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The 24-year-old rapper born Tyron Frampton used the extra couple months wisely, proving politically savvy in interviews and putting his money where his mouth is: On his recent tour of small-town Britain, tickets sold for 99p, or about $1.30. In his canny press campaign, the Bajan-British rapper positioned himself as the “Brexit Bandit,” a social renegade lampooning the political calamity and its role as a weapon of mass distraction. Britain has a healthcare crisis, a housing crisis, and a giant stake in the climate crisis to be getting on with, but the constitutional crisis dominates feeds. With Nothing Great About Britain, slowthai springboards from the Brexit charade to riffs on nationalism and poverty, redistributing wealth across the attention economy.
As a product of a precarious Northampton upbringing, slowthai is well-versed in crisis management. He has a knack for writing his grievances into first-person tirades with subtle designs on our economic system. For those who grew up in the remains of Britain’s welfare state, it doesn’t take a big leap to join the personal and political. On “Slow Down,” a bruiser from last year’s Runt EP, slowthai recalled spending a miserable Christmas asking Santa to fix his dire living conditions. Even in adulthood, his plea to an indifferent higher power resonates. Why does poverty exist? To what authority do we complain? There’s no hotline for capitalist despair.
Instead, slowthai comes out with a verbal guillotine and a point to prove. First for the chop is Queen Elizabeth—a “cunt,” in his reckoning, on the incendiary title track. The jibe holds up a mirror to classism (“I will treat you with the utmost respect only if you respect me a little bit, Elizabeth,” he jokes in a mock-bourgeoisie accent) but it’s primarily an exhibition of glee. By debasing the royals, he rejects the social mores of an imperialist institution that shackled his grandfather and spawned the far-right English Defence League, both invoked in the song’s vivid opening scenes.
Growing up, slowthai says, he was “always zoning out but also mad observant,” a paradox familiar to introverts with the outward appearance of vacancy. But as a teenager, he scuffed social borders and dropped macho postures, refusing to honor the stratified rules of the playground. One result is a rejection of high- and low-culture distinctions: He begins the record necking a “bottle of Bucky in Buckingham Palace,” then, on “Doorman,” demands entry to a millionaire’s mansion, with class war-waging urgency.
Another consequence is his omnivorous musical style. Helped by dextrous lead producer Kwes Darko, slowthai spits on grime beats, blazes through stoner jams, barks over Mura Masa-produced electro punk, and schmoozes through hip-hop ballads. Skepta turns up for a slightly stiff cameo on UK drill taunt “Inglorious”—part of a brief mid-album sag, the only spell where slowthai sounds reined in—but by the following track, he’s spooling out a disarmingly sweet homebody anthem in “Toaster.”
He’s also a genius character writer. The dopey outlaw narrator of “Toaster” derides authority and preaches the virtues of weed smoking, individualism, and domestic sanctuary. But in a twist that’s equal parts Mike Skinner and Nabokov, he begins to let slip delusions of grandeur. By the end, the game’s up: Cops bang the front door and incarceration beckons. Still, in slowthai’s telling, it’s hard not to side with the harmless mope in his Gucci loafers.
It says plenty about slowthai’s ego that the most autobiographical song, “Northampton’s Child,” is actually an admiring portrait of his mother. With flip-book concision, he shows the teen mom leave home and survive an avalanche of romantic and domestic upheavals, only to lose her youngest son (slowthai’s brother) to muscular dystrophy. Inhabiting these childhood scenes, slowthai swings from big picture to small, visceral reaction to candid reflection. One moment he balls up with fury, landing off the beat to threaten his stepfather: “You’re lucky I’m not as big as you/I would punch you till my hands turn blue.” A line later, when the stepdad kicks the family out, slowthai spits: “Now we’re living at Tasha’s/Funny how good vibes turned that room to a palace.” The memory is depressingly beautiful, in its specificity and then, after so many years, in its endurance.
For all his cartoonish videos and stage theatrics, slowthai’s role as a single character in this ensemble cast shows the integrity he brings to the task. Though he nods to the mannerisms of Dizzee Rascal and JME, Nothing Great About Britain avoids cross-generational pandering and bypasses territorial arguments over the borders of grime and UK rap. What binds the album is slowthai’s soul: his meticulously drawn characters, his affinity for left-behind outsiders like the glue sniffers sampled on “Doorman,” and his impatience with a profit-motivated world where, as he once put it, “You’re competing constantly without wanting to.” The Britain he envisions is fairer, more leisurely and attentive, and united in its resistance to authority. It’s who our society overlooks, he suggests, that determines what we need to overthrow.
|A1||Nothing Great About Britain|
|B4||Peace Of Mind|
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