that these flaws do not invalidate the good things in life and letting go of this strenuous pursuit of perfection can actually help us “find freedom.” Closing track adhd seems to takes sonic influence from Lil Peep’s Problems with grungy chords and rapping in hushed tones, both share drug-induced hazy episodes of self-reflection. Much like the condition, adhd perfectly encapsulates the duality of slowthai, flitting between melancholic vocals to manic bouts of angst reaching a crescendo with Ty exclaiming “heaven let me in!” As we near the album’s conclusion, we learn that Ty is still fighting his conflictions, proclaiming that his “complexity” will be the death of him.
Slowthai has always strived for authenticity and has never shied away from being himself, even if that is not always best for his public image. You’ll find no polished vocals on his part, in fact, quite the opposite, as his semi-slurred lyrics represent slowthai’s imperfect self rather than a forced persona. Ty’s sound is clearly influenced by grime pioneers of the 2000s as well as mixing in influences 80s punk outfits. You won’t find many sounds that push the sonic envelope, but that’s not the point here, instead, TYRON feels like an album Ty needed to make for himself to make sense of the recent events of his life and we are along for the ride to stand witness. In a time where there is so much scrutiny to be perfect, TYRON sets an example of how to find beauty in imperfections. The album is a confession of Ty’s mistakes but also an acknowledgement that only from mistakes can we grow as people.
TYRON is an engaging listen as slowthai unravels his struggle dealing with harsh criticism and personal complexities. The first half of the album has many songs similar in tone and topic to the point where listeners could be forgiven for forgetting some of them. It is in the second half that slowthai is at his best. When Ty takes the time to properly articulate himself he is a wordsmith capable of rivalling any of his contemporaries, full of poignant introspection and poetry. There is always the worry that sophomore albums will fail to recapture the essence of what propelled an artist to the spotlight in the first place. There is no need to worry here, whilst TYRON may not reach the heights that N.G.A.B does in terms of hits, the softer, heartfelt tracks on this project are some of Ty’s best works and proves him to be an artist full of diverse talents with a promising career ahead of him.
Written by: Robbie Simms
Edited by: Alex Duke and Olivia Stock