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Courtesy Crowns & Owls

slowthai on lockdown, the NME Awards, and his second album

One year on from his debut, Nothing Great About Britain, the rapper looks to the future, revealing what fans can expect from his upcoming record

It’s been just over a year since slowthai’s debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, was released to widespread critical acclaim – and while life has changed indescribably for the 25-year-old rapper, in lockdown, life is slow. “I’ve been playing games,” he tells me. “Call of Duty, FIFA, GTA – the usual stuff.” 

Real name Tyron Frampton, he’s at his mum’s house in Northampton (this interview was conducted in late May, before the Black Lives Matter protests). Here, quarantining with his family and fiancé, he’s adjusting to a new pace. Frampton has been in increasingly high demand since his breakout track, “Jiggle”, was released four years ago. Since then, his ferocious blend of biting hip hop and roaring punk rock has taken him on tours across the world, led to collaborations with Gorillaz and Mura Masa, landed him a top ten album and a Mercury Prize nomination, and has more recently seen him sign to A$AP Rocky’s label, AWGE, in the US.

If he seemed untouchable, that threatened to come crashing down in February this year. In a now notorious incident at the 2020 NME Awards, Frampton made sexual innuendos towards host and comedian Katherine Ryan on-stage while collecting his award for Best Collaboration (Mura Masa’s “Deal Wiv It”). “She wants me to tend to her flowers,” he told the audience, before getting up close to Ryan and saying: “You ain’t never had no one play with you like that. Stop playing with me.” Later in the evening (ironically, as he was being honoured as the ‘Hero of the Year’), Frampton brawled with members of the crowd after one of them called him a “misogynist” for his earlier actions. Footage from the event soon emerged online to mass criticism, leading to fans labelling his behaviour “disappointing”, and the clips “excruciating” to watch.

People were critical of Frampton’s behaviour, seeing hypocrisy in his actions as someone who touts themselves as a fighter for equality. In his music, he expresses his gratitude to the women in his life – his 2018 track “Ladies” goes: “I appreciate queens cause they made us” – while his debut album traverses themes of class demonisation and political failures. Frampton also launched his 99p ticket tour last year with the mission of making his music and gig-going more accessible. The majority of comments raised concerns about how women are treated in the music industry, while others were angry about Frampton’s fight with the crowd, during which he threw a drink into the audience.

However, Katherine Ryan herself defended him, asserting that his behaviour didn’t make her feel uncomfortable and was instead part of a comic exchange – and one that Frampton had no chance at winning against a professional comedian. Ryan reiterated this on a recent podcast. “The internet decided that I was somehow assaulted on this night,” she said in her series, Telling Everybody Everything. “I said on the night, ‘No, I had a great time, I’m a comedian, these are the interactions that happened’. And you would not believe the amount of vitriol I had in my DMs.” Still, people have pointed out that while Ryan might have been able to handle the situation as a professional comic, other women may have felt differently.

Speaking about the night three-and-a-half months later, Frampton says that the videos don’t offer the full context of what happened. “It’s inexcusable to do anything like that, but people just see one side,” he says. “You can’t judge a book by a two-minute video clip.” The two clips that went viral from the night were actually taken from separate moments at the event, and primarily show Frampton’s responses to Ryan, cutting out her parts of the joke. A third video of the exchange shows a longer back-and-forth between Ryan and Frampton.

Even so, the videos are objectively uncomfortable to watch, and it’s easy to see why fans, who have praised Frampton for championing the marginalised in his work, would be upset, particularly women who may have seen their past experiences reflected in the footage. “For the way I acted, I’m remorseful,” he explains. “I’m learning every single day, and I’m never going to stop learning. I know that it’s never something that will come across from me ever again. I was just playing into a joke, and people took it how they took it.” Frampton, who hasn’t drank since that night, says the incident “taught me a lot about my habits, be it drinking or being so outspoken and impulsive”. He adds that it helped him reflect on his aggression, something he’s previously had anger management for. “Calm down,” he imitates telling himself, “relax, just breathe, stop getting carried away. It’s grounded me a lot.”

