Photography by Samuel Gregg
It's early morning in Calgary, Canada, as my call to Northampton connects. The sky outside is still an inky black, but as Slowthai slides into frame, sporting a candy-apple red fur bucket hat and cracking jokes from the outset, the time difference between us evaporates – I’m on Ty time now.
We’re speaking at the end of February, and the young man born Tyron Kaymone Frampton has every reason to flash his infectious grin – it’s been a good month. Kicking off with a raucous performance on The Tonight Show with Skepta, he then clocked his first UK number one with his second studio album, TYRON. Not to mention picking up a Grammy nomination for his Disclosure collab, “My High.”
Despite his success, he’s sat in the basement of his mum’s house, which has been converted into a makeshift recording studio during lockdown. "I could book any studio in the world now,” Ty reflects. “Before, I didn't have the money, or you couldn't get a slot because it's this amazing studio, and they don't want the riff-raff in there.” He explains that being at home amidst the whirlwind of his past year has helped him to “step away from everything and feel normal for a while. I think it allowed me to be more open about everything.” As well as providing some normality, time at home has also kept him firmly grounded. “When you’re surrounded by people constantly telling you that you're amazing, reality is not the same as when you’re at home and your mum’s like, ‘Do the fucking dishes!’”
“Northampton’s Child,” the closing track of his incendiary debut album Nothing Great About Britain, tells the story of his childhood and pays tribute to the resilience of his mum, Gaynor - “The strongest person I know.” In typical style, Slowthai airs deep personal truths and unflinchingly articulates the reality of his upbringing with flip-book concision. Whether that was surviving an avalanche of romantic and domestic upheavals, raising two boys as a teen mother, battling past the loss of her youngest son, Ty credits her for remaining strong throughout, while spitting vitriol at his cheating step-dad: "You're lucky I'm not as big as you / I would punch you till my hands turn blue."
Slowthai first put pen to paper at age 13. Riffing on the good memories of that time, he attempts to recite some of his earliest bars between embarrassed laughter, and explains how he recorded them through a precarious set-up of headphones plugged into a PC in his mate’s mother's bedroom. "I always definitely wanted to make music. I always thought, ‘this is sick!’ but I was never serious about it until I was older. On my estate, be it that you went to a random house party with all the older kids or whatever, somebody would always be DJing.” He remembers, telling me that his uncles were DJs and the legends behind Northampton's seminal UK grime night Sidewinder used to babysit him. “I've never actually told it like this, yeah..." Slowthai pauses. "I first wanted to DJ, but I couldn't get the songs that I wanted to play, so I was just mixing random shit. Finally, this group of DJs called the Jah Troopers, who spun reggae, bashment, and dancehall showed me how. I learnt how to DJ, then I wanted to produce. From there, I started rapping again, but I couldn't get the beats to rap, so I had to try and make the beats. By 16 or 17, that's when it all started coming together, and I understood it fully."
Slowthai’s early EPs I Wish I Knew and Runt gained traction in underground circles, while his frenetic live performances attracted a cult fanbase, reveling in the spontaneous havoc of the crowd. "I always thought mosh pits were so much cooler than people waving their hands up and down,” Ty says. “I got that from indie kids and going to band shows. I loved the screamers. I realised punk is an attitude where you walk around like ‘Fuck this, fuck that, I don't give a fuck.’ I applied that attitude to my shows.” Hearing him talk of the sense of inclusion he fosters at his performances, it’s easy to see he quickly gained such a devoted following. "At my shows, I always say ‘Everyone that's here, we're all together because we're like minded and we see things the same way." My shows should be a place where you make friends and new relationships and you all come together. We're not moshing to hurt each other, it's an exhilaration, it's a release, together.”
With critical nods and illustrious accolades pouring in, Ty was on a blistering trajectory following a string of white-hot singles that left a fervent fanbase buzzing for his hugely anticipated debut LP Nothing Great About Britain. When the time came, Slowthai lived up to the hype. He flexed his musical dexterity on the record, swerving from acerbic, slick wit to bracing social commentary over heady grime, blazes through stoner jams, delivers braggadocious hip-hop ballads, then barks over provocative electro-punk thanks to lead producer and long-time pal Kwes Darko.
