It’s hard to ignore slowthai and the Northampton born rapper certainly does not make it easy for you.
His recent escapades involved throwing up earth-shattering billboards in London displaying sobering statistics on modern Britain, and charging 99p for his tour. The recent Brexit Bandit tour saw scenes of wildly bouncing around boxing rings, crowd surfing in underwear and leading “Fuck Theresa” chants. The MC’s social media feed is a constant biting barrage of reassuring and supportive statements, as well as empowering morsels of his own brand of wisdom.
Needless to say, this particular 24-year-old brings with him a distinct form of belligerent protest performance, stopping you in your tracks and forcing you to pay attention.
Endearingly crowned as “King of Northamption”, the small-town rapper’s eagerly anticipated debut album, ‘Nothing Great About Britain’, is upon us and screaming to be heard. Read into the title what you will – at face value it may seem like a simple, satirical bashing of our supposedly great nation, but scratch beneath the surface and there is a whole world of insight, observation and courage to behold. This decisive and crucial record reflects on today’s society and its obtuse goings-on. slowthai paints a perfect picture of a weakened and weary modern Britain.
He manages to successfully depict the everyday and ordinary Briton, away from the upper echelons of society, where the rapper often cites his challenging upbringing on a council estate in Northampton. slowthai systematically and seamlessly tears down toxic politics, misguided notions of nationalism and social injustices with sardonic wit, seething vocals and woundingly skittish beats.
The title track ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ sets the scene for the album, depicting the grim existence of feigned British pride which is prevalent in contemporary society – concluding the penetrating rap monologue on everyday life by dropping a c-bomb on Queen Elizabeth. This abrasive tone continues throughout the record with ‘Dead Leaves’ and ‘Grow Up’, reaching its peak brutality as he joins forces with Skepta for ‘Inglorious’.
This aggression is mollified by the mellowness of ‘Gorgeous’, ‘Crack’ and ‘Toaster’ – a cluster of melodic reveries spread over the record featuring looping, palliative samples and evocative, layered synths. ‘Missing’ offsets the listener with the woozy, helter-skelter wheeze of sinister organs and unsettling vocals.
slowthai’s particular brand of rap is uncompromising and cutting. His bars are infused with punk pastiche and poetry, possessing an underlying and ever-present charm. As he dances between exasperated, affecting and vulnerable lyrics, a certain degree of innocence and hope emerges from the rubble of angst that surrounds the Midlands MC. There is a certain therapeutic temperament to this record, both vital and resplendent in nature, transcending most ideals and beliefs and resonating with most of us mere mortals.
This compelling and provocative record is a haunting echo of a seemingly hopeless vignette of Britain today, where slowthai offers the slightest glimmer of optimism for a potentially brighter future. slowthai is the unexpected hero for the people we didn’t know we needed, but so many, justly deserve.
Words: Yasmin Cowan
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