Review: Slowthai, ‘Nothing Great About Britain’

Nothing Great About Britain is an abrasive, no-fucks-given debut by Britain’s most daring MC.

“Drug dealer / I wear Nike, not Fila”, the bar that introduced grime’s next superstar. The deranged charisma of Tyron Frampton, better known as Slowthai, resonated with the underground scene by releasing single after single of chilling, horrorcore grime. But Slowthai escaped the sonic box before even moving in, fusing a range of influences in his songs to quickly become the nation’s most dynamic MC, even at the expense of becoming a lone wolf. His unorthodox, contorted flow is one reason for that, but mainly is Slowthai’s refusal to chase a trend. Now a left-field favourite, Slowthai’s debut album emerges during the peak of British bedlam, a somewhat exposé of a nation undeserving of the ‘Great’ in Great Britain.

On Nothing Great About Britain, Slowthai dares to creatively provoke through a brash denouncement of British patriotism and a three-cheers for the working class.

In the 11-track standard edition alone, Nothing Great About Britain provides substance and distinction from contemporary albums. The message is satirical yet informative, supplying a necessary perspective from the youth of the nation, aka. the future of so-called Great Britain. Slowthai dispatches bars like sermons, using stories of his rough childhood as evidence for an agenda that could be seen as ludicrous to some, if not many.

The album could not open any stronger with the title track. Clever imagery and British references are used to a paint a picture of true British culture; both the beauty (“I was waiting on my friends outside the local shops / See the feathers turning red, white beauty hold a swan”) and the beast (“You’re EDL, real English boys / St. George’s flag, Doc Martin, boy / Call her slag, but don’t mean it, boy”). The bars are vivid in ways rarely expressed by UK rappers, ending the song by calling Queen Elizabeth a cunt to make full use of his freedom of speech. Slowthai’s flow is purposely offbeat, slowly dragging itself across the beat like a dead corpse. It is jarring yet engaging, and the album’s best representation of Slowthai’s creativity by spitting over grime beats but not using a grime flow.

Slowthai’s novelty also stems from the roots of the production. Songs like “Grow Up” and “North Nights” possess an eerie minimalism, like a soundtrack to a Saw movie, nocturnal and foreboding. The former song is a reminder to cherish adolescence, heavy on bars and rigid grime flows to portray the reality of the working class life (“1.50 for a 0.99 cone
/ Where’s my change? Got changed on the road”). The organ on “Inglorious” completes the same purpose, the foundation for a perfect collaboration with Skepta (“I’m directing movies like Gaspar, I drive the wraith like it’s Nascar / I love the look on their faces when they look in the whip and it’s a black star”). To Slowthai, the beat is Gotham City and he is The Joker, stressing the irreversible damage done thanks to the systems of society.

The album’s additional influences of punk and early 2000s UK rap adds to the authenticity of Slowthai representing true Britain. “Doorman” is a hyperactive headbanger, likely a musical representation of drug abuse, an issue that personally affected Slowthai and his family mentioned later in the album. On top of the garage influences (“Toaster”) are callbacks to The Streets (a 2000s British lad rap group frontlined by Mike Skinner). Songs such as “Gorgeous”, “Crack” and “Missing” see Slowthai as a reincarnation of The Streets far removed from the gritty and intense nature of songs like “Peace of Mind”. The contrast in sounds is challenging to accept, however “Gorgeous” is key to the album’s purpose of representing Britain.

“Northampton’s Child” may be the official end to the album, but it more feels like the beginning. Slowthai vividly recounts his childhood from bar one in simple yet effective fashion, taking the listener with him into his time machine to relive the trauma (“Northampton General, 1994 / Mixed race baby born / Christmas well a week before / Mum’s 16, family’s poor”). The terrifying twangs and thumping bass are straight from screwface capital to make up the best beat of the album. The song ends at 3 minutes, leaving more to be desired from a captivating yet incomplete life story.

What’s most disappointing about the album are the placement of Slowthai’s best singles to date as mere bonus tracks (technically, they are not part of the album and its story). Tracks like “T N Biscuits” and “Drug Dealer” lyrically match the British concept and boast more replay value than a handful of songs on the standard edition. Seeing these songs weaved into the album’s core would have showcased Slowthai’s ability to curate a cohesive album and ability to create entertaining singles.

What is great about Britain, according to Slowthai, is the simple things. What the working class create, and not what the wealthy leach off. Slowthai is one of a kind, crafting music with unique artistry while bravely sending a message to the blockheads in Parliament. Slowthai, is what is great about Britain.

Rating: 8 / 10

Best tracks: “T N Biscuits”, “Northampton’s Child”, “Nothing Great About Britain”, “Grow Up”, “Rainbow”, “North Nights”, “Inglorious”

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