If a middle-class Londoner were to entitle his debut album Nothing Great About Britain, it would rightfully raise suspicion. But if your mother was sixteen when she had you and you were then raised by a single parent in a deprived suburb of Northampton, this album title would come straight from life.
Enter Tyron Frampton (23), the rapper who is currently causing furore under the stage name Slowthai and who has tattooed the nihilistic slogan about his homeland – from his upcoming debut – on his stomach. He spent his youth in a council estate commonly called Bush because the social apartment blocks were hidden behind a green belt, as though to mask the government’s failing social policy.
“I was in my own little world, always zoning out but also mad observant: I’d just sit back and watch,” he told a reporter from the leading music site Pitchfork. “And from then I was called ‘Slow Ty’ because I slurred my words too.”
After learning to freestyle with the older children on the estate, he soon started to write his own lyrics. They often centred on his frustrations, which he expressed freely. In “Doorman”, the single he recorded last year with producer Mura Masa, the resentment about not being posh enough to be allowed into the hippest nightclubs culminated in an explosive song with a dark punk edge.
“I feel peace of mind when I’m dreaming of a life I ain’t living,” he sung laconically in the follow-up “Peace of Mind”. “The music is the release,” he recently told the music magazine NME, which put him on the cover after he took fourth place on the influential BBC Sound of 2019 list. “If I’m always angry and I bottle it up, I’m just gonna stay angry. But if I put it into moments that are two or three minutes long, you let that out. That’s you venting. If you cry, you get the chemical release in your brain and you feel relief – you feel better.”
All things considered, Northampton, with its rave nights at the Sidewinder club that partly shaped the grime genre, was not such a bad place for a musical outlaw. As a teenager he would have to sneak into the local venues via the fire escape to see the UK Garage acts from London, now he is warmly welcomed through the front door.
But that doesn’t mean the impact of class society and its haves and have nots has simply disappeared. When he recently announced the “Brexit Bandit Tour”, during which he will be making his Belgian stage debut, he asked his fans to swamp Theresa May’s Instagram account using the hashtag #brexitbandit. In NME, he calls her a dickhead. “So many people – the people that I speak to the most – are lost. They don’t have nothing to lose, nothing to grasp onto. They feel a similar way to what I do. For them, it’s being a voice.”
SLOWTHAI 18/3, 20.00, Beursschouwburg