The Northampton rapper’s sophomore album is powerfully candid once it speeds through the hasty first half, balancing the mental with the sentimental.
On the periphery of commercial UK rap is the alternative rap scene; the rappers who are commercially relevant but feel like outcasts in the crowd. Slowthai has led the charge for alt-UK rap for the last two years, quickly ascending from his grime beginnings to critical acclaim. His debut album, 2019’s Nothing Great About Britain, peaked in the top ten of the UK Albums Chart and was well-received by critics. Finally, there was a different voice paving a niche for anomalous listeners to take in. Amidst delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Slowthai’s follow-up record arrives in a double-disc format, but still manages to clock in at just 35 minutes.
TYRON is a tale of two halves, speeding through an intense first half before justifying the self-titling in the back end, where the album’s impactful moments arrive to steal the show.
Taking a page out of Tupac, Jay Z and Big K.R.I.T.’s books, TYRON is a double-disc album split into two batches of seven. The first disc delivers charismatic bangers, evident before you even press play from the tracklist capitalisations. The second disc pivots to personal strokes, exposing the emotional side of Slowthai that was not explored on the national examinations in Nothing Great About Britain. Slowthai succeeds in creating a stark contrast between these discs while conveying this is two sides of the same coin.
Slowthai has shown he can make crowd-pleasers in the past (“Doorman”, “Psycho”). The album succeeds at this in “MAZZA” and “CANCELLED”, collaborations with ASAP Rocky and Skepta respectively. The Rocky-assisted cut cannot fulfil its potential without a festival to experience it at, but once it can it will be a crowd favourite. Skepta dominates the majority of “CANCELLED” over production that channels the eerie tones of NGAB. Its lyrics are a reference to internet cancel culture and Slowthai’s controversial incident at last year’s NME Awards. Together, the duo proclaim they are bigger than public narratives. But maybe it is best to still tread carefully.
Outside of these tracks, TYRON‘s attempts at an explosion often feel like remnants of promising ideas. The album has a runtime of just 35 minutes, with none of the first 7 songs exceeding 3 minutes. It leaves plenty to be desired from songs that feel like they are going somewhere but never reach there, such as the 48-second “WOT”, which pushes to be one of the best tracks on the album, yet is held back by its abrupt nature.
The second half is what gives TYRON its title, also bringing forth the album’s best moments. Here, the production becomes more engaging, the bars are more thoughtful, and the hooks double in notability. “I Tried” provides candidness on Slowthai’s mental health, never wasting a line as he convincingly trots through the verse. “Focus” demands for direction in Slowthai’s life by avoiding the wrong path. “Push” and “Feel Away” maintain the moving attitude to the second half, excelling in the way they convert Slowthai’s emotions into resonating tracks.
TYRON continues its compelling second half down to the last track. “ADHD” is morbidly despairing, highlighting Slowthai at his lowest point. His delivery shifts from gentle to angry by the time he reaches the third verse, releasing all his frustrations in the most effective 12-bar of the record. Songs like these do not give a total insight into Slowthai’s life, but the conveyance of emotion is robust.
The guest vocalists work in harmony with Ty to spark warmth within despair. James Blake is key to the beauty of “Feel Away” with his touching lines and vocals (“I leave the dent in my car to remind me what I could have lost”). Deb Never achieves similar effects on “Push”, serving as the brackets to Slowthai’s verses on broken relationships. Their tender tones shine light over the clouds surrounding Ty’s head that he cannot seem to shrug off.
By the end of the album, the double-disc split does not feel necessary. The second batch of tracks is where TYRON truly thrives, speaking from the soul to make every bar resonate. Who knew Slowthai could get so sentimental.
7.5 / 10
Best tracks: “Feel Away”, “Push”, “nhs”, “I Tried”, “ADHD”