Music Critic Dylan Ferner-Rose takes a look at Slowthai’s latest album which is divided neatly in two halves that compliment each other perfectly and truly make the album standout
TYRON is an album, quite literally, of two halves. When Slowthai fans discuss it in the future it will be a discussion of whether they are ‘first’ or ‘second’ half people. While there is more than enough energy and quality in the first half of the project to provide a decent showcase of Slowthai’s talent, the second half reaches emotional heights and lyrical complexity that stands up to the best rap in both the UK and the US, something we do not quite see on the first eight tracks.
The album’s opener, ’45 SMOKE’, is a song in the vein of a freestyle Slowthai dropped on the album’s run up: ‘thoughts.’ The beat is dense and urgent, the tempo gallops at a fast pace, and Slowthai’s flow follows suit. ‘Never walk alone like Merseyside’, immediately reminds us of just how embedded in the UK culture the rapper is, but the bars are perhaps not the album’s best, coming across more as a good idea than a developed tune.
The next track, ‘CANCELLED’, Slowthai’s second collaboration with the ever-quality Skepta, sees the album launch into its first truly memorable moment. It is a shame that COVID will restrict its true impact. Skepta’s typically simple but immediate rhyme scheme: ‘about you wanna cancel who, fuck with the cult but the gangs on you’, is a perfect recipe for moshpit music, conducting a crowd into crescendos of energetic catharsis. What’s more, the beat’s relentless and flavoursome bass makes the song ideal for an event or party – unfortunately a Spotify playlist and a pair of headphones won’t ever do the track justice.
If 45 SMOKE makes you apprehensive about the record, by the third track, ‘MAZZA’, featuring ASAP Rocky, we are presented with another memorable moment of replay value – a great song that settles you into the track list. The beat is dripping with character, a flute-like synth lead on top of a crystal-clear trap hi hat gives it a sweet and pleasing rhythm, impossible to ignore.
Slowthai’s lyrics on the verse at first may appear a little crude: ‘when I’m pulling up muddy dungarees… make the place look like a murder scene… when I get cash, I’m a money fiend’, but after a few listens the endlessly energised and enthusiastic tone will have the lyrics recycling in your head for a good while like all of Slowthai’s most infectious bars. ASAP Rocky’s own lyrics on the track are outstanding, and his technically brilliant rhyme scheme and flow actually compliments Slowthai’s raw lyricism: ‘light a flame drop a molotov, drop it off then I mazel tov, pop a whole god dang champagne bottle cork’, brilliant.
The next three songs, ‘VEX’, ‘WOT’ and ‘DEAD’, are a similar proposition to ’45 SMOKE’. Running just over five minutes, the tracks resemble decent ideas for grimesque bangers. ‘VEX’ has enough lyrical attitude to carry its weight, a highlight being: ‘heard your man’s mixtape, thought it’s a pisstake, so I used his case to ash my zoot.’ However the forty eight second ‘WOT’ seems to lack any real substance. The beat is very repetitive, but its run time doesn’t allow it to settle down, creating a kind of minute long hole in the album. It’s nice to hear Kwes Darko, the talented producer behind many of Slowthai’s hits, knock out a hook on ‘DEAD’: ‘I am dead, I am God, I am here for the end of time’, however Kwes’ delivery could do with a bit of Slowthai’s confidence and ends up being obscured by the beat.
By PLAY WITH FIRE you feel like TYRON is at a crossroads – and believe me when I say it goes in the right direction.
The chorus of the track is engineered with a BROCKHAMPTONesque microtonal quality and the melody is dreamy and atmospheric, played with what sounds like a harpsichord. This gives the track a truly characterful tone and feels like a breath of fresh air from what could be interpreted as a bit of creative block in the treble of songs before it.
The lyric: ‘need to find direction, if I clock an interception, Cruyff turn watch your knees break’, is a display of a more ambitious rhyme scheme from Slowthai and is the perfect welcome to a more ambitious half of music.
‘i tried’ (the song titles are all in lowercase from this point) is a wonderfully charismatic and creative track. The chorus is a sample of the late Trey Gruber’s song of the same name, and it is dripping with haunting, sensitive and heartbreaking tonality. Slowthai’s opening bar on the track: ‘long roads, could tumble down this black hole’, creates an image of personal collapse that characterises the lowercase songs on the album, and it’s an image that Slowthai paints with perfect poise.
The next track, ‘focus’, is produced by Kenny Beats, and the American beatmaker throws a splash of his own character and talent onto the tune, with a beautifully off-key sax riff introducing the track. Slowthai’s delivery on the track seems effortless and airy: ‘I miss my brother, I miss my fam as well, everybody else can go and fuck themselves’, standing out as a moment of potently authentic arrogance and anger.
We now come to ‘terms’, featuring Denzel Curry and Dominic Fike. Fike delivers a sultry and deep chorus over an ominous bassline and rattling hi hat. This track feels genuinely cinematic, one of the moments of the album where we really feel Slowthai’s personal story. ‘I’m supposed to be grateful for nothing, nothing made do, turned nothing to something’, stands out as a lyric which tells us so much about the artist whilst remaining seductively simple.
The next two tracks, ‘nhs’ and ‘feel away’ featuring James Blake and Mount Kimbie, are what I consider to be the pinnacle of the album. ‘nhs’ bathes in binary oppositions: ‘what’s a sandwich to a dinner, what’s a feather to a mattress, what’s a punto to a bimmer, what’s an actor with no actress?’ Whilst these queries may seem silly at first listen, the rest of the song’s lyrical content chooses to focus more deeply on the rapper’s mental health in a frank and honest way: ‘I was in my head feeling dead, feeling microwaved’, ‘thinking what’s next gonna make you depressed?’ The result is a song that is cathartic in articulating a feeling that we may never really amount to ‘enough’ in life.
The first ten seconds of ‘feel away’ deserve to have a review of their own: ‘we don’t go on dates, we went our separate ways, and we don’t converse’, she said I’m playing games, she says she feels trapped stuck up in this fucking maze, how you been? I been better than yesterday’ are delivered with a truckload of emotional sincerity and authenticity from Slowthai. Add James Blakes’ soulful chorus: ‘this time I have one hand free, this has nothing to do with me’, and we have a track that can be listened to endlessly, in a search to understand a dying relationship articulated by Slowthai in immense lyrical detail. It’s poetic and masterful and shouldn’t be missed.
This song, and those around it, are what unlocks TYRON from a decent first half, and turns it into another great effort from a standout talent in the UK scene.
TYRON is available now via Method Records
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