The FADER's longstanding GEN F series profiles emerging artists to know now.
On a balmy night in late September, confrontational rapper slowthai — a.k.a. 23-year-old Tyron Frampton — played a sold-out show at the Underworld in Camden. It’s a rock venue with a capital-R, the sort of place heavy metal bands with those unreadable spiky logos play — but slowthai was just happy to be performing live. He arrived on stage slung over his DJ’s shoulder in a black body bag, and at previous gigs has made similarly ostentatious entrances in a coffin. “It’s like I'm back to life,” he says about these moments of theater. “This is the only thing that makes me feel truly alive.”
Making people feel something bigger than themselves is important to slowthai. “When I'm performing, I want people to look at me, and go in that zone where you don't even know. You're just like, ‘fuck,’” he explains over a veggie wrap in a pub adjacent to the venue. You can't come to a slowthai show, he says, with the attitude of "’I'm a porcelain doll.’ You’re not made of glass.” Circle pits are a necessity; the London show culminated in slowthai physically dragging two industry blaggers from the back of the venue to the front row. “I’m Sid Vicious without killing his girlfriend,” he says, citing the Sex Pistols as an influence.
If slowthai’s message is delivered in an aggressive manner, it’s because he believes in it so strongly. In just over an hour, he talks furiously about the state of Britain under Conservative rule, his upbringing in one of the toughest housing estates in his local area, and his belief that the Queen of England “is a reptile.” This energy is what drives slowthai’s music, a heady mix of social realism and personal reflection delivered with a rat-a-tat-tat flow. On “Drug Dealer,” he unpacks the systemic failure to offer working class kids anything more than a life of crime over rising strings and speaker-rattling bass.
Slowthai is from Northampton, a town in the East Midlands of England famous for manufacturing shoes. A lineage of cobblers, however, hasn’t stopped the area from being affected by austerity politics and the unavoidable drain of talent to London, which left slowthai growing up in one of the town’s most deprived areas. He loves the town, but admits “there's fuckery and then there's good people.”
One of those good people is slowthai’s mom, who raised him along with two brothers and a sister. His younger brother, Michael, died two weeks after his first birthday following complications from muscular dystrophy. Michael is slowthai’s “little angel,” a symbol of innocence in a world he sees as being overwhelmingly stacked against him. “I don't believe dying's a sad thing,” he explains. “He was paralyzed — the only two movements he could do was cross his fingers and smile. I know that he's either moved on to a better place, or he's in peace."
It makes sense that slowthai believes in making the most of your time while you have it. He wants to be a symbol to other kids in one-horse towns that you don’t have to follow the well-worn path. “I want to connect with people that feel unseen,” he says. “People feel like they have to hide their true colors to please the people around them. I think the majority of the world are pleasing other people, be it their family, or their friends, or the fucking powers that pushed them in. I just want to reach people and be like, ‘Fuck the shit place, let's create our own universe.’”
Prior to making his own world, slowthai was a teenage tearaway skipping school and causing trouble for his beloved mom (he has “Sorry Mum” tattooed across his throat as “it's my most said thing in life.”) His absence from school eventually led to his mom appearing in court thanks to a particularly Draconian piece of U.K. law meaning parents can be prosecuted if a child has unauthorized absence from school—it was the wake-up call he needed. “I can't have my mum go to jail,” he says now. ”She's never done anything wrong in her life.” On “Ladies,” a tender and melodic single he released back in May, slowthai raps about the importance women have played in his upbringing. Asked who his male role models were, he can only name his mom. “A woman can't teach a man how to be a man,” he reasons. “But she can teach you how to nurture, how to care, how to love, and how to give.”
Next on the agenda for slowthai is his debut album. He plans to call it Nothing Great About Britain and will release it in 2019. His latest song “Rainbow” will feature on the record, and he’s been working with Mount Kimbie, Mura Masa, and punk duo Slaves on new material alongside regular producer Kwes Darko. He also wants to crack America (“I'm gonna go in like Neil Armstrong. Lay down the flag and be like, ‘we're here baby’”), but Britain, as broken as he may feel it is, will always be home, even if he’s not always a fan of it.
“British culture's racist as fuck,” he says of a country still processing what Brexit actually means, citing the “caveman mentality” behind those who voted Leave and feeling, like many, that racial prejudices amid a rise in immigration led to a misinformed electorate. “You can't complain about someone who's traveled to get to somewhere they can prosper and do something for their family,” he says. “You ask any boozer in a pub, why do you think Brexit's right? [and they’ll say] ‘Because these people are taking our jobs.’ My dad don't even go out and try apply for a job, so how can someone take his job?” With his cropped hair and prison-style tattoos, I suggest slowthai could potentially attract fans who don’t share his political beliefs. “Then they'll get singled out and taught why that's wrong,” he says. “You gotta like rub them people out instantly.”
Slowthai admits he does not have the “statistic and policies” to back a lot of his political beliefs and ideals. However, as a product of a country in which hate crime offenses have more than doubled in five years and cuts to education have left teachers and parents describing a school system “on its knees,” slowthai’s utopian dream feels both desirable and rooted in reality. He uses a typically off-center metaphor to make the same point, summing up his ethos perfectly: “It's like life gives you lemons and what do you do? You either make lemonade or you sit there with a sour face. I just want people to make lemonade.”