Slowthai Is The New Voice Of Forgotten

Interview by: Charmaine Dixon
Photography: Hyperfrank

There’s no denying slowthai as the riotous voice of a discontented youth, but his music is as much about escaping the frustrations of modern Britain as it is about reflecting it. Everything he’s released so far, including the newly released debut album Nothing Great About Britain, has given fans a voice that’s as angry as they are; though fearless and acerbic in his critiques, slowthai is also very funny and super relatable.

Born and raised in Northampton—home to Dr. Martens’ biggest factory, grime establishment Sidewinder and the author Alan Moore—slowthai, real name Tyron Frampton, has never been far from creativity. His half-Bajan mother, whom he confesses he’s had to apologise to a lot, raised him in a matriarchal household which he cites as the source of his emotional intelligence, his principles, and how to carry himself. Outside of his family, though, a small town mentality—suspicious of change and the world beyond Northampton—pervaded.

Few are more aware than slowthai of the neglect felt by small towns, suburbs and the countryside. Brexit, of course, is a recurring theme in his music, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since it’s a recurring theme in all our lives. Racism, wealth disparities, poverty, violence and many other ugly elements the country likes to ignore are also laid bare in his music, often with wry wit. The thing about slowthai, however, is that there’s an optimism behind the anger—an energy and humour that, at the very least, makes things a little more bearable. “I love this country,” he said in a recent interview, “but I feel like we’re losing sight of who actually holds the power and what makes us great: it’s the people, the communities, the small places that are forgotten, everyone that’s striving. It’s a question. I should have put a question mark [on it] really, shouldn’t I?”

Musically, slowthai’s punk and grime-infused sound perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being 24 and invincible. You can hear it in every track, and you can definitely see it in each and every one of his videos. Whether he’s bursting out of picture frames or pulling Excalibur from the stone, slowthai is a larger-than-life character who’s impossible to hold back. And he’s been known to throw out playful lines like, “Jump on a beat like a frog off a boat / Take a leap, just float,” on “T N Biscuits” and then launching you back to your childhood with: “Stabilize push-bikes, for your shinies jump off the push-bike / Tony jacked my Yu-Gi-Oh cards / I’ll allow him, he’s a shook guy,” on album extract “Gorgeous”. Nothing Great About Britain is already being touted by some as the next Boy In Da Corner, and they wouldn’t be wrong: across the album, we get to see slowthai come into his own as a true reflective voice of his generation.

But it’s not just music; slowthai’s carefree sense of style has also played a role in his appeal. Growing up in a small town, the best trainers weren’t as readily available as many would have liked. He tells us there was no Footlocker, so securing shoes like the Nike TN (which he described as being a “staple shoe”) became a real event with a reward you savoured. It meant travelling out of town a lot to buy creps—sometimes even to the Big Smoke—but as slowthai tells us, that taste of the outside world can change your perspective forever.

In celebration of the iconic TN, Nike recently threw a party out in Paris and had slowthai as the headline performer (disclaimer: this was just before he announced his EPIC debut album). TRENCH got flown out, too, where we connected the MC with Charmaine Dixon, a competition winner, to ask the most important questions to her as a fan—ranging in topics from escapism, to the fractured state of this country. Dive in below.

“My mother taught me respect, and to always put women on a pedestal and raise them up.”

Tonight, you really got people moving; everyone was a bit stiff at first. What’s it like being the performer when everyone’s just turned up for a free drink and isn’t super engaged with the performance?

We’ve all been at a show when you feel like you wanna dance but don’t feel comfortable to. Sometimes the stage creates too much separations; I need to get amongst people and show them that we’re the same. I usually bounce around and help them come out of their shell. A lot of my good friends don’t really say much—they’re really shy—and that’s why I think I connect with them so much: because they’re quiet, and I’m loud. Gradually, they’ve come out and shown themselves because of the energy I’ve shown them and that’s what I aim to do when I perform. When I’m up on a stage, I always think: ‘Am I gonna stand up here for the whole thing, bouncing around and shit, do the show and get the bag and go?’ For as much as this has now turned into a career or job for me, this is my dream—it’s a dream for me to have one person in a room feeling the energy. It’s a madness that even you’ve come all the way here to Paris to see me perform and now we’re having a conversation.

You’ve had a crazy few years on the underground circuit, and now the mainstream can’t seem to get enough of you. Coming from a small town like Northampton, how have you dealt with suddenly having all of this heat on you?

Growing up in Northampton, you can have quite a small-town mentality, the same as anywhere with an estate—everything outside of it feels unreachable and unattainable. I wanted to be an artist but didn’t understand how the music industry worked; from the outside, it seemed as easy as making a tune, getting someone to post it and then the next day it’s like bam, you’ve blown! But it ain’t like that. Most people have a plan, a vision and they stick to it… Outsiders don’t see all that hard work, though. They just see the glow-up and think shit happens overnight. If you apply yourself, you can figure out what you want to do and plan ahead, and as long as you stick to your plan, you can’t really fail.

What was your plan?

I wanted to gradually build myself up, make my music and tell my story in the best way possible. As long as I’ve got every element of everything—everything I enjoy, and I’m honest—I can’t really fail. No one can call me a liar, no one can second-guess me because I’m sure of myself. This is my life, this is how I am, this is me as a person and you see every level of it. I don’t fake it. Don’t get it twisted, though: I’m not always making music. Some days I just chill and play video games all day, down time.

Does playing video games relax you?

I don’t know if it relaxes me, it’s just a way that helps me shut off for 5 minutes, a few hours, days or months—especially when I’m writing a tune, I’m thinking only about my feelings and it’s like therapy as I’m constantly going over different moments in my life, whether it be from yesterday or a memory from when I was really young. When I play games or when I make music, it’s escapism for me.

