Few artists can take control of their listeners’ emotions the way slowthai can. On his debut Nothing Great About Britain, he could make you want to start a revolution one minute, then compel you to call your friends to tell them you love them by the end of the next song.
Slowthai still has his hand on the joystick, playing with his listeners’ hearts on his latest album, TYRON. But this time around, he’s toned down the social commentary and looks inward more than ever before. It’s not unexpected — after all, what’s a self-titled album without introspection? (Slowthai’s name is Tyron Frampton.)
TYRON is a two-disc album, but not because of its length — it’s only a 35-minute record. The two-disc format is a stylistic divide. Disc one is for the slappers — more music to fuel the insane moshpits that are central to the slowthai concert experience. Disc two, on the other hand, is raw and unfiltered emotion, a musical heart-to-heart that sees slowthai at his most vulnerable on the mic.
Slowthai doesn’t wait until disc two to get introspective. The front half of the album sees the artist rapping about drug use, depression and suicidal thoughts, often sandwiched between less conspicuous lyrics about making money and slinging drugs. “Mazza,” featuring A$AP Rocky, is emblematic of this. It’s a hazy, dream-like track in the style of popular Soundcloud and emo rap. From the get-go, slowthai lays his heart out in his verse: “Feeling like these drugs made me better than I was / But I never felt love before the drugs,” he raps. Slowthai is so raw on the track that it’s almost jarring to hear A$AP Rocky’s generic guest verse afterward.
Admittedly, I was nervous when I first saw the title of the track “CANCELLED.” When the single came out, I learned that slowthai had been “canceled” by Twitter before after an incident at an award ceremony. When someone talks about their experience being canceled in their music, it can often drag out the drama and make it harder for everyone to move past it. Thankfully, slowthai’s tried-and-true partnership with Skepta makes “CANCELLED” the hype highlight of disc one. The beat is driven by a zen-like flute melody that nosedives into an eerie horror-movie-esque synth halfway into the track. Skepta’s hook is the catchiest on the album, and fortunately, slowthai is beyond acknowledging his cancellation at this point — he aims well-deserved jabs at the Oscars and the Grammys.
The front half goes hard, but the back half of the album is where TYRON truly shines. It’s the same heartfelt introspection that’s spread throughout the whole album but often delivered more gently, reflecting the vulnerability of the lyricism.
The beats are a refreshing switch-up from the first half’s sinister aesthetic. The acoustic guitar on “push” or the piano melody on “nhs” are at odds with the synthetic instrumentation of the first half, bringing a touch of rawness and authenticity. Featured guest singers like James Blake and Deb Never reinforce this somber style with beautiful echoey choruses. Most tracks have moments where the instruments mellow out for a moment, or the drums take a pause, giving breathing room for the verse to take the forefront.
Many of slowthai’s verses are dripping with existential dread. When he uses his talent for clever songwriting to depict his own pain, slowthai’s lyrics become bullets to the heart. “We filled cracks of broken homes with broken dreams and broken bones / If walls could scream, ears would bleed,” he sings on “i tried.” Heart-wrenching songwriting like this is all over the album’s back half, and it’s impossible to fully digest it even on the fourth, fifth and sixth listen.
Slowthai captures every facet of mental illness in each track: The sinking depression of “i tried,” fighting an uphill battle on “focus,” the persistence to move forward on “push.” All these feelings are resolved on “nhs,” the highpoint of slowthai’s emotional rollercoaster. In it, he wholeheartedly embraces life’s hardships, showing gratitude to the lows for giving meaning to all of life’s joys.
Despite this, the album ends on its darkest note in “adhd,” a tracklisting choice that colors the whole tone of the album. Here, slowthai dives deepest into the mental trappings of depression and loneliness, singing each line with such defeat that it feels as though he’s given up.
I keep asking myself, what does it mean that slowthai chose to end the album on the loneliest track rather than the happy resolution of “nhs”? When I reflect on my own struggles with mental health, I think slowthai is suggesting a cycle — the sense that once you’ve felt that depth of loneliness, it lives with you forever, always under the threat of resurfacing.
TYRON is a gut punch. It feels less like a page from slowthai’s journal and more like a slice of his brain, taken from the part that holds his stream of consciousness. Few artists can so eloquently and passionately lay their darkest thoughts out, and few albums so uniquely encapsulate the magnitudes of mental illness.
Daily Arts writer Dylan Yono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.