A lot has changed in the four years since slowthai released his debut album, Nothing Great About Britain. The outspoken and uniquely pissed off sound of an impish rapper lashing out at the structural inequalities of life in the U.K., the record fizzed like an overflowing can of lager and changed his life in a number of fundamental ways. No longer lacking money, a job, or hope for the future, he had to change things up on his 2021 follow-up Tyron. That album arrived after a disastrous appearance at the previous year’s NME Awards in which a crude interaction with host Katherine Ryan led to a social media reckoning of sorts. Sporting all-caps song titles like “VEX,” “WOT,” and, notably, “CANCELED,” the album was defiant and confrontational.
As he arrives at his third album, UGLY — out today via Method Records — slowthai is once again pointed in a new direction. After the arrival of his son Rain in 2021, Ty is a young father, and his perspective has changed. That’s not to say UGLY is all nursery rhymes and soft toys. The title, an acronym for U Gotta Love Yourself, acts as a rallying cry for both Ty and his fans. Across the album, he tries and fails to gain inner peace on the therapist’s couch before landing on his own response: pushing himself into self-improvement by brute force. This is an album that says feeling good and loving yourself are as simple as telling yourself those things every day. He now rejects negativity with the kind of muscle he previously reserved for Tory politicians.
This new message comes with a new sound — an indie rock pivot that finds him singing more than ever, taking in all the moody atmospherics and spiky mosh-pit anthems a drum kit and a cranked-up guitar amp can bring. Guests on the record include Fontaines DC and Ethan P. Flynn with black midi and Wet Leg producer Dan Carey helming the project.
As slowthai explained to me earlier this week, this latest chapter is a natural evolution of his quest towards happiness, being as honest as possible, and always speaking his mind, no matter how much trouble it gets him in.
This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.
The FADER: How are you feeling about this third album coming out? It must be a big thing in your mind for a long time in the run-up to it, right?
slowthai: Yeah, I’m buzzing my tits off, man. I can’t wait. It’s been a long time waiting, so now I’m just counting down the minutes, really. Every album’s like Christmas, innit? I don’t get excited about Christmas anymore, so this is my Christmas.
In all the pictures and promotion for UGLY, it’s hard to miss that you’ve got the word tattooed on your face now. Which came first: the tattoo or the album title, and what was the thinking behind both for you?
I wanted to do the tattoo for ages. And then the acronym came, and it solidified it as [the album title]. And then about halfway through, I got the tattoo on my face because I was like, “I live by what I’m saying.” It’s a reminder to myself every day when I wake up and look in the mirror. It’s the first thing I see. I’m like. When I’m walking around and people go, “You’re not ugly,” I’m like, “Yeah, it don’t mean that.”
UGLY feels like an album of, not two halves but two mindsets almost: You’ve got the darker, more introspective moments where you’re talking about going to see a therapist and the reasons behind that. And then changing that mindset, almost through force. Is that something you feel you want to encourage other people to do? What was that process like?
I suppose it was rewarding, and it was something I needed to do in order to feel happy. Otherwise, I’d just be living underneath a cloud of misery. But for other people — for anybody that’s going through something — you have to want to change. If that’s what it invokes in people, that’s what it invokes. I didn’t go into it with the mindset of, “Let me try and change people.” People can only want to change themselves, so if that’s what they want to do, that’s what they want to do. If they don’t, fucking fair play to them.
Do you remember the moment when you decided to change things for yourself?
After my son was born, that was the moment I wanted to better myself. It’s so hard, innit? Being responsible for ourselves is one thing. But as soon as we’re responsible for this precious little angel, I don’t want to do anything to mess this little guy up. But at the same time, I don’t want to do anything to not give him the opportunity to experience life for himself. I have to be better for myself and also for my son — not so I can lead by an example [but] because he is going to get to an age and he’s gonna be like, “Dad, you’re a cunt,” anyway. I can’t be a hypocrite. I can’t be like, “Oh, don’t do this,” and him be like, “But you do that!” I decided I needed to better myself and to feel better in myself.
Did it also make you start thinking more consciously about the lyrics and the content of your music — trying to spread a more positive message so that when he grows up and listens to it, he can hear that reflected back at him?
I just try to be honest and encapsulate the time. I didn’t think of it like, “Oh, I’ve gotta go make a Pharrell ‘Happy’ song, so when he gets to four he can dance around the living room.” When he gets older, he’ll either listen to the music and understand where I was and it’ll give him a perspective on that, or he’ll be like, “This is shit,” and listen to something else. I want him to have his own experience, and it’s not pressing to me.
How has becoming a parent changed your relationship with your own mother? She’s obviously a big part of your story, and she’s in a lot of your music. Fans of slowthai know about your mum.