What are you trying to escape from?

Growing up in Northampton, you’re like “London is the place!” But on my particular estate, we were content. Everyone would be talking about “London this, London that” and we were like, “Why the fuck would we go to London? We have everything here.” You don’t ever want to go out or leave the ends—they put everything at your doorstep. I didn’t want to go on holiday. As much as I thought I’d like to, in my head I would think: “I’m not really gonna do that, and even if I wanted do, why would I spend money on that when I have other priorities?” But once you step out of that mind-frame and start to see the world, you realise there’s more to everything. That’s what escapism is: escaping the reality of what people make you believe.

Where do you think that stems from?

When you’re a kid, you don’t have fear except for heights and loud noises—they’re the only two fears you’re born with—everything else in your life is either from your parents or people you grew up with. Everything that makes you second-guess in life, because maybe you don’t think you’re good enough, it’s because in some way you’ve been told that. Everything you know, you’ve been taught. It’s about eradicating the fear from your mindset; like when people laugh at you when you’re trying to strive for something, they’re like, “Nah! You’re not gonna do that.” That’s the fear. You have to battle it. That’s how you can start to escape it.

“I don’t believe in influencers or even the word ‘influencer’ because you shouldn’t allow anyone to influence you as a person—you should only ever follow your heart.”

What was the moment that led you to see beyond your NN3 postcode and take music seriously, and as a way out of your situation?

I went to Boomtown Festival and got fucked up—I must’ve been in this tent for 12 hours or some shit—and then The Bug and Flowdan performed. It was crazy! That moment was like a trigger for me; I came home and just started patterning differently, taking shit more seriously. The people I was at the festival with let me rent a room with them, so I could get back on my shit and start making money. But that didn’t work out so I moved back in with my mum. So I was back in my room, it was dead, and my mum was like: “You need to do something; I can’t have you in my yard doing badness.” She wasn’t having it. She worked at this department store and said that she could get me a job. I was like, “Hell no!” To make her happy, though, I felt like I should do it because I’d done nothing but make her not proud. So boom, I took the job, then one day my boy came in as he had to go to a funeral, and I was trying to sort some family discount for him, but there was this loss prevention officer who’s a brudda that comes around to catch thieves and shit. So I ask him how to do the discount and he’s all like “you can’t do that” and I’m like “this is my fucking brother!” The next day I come in and they’ve called a meeting saying they’re going to build an investigation and were calling head office. I didn’t want it to reflect badly on my mum, but then I was like: “Fuck your job!”

That day I was walking home across Abington Park, it’s a huge park and my yard’s like on the other side of it, on this day it was waterlogged, and I had loathers on. I stepped in the water, yeah, and that was the point I wrote “T N Biscuits”, literally on the walk home. My foot in my loathers was in bare mud and water, and I was just feeling like ‘Fuck this shit! I’m going back to the roads!’ In my head, I was like: ‘Wait. This is my attire. This is me! I’m not a mug and I’m not laying down.’ From then, I felt a change. The water in my shoes wasn’t phasing me anymore. This walk that should’ve taken me 5 minutes ended up taking me 2 hours. I didn’t have the beat, I just had the bars, but that was the fundamental moment I knew I wasn’t going to do anything else. Anything good that ever comes in life, it’s a situation that leads you to it. From there I met Kwes [Darko], and he eventually introduced me to [production outfit] Earbuds, they played me an 8-second loop and I was going through my notes and while listening I read out “drug dealer!” and everyone in the studio was like, “Say that again! Record that now!” Then boom, “T N Biscuits” was brought to life. After releasing that, that’s when I really gave up on everything else and I started to put everything into music.

You talk a lot about your mother in your music, and you’re quite apologetic to her too. What memorable lessons did your mother teach you?

My mother taught me respect, and to always put women on a pedestal and raise them up. I lived in a house with my mum and sister so I was outnumbered [laughs]. I feel like I know more about women than I do about men; my pops wasn’t around to tell me how to carry myself. I’ve always been connected to my emotions, in touch with my feelings and taught not to be ashamed of it. My mum taught me it’s not what you are, it’s what you do.

If you were to take on the role of prime minister for a week, what would you change immediately?

I’d stop Brexit! I’d stop putting money into the military, I’d cut budgeting for the royal family... There’s bare things to do but, without having it written down and a plan right now, I don’t want to just say stuff because it sounds good—there’s a deepness to everything. If places like Switzerland can have a stable economy, why can’t we?

What’s your view on ~social media influencers~?

I don’t believe in influencers or even the word ‘influencer’ because you shouldn’t allow anyone to influence you as a person—you should only ever follow your heart. Everything you see on social media is manufactured: even a person who takes a picture 30 times, none of them are natural or of them having a good time in the moment. And when you actually see them out, they’re usually miserable, with their head in their phones. We look up to people and see people on a level above us but, really, they’re not. They’re more insecure than us—I may even be classed as one of them—really, though, they’re some of the loneliest people in the world as they’re always seeking acceptance from people. Either showing how much money they have, how “cool” their lifestyle is, buying the hypest trainers or clothing, always looking for the next “thing” so they can increase their followers and have more people comment on their posts and whatever.... They ain’t it, they’re clout demons [laughs]. Quote that! It’s pretty much propaganda in its smallest form.

You don’t really post too much, but would you agree that social media is an extension of yourself? How do you keep it 100?

When I post, I’m usually trying to be funny. I don’t really post much stuff up because I don’t have my phone out 24/7 to film all the moments. I’m really here enjoying myself. It’s like when you’re at a show and someone’s performing, if you’re really enjoying it, you don’t think to get your phone out and take a picture or video.

Posted on May 17, 2019