Nuance can often be lost in the roar of social media and, in the conversation around cancel culture, things are black or white. Bouncing back from his own trial by Twitter, Northampton rapper Slowthai – real name Tyron Frampton – amps up the bravado and shares uncomfortable truths as he gets more personal on his second album.
“My complexity be the death of me,” the 26-year-old drawls on ADHD, thoroughly exploring the borders of the grey area. He debuted on a high, his 2019 album Nothing Great About Britain getting nominated for a Mercury Prize, but when he won Hero of the Year at last year’s NME Awards, he was “cancelled” for a boozy bust-up in the crowd and for inappropriate behaviour towards comedian Katherine Ryan onstage. She gracefully accepted his public apology.
“How you gonna cancel me? Twenty awards on the mantelpiece,” spits guest rapper Skepta on Cancelled. Well, they tried to.
Propelled to a level of fame where NME deems you a hero, rockstar swagger and working class authenticity is demanded by a largely middle-class audience. But if you go too far, you’re “cast aside”, as the world-weary Push decrees. On the deflated Terms, he battles the impossible of being a “national treasure” one day and having his words twisted another.
In a two-part album divided between celebrity persona and personal reflection, Slowthai brandishes his ego on the grime-laced, antagonising first half, but part two takes a melodic turn in showing the cause and effect of his own mistakes. “I leave the dent in my car to remind me what I could have lost,” sings James Blake on the ethereal Feel Away, laying out the car crash that was and will forever be remembered. The sneaky sample of Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover is a real sweet spot.
NHS takes digs at “Jack the Lads” who coast by doing the bare minimum – “only happy when they clap” – while giving some perspective for those who wade in deeper water: “Abusers with no sober mums? Screaming, say you’re doing wrong. What’s love without hate and stuff?” Boasting his vices of choice on Mazza, which features A$AP Rocky, he’s quick to point out that a good time can equally be a red flag: “I never felt love before the drugs.”
It’s hard to know how someone should return from a decimation of character, even if it’s at their own doing. Should you come back guns blazing or with your head in your hands? Using blunt force and soft confessions, Slowthai does both. Bad actions do not always a bad man make, and that’s what makes his grey area so profound.