I just respect my mum more, being a single parent. (I already respected my mum endlessly — I can’t even fathom it.) It put me in her shoes a bit more. I’m 28 now; my mum was 16 when she had me, and it was a completely different time. I’m in a position where I’m fortunate enough to be able to not really think about [money], where my mum had to think about every single penny she had to her name, and the struggles, and the stress.
It has brought me and my mum closer. As a grandparent, she’s already figured it out, so everything I’m stressing about, she’s like, “Ah, you’re like a kid. What are you on about?” And she’s like, “You’ve got a son now and you understand how I felt about you. But when your kids have kids, the feeling you have for your grandchildren is even more ridiculous than it was when you had kids.” It’s brought us back into a good place, and we just sit laughing at my son now, rather than her laughing at me.
UGLY is your “rock” album. What was it about that world and that sound that felt like the right fit for you on your third record?
I dunno — it’s in my spirit, man. Why do you like chocolate? You just like it, and it’s not that complex. I’ve done the rap thing. I felt like I needed a new challenge, and this is going back to my roots and [making] something I always wanted to make; I just didn’t have the tools or the belief from the people around me to do it. Now I do. If I was climbing mountains, I’d climb every mountain I could, and this is my next mountain. This is my Everest. It’s a challenge for myself, and I think I’ve done it well — I know I’ve done it well. This is it.
There’s a line on the song “Sooner” that really stood out to me: “Question everything, but fuck it, I’m free.” Is that the ethos that you try to live by?
Yeah, you’ve got to always take everything with a pinch of salt. You could have all the questions and all the answers. You could tell me the complete truth forever. You could’ve never lied, and I’d still take it with a pinch of salt, because I can’t put myself in your shoes and I don’t know what’s real in your world, innit? So fuck it. None of it matters.
“I ain’t going in to march for change that isn’t gonna change anything.”
Around the time of Nothing Great About Britain, you got this label as a political rapper, coming off the back of Brexit and all the upheaval in the U.K. Did that come to feel like a burden? Like you were being portrayed as a character, almost?
Yeah, it was like, “Oh, you’re one trick pony and you’re always gonna do this. You can’t do anything else.” But I was talking about things that had me pissed off. Whether you want to class it as politics [or not], “UGLY” on this album is inspired by the war between Russia and Ukraine. That’s why I said, “Toy soldiers in land fall like dominoes.” We attach ourselves, and we believe we are part of this bigger thing, like we’re proud to be part of this country, and we’ll fight other people’s battles. First, people like that don’t even give a fuck about us. And then it’s on a deeper thing: “You said that you love me, but you make me feel ugly.”
People are quick to attach you to something because it makes it relatable, and it’s like, “Oh you fit.” It’s a marketing thing: “You fit over here because you’re a political person,” and then I’m gonna go on marches. I ain’t going in to march for change that isn’t gonna change anything. I’d rather raise the money and put it to good use. I’m starting a charity, and I want to start a foundation to help people that ain’t as fortunate. It’s not politics, is it?
What would you say to fans of yours who perhaps feel a bit disappointed or let down that you’ve moved away from talking about those more overtly political subjects, especially at a time in Britain when things have become undeniably worse? Do you feel any responsibility towards those fans?
No, because the message is still the same. I wasn’t ever a politician. For them to be upset, I’d say, “Get a fucking grip.” I’m an artist. I make art. I make music based on my experiences of things that frustrate me. You either grow with me or you don’t. And if you don’t, so be it. I dunno, mate: “Oh man, I’m so sorry.” I mean, fucking suck my dick, man.
In the last few months, I’ve seen you pop up in ads for Homer, Frank Ocean’s high-end luxury fashion brand. Could you tell me a bit about your relationship with him, and how you came to be involved with that brand?
I dunno, it’s a friendship, innit? How’d you meet your mates? You meet people, you either get along with them or not. I’ve always appreciated his art, and outside of it, he’s a lovely person. Out of everyone I played the album to, he was the one person who made me feel like he was gassed, and he’s someone whose opinion I respect the most. But stuff like that, man, it’s not even for everybody to know.
I read an interview where you said the way your ADHD manifests itself often is you become very focused on one thing. Does that extend into your music? Do you have an idea of what your fifth, sixth album is gonna be? Or is it very much in the moment, where whatever you’re obsessed with at the moment, at that point, that’s what you’ll make?
I have an idea. But at the same time, to lock it in and say this is definitely what’s going to be, I’d be kidding. Because every day, the idea is changing in my head and it’s just what inspires me in the moment. But I think music’s the one thread that flows through everything that allows me to be grounded. It’s the one thing where even if I’ve gotta do this, this, this, this, whenever I’m doing it, nothing else matters. My brain clicks. It feels right. It’s all planned, but it’s never planned. Nothing’s what will be, and it will be what it will be.