Slowthai – Ugly: Review

UK Rapper Slowthai has moved through portals to find unique ways to inflect the emotional weight coming through differing avenues, whether through the politically astute Nothing Great About Britain or introspective thoughts through zany production on Tyron. That continues to be the case on Ugly, where we hear him divert from Hip-Hop to deliver an array of punk and alternative rock tracks flourishing through progressively recorded instrumentals and vocal performances, more akin to the DIY Hard/Punk-Rock era of the early 80s. It fits Slowthai’s vocal aesthetics naturally, bolstering the emotional angst, making its delivery have the same impact as the Garage influence beneath past Grime beats he’s rapped over. Ugly continues to boast that angst, almost making it feel more adjudicated to his style, but it never rides on the coast of genericism as Slowthai’s writing builds depth. It isn’t that cut and dry; Slowthai is allowing these soundscapes to guide him through these creative highs where he finds somewhere in-between the Hüsker Du’s and Rage Against the Machine, yet it stumbles to have consistency on the production side.

Slowthai begins Ugly by slowly assimilating his listener toward this new sound, blending the known (Hip-Hop and Grime) with the new (Punk and Indie Rock), waiting for him to open up lyrically, slowly. However, this isn’t the first time Slowthai has worn his heart on his sleeves, but it occasionally got rattled by the abundance of sweet chaos in the music surrounding them. That isn’t absent since Slowthai’s dictation of the contextual direction is at a peak. Here, we hear him separating styles without the production taking a step back, whether it’s the riotous “Yum” or the slowed-down Lou Reed interpolation on “Falling,” allowing us to sense who he is now and where he wants to take the album. Unlike Lil Yachty and his album Let’s Start Here, and more like Mac Miller’s foray into Alt-Rock/Soul with Circles, Slowthai isn’t here for our (critics) feelings on the legitimacy of his music. Instead, he’s spearheading what he hears and visualizes while putting his pen to paper. It doesn’t always land, like “Yum,” where it comes on a bit emphatic, or “Never Again,” which takes a more somber approach instead of expressing a range of emotions from his feeling of loss after a breakup.

As you listen to Ugly from front to back, there’s an understanding that Slowthai knows how to weave these rich instrumentations into a creative run of tracks that break down barriers. “Happy” beautifully encompasses the elements that make this stylistic journey more of a thrill. His vocals are unpolished. He brings a spoken word element to reinvigorate his emotions. He lets the sound run thoroughly melodically while leaving room for more powerful moments for emphasis. There’s a consistency to the production as it takes influence from different sonic complexions and excels with the synergy it carries with Slowthai. It doesn’t matter the tempo or speed of each core element for each specific song. There are some crisp performances for fans to indulge in and give the curious something to latch onto, especially as rappers don’t tend to push boundaries consistently when exploring rock music. But with Slowthai bringing past producer Kwes Darko, Beabadoobee’s producer Jacob Budgen, and Dan Carey, who recently produced Wet Leg’s debut and Black Midi’s in 2019, they add a fantastic sense of equilibrium imbuing through instrumentals.

Slowthai’s producers aim for a consistent flow; in doing so, we receive solid in-song transitions that boast its strengths. Slowthai can shift delivery smoothly, like on “Sooner,” where the flow and melodies collide with sheer ferocity and viscosity, showcasing how it comes naturally to him, especially as he plays around with them. Though some tracks have more Hip-Hop notes, pushing away from the rock-like foundation, it isn’t hard to note how fantastic “Fuck It Puppet” is, despite running short and leaving you hungry for more. The energy deriving from many tracks is infectious, maintaining your attention, boasting the slower songs more, and making them have an outstanding presence compared to the weaker ones, like the more mundane “Feel Good.” Overlaying these instrumentals are some poignantly focused songwriting, switching melodies and styles, speaking to different factions of the mental gymnastics one juggle, like happiness, cutting ties with those around, or self-resilience to be better, despite sometimes having to act selfish.