Alongside his music, Slowthai became a rap Robin Hood and social renegade lampooning the disconnected and gluttonous upper-class while championing the rest of us at every opportunity. The New York Times credited him with helping to "expand an interest in politics among young people in Britain."
By the summer of 2019, Slowthai had cemented his status as one of the most incendiary voices UK hip hop had produced. Gigs everywhere from Glastonbury, Primavera to Camp FlogGnaw followed. As did a warm North American reception — complete with clout-heavy collaborations with the likes of Tyler, The Creator and an invitation to jump on tour with Brockhampton.
Positioning himself as the “Brexit Bandit,” Slowthai put his money where his mouth is and sold tickets for his headline tour across small-town Britain for 99p. All this led to a nomination for the Mercury Prize, and a coronation as NME’s “Hero of the Year” at the top of 2020. What should've been a career highlight marked the beginning of a scandalous non-scandal, fuelled by boozy misinterpretation, backlash and venomous cancel culture crusaders that would see Slowthai return the award by the following morning, claiming he was ‘not a hero.’
Only a couple weeks of later, the world ground to a halt, and Slowthai was left in limbo. Seeing Slowthai in horribly dark territory, longtime collaborator Skepta took it upon himself to step in. “I was sitting down slumped; he could see that I was going through it. The best way to sum it up is that he just grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, ‘Come on’ He came to me not being judgemental or being any kind of way but like a brother. He saw me mad depressed, and he was just like, ‘Fuck this bro, this ain't your defining moment.’ As he was saying it, it was echoing in my head further and further back until it was like we were in a room - just me and him - and everything was all black. I think I was tripping off shrooms as well, so it made it that even more intense.” Slowthai laughs before continuing, “He just laid it out like ‘This is what you have to do. You're better than this.’ I wasn't even saying anything. It was just like he was reading my mind and saying everything that needed to be said! After that, I was on my feet.”
Skepta's words of wisdom sparked a paradigm shift. Following the better part of a year with a blank Instagram page, the day Slowthai posted the cover of his new album, TYRON, he added the simple phrase "I hope this album can be the light if you're in the dark, and to know you're not alone. It's okay to be yourself, fuck everything else. Learn, grow, aim to be better than you were yesterday."
Split into two acts, the album is an ode to his duality, multi-hyphenated skills as a lyricist and vocal range as much as it is about venting repressed angst at everything that's brought him down along the way. It marks the beginning of a new era defined by introspection and personal growth, while still delivering the full-throttle all-caps razor-sharp anarchic rap that launched him into the spotlight.
Side A bangers like “Mazza” with A$AP Rocky, “Cancelled” with Skepta, and VEX are begging to be pumped from towering speaker stacks overtop sweat-drenched fans. While Side B finds Slowthai swerving over new sonic landscapes on the melodic 'Push" with Cali singer-songwriter pal Deb Never on the hook. Delicate bars laying himself bare on his most personally visceral track to date “ADHD” before tearing into raspy, voice-cracking decibels on the latter half. The opulent and tender “Feel away” sees Slowthai link with James Blake and Mount Kimbie with a song dedicated to his late brother Michael John who passed, accompanied by a lush sample at the end from Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover.” Another beautifully emotional hidden link can be found embedded in the sample vocals on “I Tried'” from Chicago songwriter Trey Gruber, who tragically committed suicide at 26 years old in 2017.
"The story behind that sample is actually what's mad. I took acid, and I went to a club. After the club, we went this tiny studio, like half the size of the room I'm in now. I was with everyone who was on my last two albums, but they all fell asleep. There was like 8 bodies in there, everyone lying on top of each other" Slowthai take a beat inspired by his own tale "I should recreate it because it was actually mad." He laughs and then continues explaining he was tripping so bad that he was lying on the floor gripping a door frame to get by in the sweltering heat before he decided to bounce. "I went and linked Daniel Duke at Young Turk's studio who produced ‘I Tried.’ When he played that one beat and the lyrics ‘I tried to die. I tried to take my life. I tried’ I just remembered thinking this is how I'd felt for so long, but I couldn't sum it up. He played it, and I sang over it. We recorded it. Then we lost the file."
