slowthai aims to prove an element of maturation with TYRON, but the album comes across as more of an indictment against his challengers than a personal reflection.
slowthai’s latest album TYRON arrives at a pretty hectic moment in the British rapper’s relatively young career, a point where he finds himself still working at breaking into the U.S. market while also reckoning with his P.R. debacle at last year’s NME Awards. Chances are most have already forgotten this incident, particularly here in America, but TYRON, the rapper’s second album, seems consumed with confronting the doubts that may persist about the artist, oscillating between brash dismissal of public perception and tender martyrdom anthems. The stark difference in tone is accounted for in the album’s structure, a lean 35 minutes chopped into two parts — a very concise double album!
TYRON’s first half takes on the more combative tone, apparently recorded following his NME fuck-up and the inevitable social media cries for cancellation. Those hoping for words of remorse from slowthai will come away disappointed, yet he doesn’t commit to a full heel turn either, reserving his sternest admonishments to the woke police with a song literally titled “CANCELLED,” which surmises that the artist’s cancellation was mostly talk, disproven by an assortment of awards and prime festival slots. Needless to say, this isn’t a topic that slowthai engages with gracefully, but aesthetically speaking, the songs that make up the album’s first half are probably the most fully-developed, seamless iterations of this new grime sound the rapper has been cultivating and tweaking over the past few years. His knack for building out tracks that blend influences running through American punk to trap and horrorcore has afforded him some status in U.S. rap culture — following Skepta’s feature on the aforementioned “CANCELLED” with an A$AP Rocky feature on “MAZZA” plays as a cute nod to slowthai’s intercontinental appeal —with his production preferences making him a natural collaborator for artists like Tyler and Denzel Curry, the latter indeed popping up on the album’s back half.
This second movement is decidedly more reserved than the first, using sparer, slower beats to match the album’s move toward more introspective material. Listeners’ appreciation for this project as a whole will likely hinge on the degree to which they buy slowthai’s dramatic pivot from brash punk to sincere soul searcher, a perspective shift that is convincing enough initially — songs “i tried” and “focus” offer unguarded details of the rapper’s struggles with feelings of depression and isolation. But other attempts at positioning himself as a deep thinker fall short, with “terms” reintroducing the idea that slowthai is a victim of media narratives run amok, and the corny, wide-eyed “nhs” considering the dualities of life via a laundry list of piercing existential queries (“What’s love without hate and stuff? Loyalty without no trust? Rick without Morty?”) Much has been made of slowthai’s ability to reconcile his boyish hoodlum verve with legitimately stirring political commentary, but there isn’t much of the latter on TYRON, forgotten amongst more vague, unsatisfying ruminations. There’s a lot here to suggest that what lies ahead of slowthai will be quite thrilling, perhaps major, but this most recent mostly release suggests a need to reconceive perspective and direction.
Publisher as part of Album Roundup — February 2021 | Part 1.