A deep dive into the career of Northampton artist Slowthai - his third album marks him as one of the most exciting talents in recent years.
We all know Slowthai, don’t we? As quick as his rise, was his apparent fall. His 2019 debut album Nothing Great About Britain marked him out as one of the UK’s brightest new talents. Recognition and award nominations aplenty came his way that year.
The following year he went on to win an NME Award, but at their 2020 ceremony he made headlines for the wrong reasons. He made toe-curling comments towards comedian host Katherine Ryan that he later labelled as “shameful”. Ryan shrugged off the backlash to their exchange which squashed that side of things to an extent, but later that night he also got removed by security after getting into an altercation with an audience member.
This criticism undoubtedly affected him as he swiftly apologised for his behaviour. But he also took aim at the hypocrisy of those he perceived as trying to cancel him in his aptly named response single ’ENEMY’, released a few months after. “Keep my name out your dirty mouth” he insisted on the chorus. But his standing as one of Britain’s most exciting means he’ll always be on people’s lips, whether he wants to be or not.
Real name Tyron Frampton, Slowthai brings more rock than rap to the fore in his third record UGLY. This record sonically is ideal for a casual fan like me whose entry point to his music was through his team up with Mura Masa on the huge banger ‘Deal Wiv It’. Ironically, this was the song that got him his aforementioned NME Award for Best Collaboration.
This LP has some songs in a similar punchy vein to this one, whilst keeping certain recognisable instrumentation from his early popular work. It feels like this album is the result of his friendship with punk band IDLES and borne from his other notable collaborations with Gorillaz and James Blake.
Whether you were a day one supporter, a newbie who keeps seeing his name on your newsfeeds, or anything in between, here are seven reasons why you should give UGLY a listen.
1) Distinctive Jamie T Influence
Perhaps the most obvious inspiration from Jamie T on this album is through third track ‘Sooner’. The vocal delivery in the verses is very reminiscent of the great man, letting his accent ‘hang’ on certain words naturally rather than annunciating.
It’s such a good one lyrically too: “Phone distracts me from my life, make plans, but I’m bound to cancel. Roaming data don’t provide a tariff with no hassle.” Bemoaning phone tariffs is the sort of quintessentially British everyday thing Jamie T would do, too.
The parallels with the 'Sheila' singer punctuate at other points too, especially in tender, slower closer ‘25% Club’. You could sneak this one in towards the end of The Theory of Whatever or Trick, call it a bonus track and I’m sure many wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
2) He’s tattooed the album name on his face
Yep, that’s right.
UGLY is an album name like no other I can think of. This is in the sense that it is not only emblazoned across the artwork, posters, Twitter bios etc; It has also been tattooed onto the artist’s face, in this case. The name actually stands for “U Gotta Love Yourself”, contrasting to the actual word meaning itself.
It’s a negative word used in a positive way, whilst also reflecting the mood and topics on the album being about feeling bad about yourself. For that reason, it goes down as an ingenious title in my book.
Slowthai explained the decision to permanently mark this word and album name on his cheek when he announced its release: “I have UGLY tattooed on my face because it’s a reminder to love myself, rather than put myself down constantly or feel the impression people have of me should determine who I am as a person.”
3) He enlisted assistance from Fontaines D.C.
Talking of UGLY, the title track is where Fontaines D.C. came into play. The brooding instrumentation from the Dublin band helps create sort of an anxious rock feel that Slowthai’s lines sit seamlessly on top of.
It is a match made in heaven and shows a cool branch-out from both parties, meeting nicely in the middle but existing more towards the band’s comfort zone. Film soundtrack curators would be wise to look at using this one for any moody scene.
Slowthai also had Shygirl and Jockstrap’s Taylor Skye appear on this LP, adding weight to the idea that his best work is often when overtly collaborating.
4) The opening track will remind you of the film Drive
‘Yum’ at number one really pulls the listener in via intrigue and conviction, as you hear deep breaths taken before Slowthai counteracts his panic with positive confidence: “You are great, you are good, you’re king, you’re queen, you’re a genius.” A long, gripping opener, it is serious yet experimentations.
The hypnotic electronic beat behind it reminds me a little of the subtler Chromatics’ ‘Tick Of The Clock’, which opens the film Drive. ‘Yum’ uses a similar-ish beat but give it more power and volume in electronic form. It’s not too close in comparison, but there’s just enough of a hint for this call to not be a stretch. Both songs have the building, growing nature to them, with Slowthai’s getting quicker as it goes.
On a side note, listen out for the screams at the end of the song that are so therapeutic for him that it’s almost relieving for you, too.
5) He flirts with poetry on ‘Never Again’
Slowthai is a natural storyteller, like many rappers are. On ‘Never Again’ though, he delivers his tale more like poetry, maybe not so much in form but definitely in his delivery. He accentuates certain words to ensure a strong enough melody but to me it sounds more like a harrowing poem.
He paints characters and their situations so well in his music and this one is an apt example. He quotes a possible ex-partner’s words to him, their explanations of what went wrong in their relationship: “You got the best of me and all you did was blame.” The tale drifts into tragedy towards the end, making it a sad first-time listen. I’ll leave out any spoilers so you can listen to this by yourself.
6) It’s perfect for gym playlists
My first time listening to the record was in the gym, on the treadmill. Usually, I’ll opt for music I already like to soundtrack my runs. This time though, I thought Slowthai would have the ingredients to aid my efforts.
The opener was anxious and naturally motivational, so my decision was instantly justified. Other pump-up songs followed like the in-your-face ‘Wotz Funny’ (“People help when there’s something to gain. It’s fucked up, for fuck’s sake”). His final parting words being “you f***ing extravagant c***” are on the nose, and pretty funny".
‘Fuck it Puppet’ is a short wrestling with his inner demons and Torniquet is beautiful whilst brash. The repeating lines are as self-critical as they are self-aware: “Give me a tourniquet. Metaphor, burning bridges. I cannot learn from it. I keep on burning shit.”
And we also have the brilliant ‘’Feel Good’, which lends itself to being suited to any gym playlist. It’s almost robotically repetitive chorus of “I feel so good” is sure to help you run that little bit further or do that one more set on the weights.
7) ‘Falling’ could be his song in the spotlight
Honestly, ‘Falling’ would be the ideal first song of his encore. The lights would be out, the crowd demanding a return & eventually the spotlight comes down on just him. And before climbing into a fast-paced energetic one, he first delivers this angsty singalong.
A song about feeling “like you’re falling… like you’re drifting away”, it’s obviously simple but because of that, uncomplicated. His messier, genre-spanning tunes can be the headline-grabbers, but this one stands out due to its unassuming power.
Slowthai delivers the chorus with increasing desperation, audibly getting a little emotional. It hits the spot, like most of the album.
In terms of any that miss the mark, it’s hard to pick out too many weaknesses. Track 2 single ‘Selfish’ boasts a great chorus, although it may be a tad repetitive. The breakdown recovers it but can’t prevent it overstaying its welcome slightly – it could have easily been sub 3 minutes - but it’s a darker, punk one that has its place in the record.
At times, Slowthai’s singing delivery could be construed as slightly over the top or a bit shouty. But I think overall he used that style in the right moments so that it comes across as authentic rather than disingenuous. I really enjoyed hearing him attack some lines with his trademark aggression, especially on the likes of ‘Tourniquet and ‘Falling’.
I’m a big fan of this album, and I hope those seven reasons convince you to give it a try now for yourself.