Four years later, in 2020, and in Thailand, Slowthai couldn't get the sample off his mind during all the madness. "I'd not been doing any drugs or drinking, and I was fairly sober and alive and happy for the first time in a bit. I rung up Daniel when I was catching my connecting flight and I was like ‘I need this beat.’ It was in my head still. In the end, he found it on an old hard drive. The timing was mad. If I'd made it when I first heard it, it wouldn't have been ready. It was meant for now. "
Hearing Ty reflect so openly on the dark period before the creation of TYRON, I felt compelled to share my own experience of a similar time, and let him know beyond being a fan of his music, the message behind his work had helped me out of that place. Half a decade earlier, I was a professional dancer until a gnarly injury, and a double hip replacement in my 20s stopped me in my tracks. Chasing the same euphoria I got from being on stage, I was looking for a new direction in life. I didn't find it until I started writing about music, telling the stories of artists that vibed off the same high that I used to. As my journalism career developed and bigger opportunities came calling, I was struck with severe imposter syndrome. Combine that with my own ADHD, a cocktail of bad decisions and experiences - and I was embarrassed, frustrated and fucking sad. My confidence was shot. I could barely get words out, let alone articulate the shit I was feeling that even I didn't fully understand. I didn't grow up on an estate, or even the UK; I'm a Canadian hip-hop head and former salsa and podium dancer. Regardless, Slowthai had a way with words always and an energy delivering them that makes them feel like they could be your own. More than that, whoever you are, or wherever you come from, his heartfelt words and confident delivery are telling you that it'll be alright.
Not only did I feel a responsibility as a fan to say his experience this past year struck a chord with me, I wanted to gain an insight into what it took to come out of what he went through, and any advice he’d share to others. "It sounds mad cliché, but for anyone going through it, don't give up. Everything in life is temporary.” He reflects. “It may feel like you're going to feel this way or like you have felt this your whole life, but you got to appreciate the small things before the big things make a difference. Even if it is one of those things where you wake up and you say ten things in the mirror that you appreciate about yourself.” What about that creeping feeling that one’s success is undeserved, or that we’re somehow not good enough? Slowthai ponders the question for a moment, then goes on. "The truth is that you got this far by doing what you was doing. We're all self-critical, but other people are like ‘You're already sick. What do you want to change?’ In our heads, we have so many peers who we all think, ‘wow, they're genuises!’ But the same people are thinking the same about you.”
As he flashes another mega-watt smile, it's clear his ability to connect and uplift those around him is a source of pride. When I talk about how I didn't want my experience to haunt me forever, and people take it so seriously, Slowthai lights up. "When you're talking to people about deep stuff like that, sometimes they start treading on eggshells. Even when something is mad serious and you have a moment, when you move past it and come out of that dark place, it's kind of funny because you should laugh and think… fuck, I'm alright. I was there, but now I'm in this place. As cliché as it sounds, things do get better. People making this big fuss about it, but sometimes you just need them to lighten the mood and literally be like "Come on!’ You came out of that place. That doesn't mean it's ‘a thing; you know?"
There’s no more fitting example of that sentiment than the fact that TYRON was released exactly one year after his NME Awards appearance, and went straight to the top of the UK album charts. When I ask if felt some validation, if not vindication, in that moment, Slowthai's response is low-key. "I didn't know how to take it,” he offers. “The whole week leading up to it, I wasn't even interested. As things started picking up pace, that started to change to like, ‘It would be nice.’ By the end, everyone was battling for this thing. I'm pretty competitive, so it was a case of ‘Now, we're here, we're gonna get it, fuck it!’ When we got it, my mum was crying tears of joy, but for me, it just felt kinda empty.” Removing his hat, Ty messes with his cropped curls and leans in.
“I was sat in silence. I started thinking about where I've come from. Even at the points before where I believed I've achieved something big, it was still like, ‘Nah, you ain't gonna do all that…’ and now I just did. I started crying because… I'm so proud! I remembered all these moments being young and doing dumb shit where I actually thought, ‘this could be the end of my life,’ but now I'm in a place where my life is only just beginning.”