Out today, Nothing Great About Britain is a triumphant debut from the magnetic Northampton rapper
Against the backdrop of a deeply divided Britain, it turns out the thing that might finally bring us together is a Northampton rapper calling the Queen a cunt.
Closing the title track to his stellar debut, Nothing Great About Britain, with a faux silver spoon in his mouth, slowthai asserts, “I will treat you with the utmost respect only if you respect me a little bit Elizabeth, you cunt”. It’s a playfully provocative line undeniably delivered to shock, and a fitting cry in an album centred on the frustration of Britain’s misguided priorities.
The monarchy is by no means the only target of Tyron Frampton’s riotous tongue though, with the rapper taking on the far-right, speaking candidly about the weary state of the country, and paying touching tribute to his mum in final track “Northampton’s Child”. It’s a vivacious debut that manages to articulate overwhelming national disgruntlement while remaining full of razor sharp wit.
The 24-year-old’s album has been hotly anticipated for a while now, with the rapper first dropping dynamic visuals back in January, and last month announcing a choose-your-own-location supporting tour where tickets cost just 99p. His undeniable musical talent – with idiosyncratic influences ranging from The Prodigy (“I am a prodigy, they made me”) to Radiohead’s “Creep” – is just half of his charm. slowthai’s magnetic personality has led to his frenzied live shows becoming practically infamous, with the rapper performing almost naked, sometimes in a coffin, and leading crowds in a chant of “Fuck Theresa May”.
With an album title like Nothing Great About Britain, slowthai’s music and persona have become inexplicably intertwined with UK politics, with the artist joining the likes of Stormzy as a figurehead for the often-forgotten working class and the underestimated youth. Back in April, the rapper launched a billboard campaign drawing attention to the bleak facts of our increasingly isolated island, featuring statements like, “If you’re black you are eight times more likely to be the subject of a stop and search than if you’re white”.
Though it’s not new for rappers to garner inspiration from tumultuous backgrounds, there’s something about slowthai’s anti-patriotic patriotism being so in tune with current anxieties that speaks so perfectly and spreads so widely. The rapper voiced his conflicting feelings in a recent Guardian interview: “I love this country but I feel like we’re losing sight of who actually holds the power and what makes us great: it’s the communities, the small places that are forgotten, everyone that’s striving.”
With everyday anecdotes in tracks like “Gorgeous” – “There’s like a memory of my stepdad when I was very young / He said to me that he had tickets to Liverpool, cause I used to love football, bruv” – and sharply relatable subject matters, slowthai’s album brings the focus resolutely back to these forgotten places and people. Born on a council estate in Northampton, the rapper knows what it’s like to not feel seen and has curated his career as a way to spotlight those like him – even installing mirrors at his gigs, invoking the idea that he and his fans are a reflection of one another.
slowthai’s Northampton upbringing (something the rapper notably treasures) is peppered throughout his debut – a refreshing change from the UK’s London-centric rap and grime scene – and is particularly poignant given Northamptonshire’s Leave stronghold in the 2016 referendum. Though slowthai voted Remain, the county’s result is reflective of many smaller towns across the country whose voices have long been ignored by a parliament captivated by the UK’s bigger cities.
On “Dead Leaves” – a tune that also includes the rousing lyric “Tyron for PM” – the rapper spits “Not a lot going on in Northampton”, a feeling that resonates with so many small-town British youths. Having grown up in the Midlands myself, it’s a lyric that conjures up hazy summers cycling around the outskirts of town, the sickly sweet taste of blue WKD, and the growl of engines revving late at night in a McDonald’s car park. These tangible memories are meticulously visualised in slowthai’s “Gorgeous” video, which – much like his gigs – holds a mirror directly up to my own life, in the same way it will for so many others.
It’s this that makes slowthai truly magic. His cutting descriptions of a crumbling Britain, explicit rejection of working class demonisation, and deafening musical talent – not even nearly outshined by Skepta on roaring central track “Inglorious” – are all part and parcel of his vigorous relatability and effortless charisma.
Creating a debut somehow dripping in nostalgia while being so immensely solidified in the present moment, slowthai is right that there’s nothing great about 2019 Britain, but he’s reignited my love for the forgotten places of my childhood, and undoubtedly made other lost small-towners feel seen.
With many comparing slowthai’s record to Dizzee Rascal’s extraordinary debut, slowthai has the perfect answer – “I ain’t Dizzee, I’m just a boy in a corner”.