Lil Wayne mostly incorporated autotune over predominantly redundant rock instrumentals on Rebirth, and Kid Cudi took experimental too far with Speedin Bullet to Heaven. Trippie Redd has this punk cadence in his vocal style, bringing minimal intrigue into his craft without being completely innovative. But what separates Slowthai from them is this natural cadence, where he isn’t coming at this with a try-hard mentality, letting it all flow with his style. Though it doesn’t always translate, many highs keep the gears churning as you plunge into a journey through the album. From Slowthai’s lyricism to his co-producers finding a solid happy medium, the lows can take from the directional quality and leave you with tracks that form an album with gaps. Fortunately, it’s this worthwhile listen.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Slowthai Shows The Duality of His Psyche on Tyron: Review

There was nothing really, in some time, like Slowthai’s debut Nothing Great About Britain. It was this enigmatic and coherent spell that warped us into intricate rhyme schemes and political fair – in relation to what was going on in Britain with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He rose from controversy due to the nature of his 2019 performance at the Mercury Award, which showed Boris’ decapitated head. It was, in its own way, similar to the burning of the PM by Sinead O’ Connor on Saturday Night Live. But through it all, Slowthai wasn’t held back and continued to make strides like appearing on one of the greatest singles by Disclosure last year. With his new album Tyron he continues to provide distortion between radicalism and a broken identity that has made Slowthai the way he is today. 

Tyron is unlike the politically and anger driven Nothing Great About Britain. Politics takes a back seat for the social-climate of his upbringing and the dual personality of Slowthai. The first half centers itself on the social-context of the themes created from the tales he places himself in. The moments of heightening violence and aggression blurts out and it’s as refreshing as his debut, even if the instrumentals come off with slight redundancy. It is reflective of certain themes on the album, like drug abuse and depression.

But of the themes that appear on Tyron, death is an effervescent theme on this album. It’s like the ultimate come up and eventual comedown where at the end he feels reborn. He uses it as a way to talk about death in the various forms around him, like on “DEAD” which builds itself upon the phrase – “dead to me.”

This is before he starts to fully reflect the rambunctious/crazy nature of his past that wasn’t pretty. The lambastic response to his performances put an eye on him and the music further represented his actions. Tracks like “45 SMOKE,” which reflects most of  the first half of Tyron as it weaves unhinging depravity.

“Take me for cunt, get knife to lung

Do for fun, it’s nothing long

People think I’m Satan’s son

Shotters, coppers, alcoholics”

“MAZZA,” with A$AP Rocky, his verbiage is eclectic due to his “no fucks given,” approach to saying what he wants to say. It’s built upon the irony behind the certain feelings uppers and downers can create (“happiness”, including money). The title is a play off the British slang term indicating a basic form of the word “mad.” Slowthai talks about the aforementioned ideas 

“Suicidal tendencies, what’s up man?

 Feel like I’m down, say what’s up?

Way too, way too, way too gully, give money.”

He contrasts what it means to be a rational being who can easily obtain money via credit means. But Slowthai is making note through English slang that he is hood or a real street thug, which plays as a double entendre for money making through different means. On one hand he could be a model person, instead he is this abhorrent human trying to rob you. 

This contrasts A$AP Rocky’s notions to his roots and the people he associates with to demonstrate success and Slowthai will soon be at that level. A fun icing on the cake is the Trainspotting references in the music video.

After “Mazza,” and two slightly forgettable tracks, Tyron becomes a therapy sessions for the artist, though this time he has the instrumentals to back his emotions. He expresses why these fears that loom over him, despite the exterior nature he perpetuates to the masses. 

“Disc 2” or the second half is where the album treads into a different kind of sound from the artist. He gives us the crazy momentum before calming us with his thoughts with focused down emotions. It allows Slowthai to break down more of the wall, while lessening, at times, the simplistic and meandering production from front to end.

However, hearing Slowthai breaks down his barriers subverts most of the connotations of the first half, but it allows for a solid balance in sound with the instrumentals laying bare bones. The track “push,” delivers a beautiful tale about the destructive behavior from peer pressure. He shows us his youth where his world was split between morally good and bad from society’s POV.  Bedroom Pop artist Deb Never delivers a chorus that reflects consequences from the path it can take you and pensive nature after shit hits the fan. 

Tyron is not as potent as his debut due to a different direction, mostly in the second half. Though it is the strongest part of the album, it doesn’t have a lasting factor like the enigmatically fueled Nothing Great About Britain. Slowthai brings enough for fans of lyricism to revisit, but the instrumentals in the first half don’t have the same weight as the second. 

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.