slowthai Isn’t Afraid Anymore

(Frontpage 161)

slowthai Isn’t Afraid Anymore

  • Words: Simran Hans

  • Photography: Francesco Nazardo

  • Styling: Celestine Cooney

In this week’s FRONTPAGE, we sit down with slowthai, the iconoclastic British rapper whose previously comic antics take a much darker turn on his emotional new record..

slowthai has a ritual: Each day, the 28-year-old British rapper (whose real name is Tyron Frampton) looks in the mirror and names five things he likes about himself. “It gets easier the more you do it,” says Frampton with a sleepy grin. Today, days before the release of his third studio album, UGLY, five things Frampton likes about himself are: his eyes, his smile, the gaps in his teeth, his goofiness, and how easily he gets excited. He’s particularly excited because tonight he’s playing a rock show in a pub.

Swaddled in a plush gray dressing gown and still a little dozy at noon, Frampton lights a cigarette on his front porch and flips his phone camera around to show me his view: a paved driveway looking onto an immaculate suburban street. It’s not quite the environs that the rabble-rousing MC grew up in. In 2019, slowthai made headlines with his incendiary debut, Nothing Great About Britain, a funny and furious rebuke to the political establishment, which won him a Mercury Prize nomination. A kind of punk prophet (or maybe just a punk), he got a reputation for performing shirtless onstage, sweating enthusiastically, making people laugh, and saying various things that could get him in trouble. In 2020, a drunken verbal slip at the NME Awards saw him canceled; he still somehow managed a number one album the following year.

The title of his third album, UGLY, is an acronym for “U Gotta Love Yourself.” According to Frampton “it’s a mantra to myself” — and one that became pressing when he found himself in a dark place as he began to put the record together. “I just felt more depressed than I’d ever felt. I didn’t care about anything,” he says. On the road touring his critically acclaimed sophomore album, TYRON, in 2021, he wasn’t eating properly. He couldn’t get out of bed. “You gotta think, ‘Why do I not wanna wake up?’ There’s so many beautiful things around me, and I can’t see anything because I’m so jaded with how unhappy I am within myself, and how I’m not living up to the expectations I’ve placed on myself.”

“One drink’s never enough / Excuse me while I self-destruct / ’cause I don’t give a fuck,” he raps over a swirling, paranoid beat on “Yum,” UGLY’s opening track. The album sees Frampton journeying through the mud of self-loathing and the fires of rage to a promised land of something resembling peace. Frampton says if the album was a movie, it’d look like Wes Anderson’s melancholy comedy drama The Royal Tenenbaums: “Colorful but dark, the opposite of what it is.” Tracks such as the jangly “Sooner” and the punk-rock inspired future karaoke classic “Feel Good” are designed to be danced to. Though the album’s sound is upbeat, at the same time, it shows the façade of how people tend to feel when they’re depressed, he says. “They chain it up, and then they go outside and put on a brave face and show the world.”

Unsurprisingly for a man with the word “ugly” tattooed underneath his eye, showing vulnerability isn’t necessarily something he’s afraid of. This, he thinks, is the product of growing up with a single mom who encouraged him to talk about his feelings. With his boys, however, it was a different story. “You can’t be like that, so then you put on a front,” he says. That kind of machismo, especially for young men, is “a prison.” He’s laughing now, older and wiser. “Why would I wanna be like that, just an angry little man?” But an angry little man is how many have perceived Frampton, based on his shouty-sweary stage persona, and where he came from, a working-class estate in England’s East Midlands. “I think a lot of people can’t read between the lines,” he says. “With art, you have to make statements, be a character, to make a point.”

On this record, Frampton wanted to subvert expectations, and so he swerved hard left, away from rap and toward the guitar music he grew up listening to. “I just wanted to flip it.” It’s a challenge, too, he adds, to go from making loops on a computer to writing and playing songs with a band. “It’s more human,” he says, to create something with real people and live instruments.

Frampton taught himself guitar at age 16, picking it up sporadically. Piano didn’t go quite as well. He started taking lessons after his baby brother, Michael, died, prescribed by his school as a coping mechanism and paid for by his mum (“It weren’t, like, mad money,” he clarifies). “I had anger management classes at my school. In my lunch break, I had a piano teacher come in,” he remembers. Then eight-year-old Frampton managed three sessions. It didn’t help with the anger. “I’ll tell you one thing that helped: I wrote a note on a balloon, a message to my brother.” He transcribed his grief onto a multi-colored helium balloon and allowed it to float away. “I was so young, I was like, ‘It’s just gonna keep going forever,’” he says, laughing darkly. “When the reality is, someone probably picked it up a couple of miles away.” Still, the experience taught him something about letting go of an emotion that was weighing him down.

