‘There’s Nothing Great about Britain’ reads the title of Slowthai’s debut album, the cover of which features the man himself in a rustic wooden stockade, restrained naked before a large block of council houses as the occupants look on.
If you know a little about the history of the Northampton rapper – a rising star of the increasingly pervasive and hard-hitting British hip-hop scene – it’s easy to see why such sentiments would appeal. Slowthai – Tyron Frampton to his friends – was brought up in a tough estate in the East Midlands, and struggled through early life. He’s determined to pay back those less fortunate.
“The 99p tour, it’s because that’s the price of an ice cream,” he laughs about his incredibly cheap recent UK tour. “I don’t want people to miss me because they can’t afford it, you know?”
There will be plenty of people fighting for tickets for the hard-hitting lyricist, a man who’s abrasive style has seen him come on stage in body bags, make videos featuring him wrapped naked around his girlfriend, and produce cutting lyrics dealing with how at one point in his life, drug dealing seemed like the only realistic career choice.
“I did some dumb stuff and I was going nowhere,” Frampton laughs. “I was doing some labouring and working in Next. I got in trouble for giving my friends the employee discount. It was a difficult life. There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it.”
Frampton found a way out, though, his almost skittishly varied music drawing the attention of the notorious tastemaker poll, BBC Sounds, where he was ranked fourth most likely in British music in 2018. “That was weird,” Slowthai says. “They just called me and told me I was on it. I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve got a lot more attention since, I guess, but these things don’t really matter. I want to be a musician, I don’t really care about that stuff.”
That desire to explore music brings Frampton into a varied world, one where he performs with full-on riotous punks Slaves, traditionally seen as being at an opposite musical extreme. He’s determined to delve into worlds beyond what’s traditionally been quite a narrow an insular rap scene.
His topics are wide and cutting: he ruminates on Brexit, talks about small-town life (another feature of his budget tour was an insistence on going far from the beaten touring track), cuts deep on housing and healthcare, and talks about nationalism and its links with poverty-dominated lifestyles. It’s not intellectualism, though, so much as the cutting perspective of someone who’s been there, and lived the life he’s reflecting in his lyrics.
“I love rap,” he says, “but I don’t just want to be a rapper. I want to mess with the backing track. I want to play piano and guitar and write songs in all kinds of different styles. You don’t go to the restaurant and eat one meal again and again. The idea’s a bit boring to me, really.”
It’s that experimental nature that elevates Slowthai beyond what might be the traditional limitations of genre. The potential oozes from his skitty, hard-hitting album, a true reflection of a man who pulls no punches.
We close off the interview at the allotted time, a music PR convention, and Slowthai sniggers as we explained we’re following the timings as instructed. You get the impression he, perhaps, wouldn’t take such instruction. “Have a good day man,” he laughs. “I will. I’m stoned.” We’re left not entirely sure if he’s oversharing, or playing along with his own legend.
Slowthai brings his Circus Tour to the Dublin Academy on October 10 and 11. Tickets priced at €20 are on sale now.
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.