“For the way I acted, I’m remorseful. I’m learning every single day, and I’m never going to stop learning. I was just playing into a joke, and people took it how they took it” – slowthai

Frampton seems frustrated that people didn’t take Ryan’s perspective into account. “Katherine tweeted it first, she’s spoken about it multiple times, she’s even done a podcast about it,” he says. “Believe it or not, I’ve read every single thing everybody said about me. I’ve read it all. Anyone who still thinks negatively of me, you’re entitled to your opinion. I know what I am, anyone who’s around me knows who I am, and anyone who has been with me from day one knows what I stand for and believe in. That’s never changed for anybody or anything, and it never will.”

The events of the night were referenced on “ENEMY”, a new song that Frampton dropped in May, on which he sampled The 1975’s Matty Healy telling the crowd at the ceremony: “Everyone send your thoughts to slowthai, fuck knows where he is but god bless the boy... fucking nightmare.” The track was one of three released in quick succession along with “MAGIC” and “BB (BODYBAG)”, not to mention the announcement that he’d feature on Disclosure’s upcoming new album. The releases mark his first solo material since Nothing Great About Britain, and are among 60 tracks he’s recorded over the last 12 months, many of which will feature on his upcoming second album. Of the three new tracks, though, just one of them will appear on the record.

While “ENEMY” was written post-NME Awards, his other new releases were recorded in December, including the Kenny Beats-produced “MAGIC”, which Frampton says is the first of many upcoming tracks with his friends. “Kenny is like my guy,” he beams, excitedly bouncing in his chair, “my bro.” After hearing about the producer through JPEGMAFIA, Frampton joined Kenny in his LA studio, recording three songs a day for a week. He says “MAGIC”, a blistering rap tune about sex and success, is “all about having fun and experimenting”, adding that “it’s just a vibe”.

Quarantine has come at a relatively good time for Frampton, giving him the breathing room to “whittle down what I’m doing and put my second album together”. Alongside video games and cooking (“I’ve learned that I’m a don chef,” he says, revealing he’s mostly been cooking “just peppered steak”), Frampton has been putting the finishing touches on his new record, and even making headway on his third. “I’ve enjoyed lockdown,” he explains, “because being so active last year and not really having time to chill, this has been a good time to focus on myself and see my flaws.” What are those flaws? “I’ve learned I’m an irritable person. I can’t sit still, as much as I try. I’m just… annoying. I’m annoying to live with as well.”

“I’ve always said I’ll speak on things that piss me off, but I’m not in there like reading the legislations, you know what I mean? I’m not saying there’s not going to be anything political, but this album is about inspiring people to better themselves” – slowthai

Fans, eagerly awaiting album two after Frampton teased the news on Twitter last month, can expect “two sides of me”, he says, “AKA two sides of Tyron as a person. The person who got to this place and the person who is trying to be”. With a grin, and a quick look back to his manager to see how much he can tell me, Frampton reveals that the title of the record is already “in the world” – he adds that it’s even been said during our interview – and is due imminently. Self-described as the best music he’s ever made, the rapper says the album will offer both a softer and harder side of him, with more aggression shining through. “This is to push people,” he enthuses, rhythmically adding: “If you’re in the gym, I want you to push. If you’re at work and someone is doing your head in, I want you to push and get your own money. This is about inspiring people to better themselves.”

When it comes to his own inspiration, Frampton has been dipping his toes in an array of genres, from Westside Gunn’s gritty rap and Deb Never’s melancholic pop, to early 00s indie rock heavyweights Jamie T and Arctic Monkeys. Primarily, though, he’s been listening to his own music, which might explain his assertion that his new tracks don’t “sound like anything… (they) sound like me”.

Pandemic cancellations aside, Frampton has also found inspiration in seeing how his crowds interact with tracks at live shows. He’s notorious for his frenzied gigs, which have seen him perform half-naked, sometimes in a coffin. This time, though, he’s drawing on his personal growth, rather than what’s going on in the world around him. “People labelled me as political,” Frampton says. “I’ve always said I’ll speak on things that piss me off, but I’m not in there like reading the legislations, you know what I mean? I’m not saying there’s not going to be anything political, but this album is about inspiring people to better themselves.”

Although a tour is likely off the cards, Frampton maintains a glimmer of hope that he’ll be able to share his album with a crowd. “We were looking at getting a big bit of land and putting a stage up there, then you know them balls?” he smirks. “The big see-through things that you walk inside?” He means zorb balls. “Doing a show and putting people in those.” Whether or not he’s joking (it’s always difficult to tell), Frampton is clearly optimistic about the future. “We need to move forward,” he concludes, “and keep it moving.”