Frampton’s hometown of Northampton is a pub town; along the Wellingborough Road, there’s easily a dozen boozers, many of them doubling as music venues. “It’s like every 10 meters, there’s another,” he says. It means Northampton is a band town, too. When he was at school, Frampton was friends with the indie kids, all of whom were in bands inspired by groups like Radiohead, The Libertines, and Bombay Bicycle Club. None of them would let him join. “I was more like a hype man, jumping around, hyping them up,” he explains. “In my head, it was a way of getting them to see that I’d be sick onstage. But it never really worked out,” he admits. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “I probably would’ve still been in one of them bands now,” he says.

Still, the rejection made him self-conscious about breaking away from rap and making rock music, despite flirting with the genre on songs like 2019’s “Doorman.” He needed to build up to it.

Now, he’s living out his teenage dream with the “Best Night of Your Life” tour, playing “the grottiest pubs where no one would expect me to go, with the people who actually, word for word, know every lyric.” Entry to each show costs £1, less than a bottle of water. The idea was to give people “something for nothing,” because when Frampton was younger, he couldn’t afford to go to gigs himself. It’s a model he trialed back in 2019 with the “99p Tour.” “The reason it’s £1 is because of the cost of living [crisis] — everything’s inflated, so it’s kind of a joke on that,” he says with a smirk. “You gotta laugh, otherwise you’d cry at this point.”

The tour is taking place across small venues, where it’s standard practice to put a barrier between the audience and the makeshift stage. “Not metaphorically — actual barriers,” he says. When planning the shows, Frampton told the venue managers, “Nah, bro.” A metal grate between him and his fans was the furthest thing from what he wanted. His vision for the shows was simply “chaos” and for the crowd to go crazy.

It’s already started happening. He recites the earworm chorus of “Happy” (“It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to cry, H-A-P-P-Y, H-A-P-P-Y”), a perfect pop song that people are already singing back to him. “It’s not, like, a fucking complex stanza poem — it’s simple, but people were into it,” he says. Actually, they weren’t just into it, “they were fucking shouting it.” For Frampton, it’s the connection he’s been looking for.

Onstage, it’s slowthai the performer and his energy that draw people in. He’s aware of the power of his charisma. “In my mind, I’m in constant battle with myself. Yeah, I wanna be dressed nice, but then I’m like, none of it matters! Something that’s always rang true to me is, if you’re engaging enough, no one will ever look at what you’re wearing, they’ll just be looking in your eyes,” he says. “At the same time, I love nice clothes.” Currently, he’s going through a phase where he only wants to wear one thing (“like Steve Jobs”). His uniform is a Louis Vuitton tracksuit with matching chunky skate shoes, expensive streetwear that he says goes against everything he stands for.

As a kid, Frampton wanted to dress like the boys in his estate: in sweatpants with elasticated ankles, football shirts, and Nike Air Max TN 90s or 95s. It was what they could afford. “Everything that you got slagged off for ’cause you didn’t have much money [to buy anything else] is now the in thing, you know what I mean?” he says. He points out that weatherproof mountaineering gear — or gorpcore — is back in fashion. “When I was 9 or 10, that’s what it was all focused on. If you had a North Face or Berghaus jacket, you was a boss.” He used to get called “a tramp” for wearing the kind of clothes Gen Z considers cool.

He hopes things will be different for his son, Rain, who is two years old. “I want him to be like, ‘Dad, they’ve got this new jacket out.’ And I wanna be like, ‘Alright, we’re going to get it!’” he says, laughing. “I didn’t necessarily have that luxury when I was a kid.”

Becoming a father forced Frampton to get out of his own head and consider the miracle of being alive. There’s no part of being a parent that isn’t mind-blowing, he says. He describes looking at his son fast asleep, not wanting to bother him, unable to stop himself from stroking his hair. “You just wanna feel their head and be like, ‘Rah, you’re real!’” He speaks about Rain with a softness and an optimism that suggests he’s a long way from the lows of songs like “Fuck It Puppet.”

“It’s funny because people are like, ‘Is Ty alright?’” says Frampton, face cracking into a jester’s grin. When friends heard the album’s lyrics, they were worried. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, man, I’m fine. I’m actually better than I’ve ever been.’”

  • Words:Simran Hans
  • Photography:Francesco Nazardo
  • Styling:Celestine Cooney
  • Groomer:Grace Sinnot
  • Set Design:Chloé Maugile
  • Production:t • creative
  • Executive Producer:Tristan Rodriguez
  • Production Coordinator:Mehow Podstawski
  • Production:t • creative
  • Executive Producer:Tristan Rodriguez
  • Production Coordinator:Mehow Podstawski
  • Production Assistant:Simon Ebiowei Biu
  • slowthai


您的电子邮箱地址不会被公开。 必填项已用 * 标注